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North Omaha leaders look to future

Posted at 12:28 PM, Feb 23, 2018
and last updated 2018-02-23 13:28:52-05

Michael Maroney, the president of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, remembers how things used to be in Omaha. 

Most of the African-Americans lived between Cumming and Pratt Streets and 16th and 36th. The redlining in the 50s kept them confined to one are of town. 

"Realtors would not show houses to African-Americans outside of those boundaries, banks would not lend money to African-Americans outside of those boundaries," he said, "and many neighborhoods outside of those boundaries had covenants that wouldn't allow houses to be sold to African-Americans." 

While unfair, he says it kept the black community tight knit. Lawyers, doctors, janitors, teachers, cooks all lived in the same neighborhoods, their profession didn't matter. 

In 1975, the Freeway was built and it furthered the divide, but things have slowly gotten better. In 2005, the Empowerment Network was created to bring positive change and improve quality of life in all areas of Omaha. 

Willie Barney says the collaborative is an effort to bring new life into North Omaha, bringing organizations and individuals together in their neighborhoods and churches with a common vision. It's paid off. 

The graduation rate among African-American students has risen from 50 percent in 2005 up to near 80 percent and now more business opportunities are becoming available for young African-Americans, but the work is not done in Barney's mind. 

"Really how do we take what we've learned, and take it to scale," he said, "we believe in 10 to 15 years we can close those gaps that have been talked about for generations.