Every other year, thousands of Native Omahans return to N. 24th Street and N. 30th Streets in North Omaha for reunions, music, laughs, hugs, smiles, food, entertainment, worship, business and much more. Now featuring well over 30+ events hosted by dozens of organizations, Native Omaha Days has become a national model for cultural celebrations.
“The energy is amazing,” said Felicia Webster (WithLove Felicia), a nationally known artist from North Omaha and organizer of several events during the week. “North Omaha was and is the place to be.”
Native Omaha Days was launched by the founders, Bettie McDonald and Vera Johnson, 46 years ago as a celebration to bring the community together. It has evolved into a dynamic, powerful event attracting family, friends and guests from around the globe.
“We could not have imagined the celebration getting this large,” said Johnson. “Can you imagine what the next 40 years will bring in North Omaha?”
In 2015, The Native Omahan Club invited the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Empowerment Network and dozens of community partners to join forces with them to create a sustainability and growth plan for Native Omaha Days. The Native Omahan Club recognized that Native Omaha Days had grown beyond the scope of one organization to do all of the planning necessary and invited others to participate in a more formal coordinating role.
The group approached Michael Maroney, president of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation. Maroney always willing to assist the community invited other partners to the table to help support the work of the Club. It was the beginning of the formation of the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee.
The group met to discuss and coordinate the schedule, communicate plans and collaborate wherever possible. For the first time in the history of the event, a collective press conference was held and covered by all of the major media. 2015 served as a launching pad for greater collaboration. The results were immediate and very positive.
Then, in 2017, the organizing committee expanded and met more frequently and by all accounts the outcomes were tremendous. The Native Omaha Days 2017 couldn’t have been any better. By most accounts, it was the best ever and proved that by working collectively greater things were possible.
The attendees were highly impressed by the major new developments occurring in North Omaha and the coordination of all of the events.
“We talked with many natives that hadn’t been back in 10 – 15 years and they were amazed at the development and the number of activities available,” said Sheila Jackson.
The Native Omahan Club continues to host the long-standing traditional events for which Native Omaha Days became known for: Gospelfest on Wednesday Night which is now cohosted with Revive! Magazine and the Organizing Committee; Homecoming Reunion on Thursday Night; Homecoming Parade which is the largest parade in North Omaha, the Homecoming Dance on Saturday Night; and, Blue Monday as out of town guests prepare to return home.
Other partner organizations then host and sponsor additional events and activities.
One of the most popular attractions during Native Omaha Days has become the Empowerment Network’s trolley ride during the Stroll Down Memory Lane event. Entitled as “The North Omaha Historic and Revitalization Tour,” guides Vicki Quaites-Ferris, Brenda Council and Bridget Hadley speak about the historic places and sites while viewing the new venues and businesses along 24th and Lake Street. Trolley riders viewed the $90 million expansion on the Metropolitan Community college campus, Malcolm X Center, Miami Heights, 75 North’s $90 million Highlander project, the transformation of the Creighton Hospital, and the new Creighton University Medical Center at 24th and Cuming.
A new Native Omaha Days guide was published by Revive! Omaha Magazine for the first time in 2017 with financial support from OEDC. The guide highlights events and activities happening throughout the week and provide the opportunity for residents and visitors to plan and attend as many events as possible.
OEDC hosted “A Taste of Soul before the Stroll” from noon to 4 pm, provided free food and live music. “We expected about 200, but we had way more than that,” said Geneva Lopez, of OEDC and one of the main organizers.
The Taste and The Stroll Down Memory Lane organized by OEDC and the Empowerment Network, attracted thousands who reminisced about the past. Additional events include the Omaha Days Golf Classic, Great Plains Black History Museum Exhibits, class reunions and Love of Arts and Music Festival.
“One of the best things about 2017 was the successes of the businesses,” said Michael Maroney, CEO/President of the Omaha Economic Development Corporation, one of the main partners for Native Omaha Days Planning Committee. “The reports we received said that every business along 24th Street and others throughout North Omaha had great sales during the week. As a matter of fact, businesses throughout the city experienced a positive economic impact.”
“It was a great week,” said Don McPherson, owner of Styles of Evolution. “Imagine what we could do, how many people we could hire and ways we could expand if we had more events and traffic like this.
The positive events were almost too numerous to feature all the great attractions. The Gospel Fest at Salem Baptist Church brought in 1,200+ for a soul-stirring night of inspirational music and hundreds attended the Native Omahan Club dance. Even the impromptu picnic at Carter Lake drew a great response.
Building on the successes of 2015 and 2017, the Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee with the support of the Native Omahan Club, moved to transition into a formal organization in 2019. A board was nominated by the committee and formally elected via vote. A nearly two year strategic planning process followed that produced new branding for the event as the Native Omaha Days Festival and an updated vision and mission:
To create the World’s Best African-American Cultural Celebration and Community Reunion…
by bringing families and friends from across the globe together to celebrate the rich history and thriving future of North Omaha!
to honor our African-American Culture, History, People and serve as a catalyst for the ongoing revitalization of a self-sufficient and thriving North Omaha!Vision of the Future:
The Native Omaha Days Festival is a legacy-building, internationally known cultural celebration and community reunion, bringing families and friends together for arts, food, music, history and the revitalization of North Omaha.
The 2019 Native Omaha Days Festival was quite possibly the largest in the history of the celebration.
Congratulations North Omaha! Thank you Native Omahan Club, OEDC, Empowerment Network, Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee and all of the community partners, volunteers, organizers, sponsors and attendees for helping make the event successful.
Get engaged. Stay engaged. Together, let’s build on the momentum.
Native Omaha Days is presented and sponsored by: The Native Omahan Club, Omaha Economic Development Corporation, Empowerment Network, and Native Omaha Days Organizing Committee. Sponsored in part by North Omaha Historic Turn Back Tax, Douglas County Visitors Improvement Fund and Creighton University.
The Native Omaha Days Organization Committee and community partners include (past and present): Omaha Star Newspaper, Surreal Media Labs, EverGreen Capital Management, 24th and Lake Businesses, American National Bank, Omaha Police Department, Omaha NAACP, Revive! Omaha Magazine, Hallins Corp Family Housing Advisory Services, Great Plains Black History Museum, Urban League of Nebraska, 95.7 FM the BOSS, Long School Neighborhood Association, North Omaha Neighborhood Alliance, 100 Black Men of Omaha, and the North Omaha Village Revitalization Plan.