Can Omaha Avoid Having Its Own “Ferguson”?


As racial tensions begin to ease in Ferguson MO, it is natural to inquire about the root causes of this turmoil and how to avoid future recurrences.  Of course, police brutality and public distrust were the triggering events and need to be thoroughly investigated by the proper authorities.
CaptureBut the problem goes deeper than this.  The above chart from Think Progress  demonstrates the very high unemployment rate among black teenagers.  Is it surprising that idle teenagers get into trouble?
Omaha NE, where I live, is not immune to these problems.  In 2011 Nebraska had the worst black homicide rate in the nation at 34.4 per 100,000 population, just ahead of Missouri with a rate of 33.4.  Black unemployment in Omaha is estimated to be 20% compared with Omaha’s overall unemployment rate of 3.8%.
The problem goes still deeper yet.  To be employable, black youths need to become educated, i.e. to stay in school and remain on track to graduate.  This, in turn, means that they need to succeed in school from the very beginning, for example, by being proficient in reading at the end of third grade.
My last post, “Responsibility Goes Along With the “Good Life,” describes steps that are now getting under way in Omaha to turn around this whole vicious downward spiral of destructive black teenage behavior.  The Buffett Early Childhood Institute has put together a long range plan to work with children in poverty from birth to age eight to make sure that they are prepared to succeed in school. It is funded by an annual property tax levy of $5 per $100,000 of assessed valuation throughout the two county metropolitan Omaha area.  With such a local funding source, the program will inevitably receive much public attention.
Nebraska is aware that not all of its residents share in the “Good Life” and is making a conscious effort to find its own solution for a very serious national problem.

2 thoughts on “Can Omaha Avoid Having Its Own “Ferguson”?

  1. Jack, I agree with some of your comments. I do believe that Omaha has Ferguson like potential. I also agree that there are some underlying issues that extend beyond the trigger event.

    However, we have to examine the issue of education and employability as well as the efficacy of philanthropic engagement around these issues.

    We need to move past the concept of ’employability’ and move towards ownership. The poverty rate for Blacks in Omaha is due to low business size and business density. We have a limited Black middle class because we have limited business ownership.

    When you have limited business ownership it also inflates your unemployment rate, reduces civic pride and reduces a sense of agency. Those are what create all of the ingredients for a potential Ferguson like event.

    While I appreciate philanthropy, philanthropy done incorrectly can steer a community or organization that serves a community towards a mirage instead of an appropriate powerful destination.

    We have had Building Bright Futures, Avenue Scholars and more that have invested multimillion in solutions that only tangentially address the root issues. I applaud the investment, but feel there is a way to increase the social return on investment exponentially.

    The primary issue is one of agency and ownership. That should be the priority objective for all philanthropic institutions that want to address the root of the issue and not the symptom.

    It is not about simply being ‘educated’, it is about combining education with aspiration and agency.

    It is not simply about stopping a ‘Ferguson event’. It is about empowering community to develop its own economic resources, philanthropy and sense of self in a powerful way.

    We must resist the urge to mitigate a problem and focus instead on creating a high growth sustainable community for every Omahan.

    • By agency and ownership I believe you mean that Omaha needs to figure out how to have more black-owned businesses. Is this correct? Is it possible for government policy to accomplish this?

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