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Community leaders discuss next steps following rallies, protests

Posted at 10:21 PM, Jun 09, 2020
and last updated 2020-06-10 00:50:31-04

OMAHA, Neb. (KMTV) — Many have been engaged in the protests and rallies happening all over the country. Leaders in Omaha say they're committed to moving forward for lasting change.

Community leaders we spoke to say they want to refocus the energy following a week of protests and rallies.

"There's a lot of obviously frustration and anger and other things that have happened across the country and even here in Omaha," Empowerment Network Founder Willie Barney said. "But now how do we take that energy and move it into something positive?"

Barney tells 3 News Now that's something the Empowerment Network has been working on for more than a decade.

"Whether it's helping to reduce gun violence by 74%, or taking our unemployment rate from 21% down to 7%, or it's taking the graduation rate from 50% to 81%, that was all done by not just one agency, not just one organization but many really looking at what is my role, what can I do, what is my part and then putting those together and aligning the effort overall," Barney said.

He tells us they've worked to improve community and police relations, employment and housing revitalization.

The organization also hosts weekly Omaha 360 meetings, a violence prevention initiative in partnership with the Omaha Police Department.

The Empowerment Network also spearheads the Step Up program, which connects students and young adults with jobs, internships and career exploration.

"Let's have consistent communication," Barney said. "What resources are out there? What opportunities are available? How do we get people employed? How do we deal with reentry? All of those components together with organizations and individuals leading each part is where we've been able to make that progress," he said.

Barney also says it's time to update transformation plans, focusing on youth and young adults, as well as emerging leaders like Jasmine Harris.

Harris is the director of Rise, a local reentry program. She also helped coordinate the rally at Memorial Park in honor James Scurlock.

As a community activist and leader, Harris says, it all starts with policy change.

"Ring their phones, blow up their emails,"Harris said. "I think that is how we move forward and it has to be a collaborative and collective effort. We have different organizations who are working on the same thing but not talking to each other [so] I think that really now is the time for everybody to pull together and move forward."

Harris also leaves advice for people in the community wanting to make a change.

"I just say for everybody who's doing this work we already know it's not a sprint. It's a marathon," Harris said. "And we are running for our lives and we need to just continue and make sure we're passing that baton."