Racial equality was a priority Tuesday as the Omaha City Council approved an agreement with the National League of Cities (NLC) for consultation on diversity and inclusion in city government.
In 2020, Mayor Jean Stothert named Keith Station to lead the city’s diversity and equity initiatives. Station said in Tuesday’s meeting the nearly $132,000 agreement would give Omaha individualized advice to make city government an inclusive environment for city workers.
“Diversity and inclusion should be a business imperative, and it’s also the right thing to do,” Station said. “The good news is we don’t have to choose.”
The NLC’s Race Equity and Leadership Team (REAL) will provide technical assistance, workshops and “train the trainer” programming to give the city tools to sustain the work beyond the agreement’s term through 2023.
Station said they’ll know the program is working when the city’s hiring trends match the city’s demographics and when city boards better represent the population. According to the 2021 U.S. Census Bureau data, 75% of Omahans identify as white while 12% identify as Black, 14% as Latino and 4% as Asian. He noted that they will also address diversity in age, ability and gender identity as well as race, which is why the NLC was chosen.
“We’ll know when individuals leave employment with the city, that when they cite the reason as they had an offer they couldn’t refuse,” Station said. “That’ll be the reason, versus they felt they could not thrive working for a manager or working on a team or in a role they were in.”
Christian Espinosa, a program administrator in the city’s Human Rights and Relations Department, said the agreement would help the city government recruit a more diverse workforce and involve the community as a whole in the process.
The City Council also approved $400,000 to partially fund the African American Empowerment Network’s Step Up Job Training and Work Experience Program, which assists economically disadvantaged youths in becoming self-sufficient.
The Douglas County Board of Commissioners met Tuesday to approve $75,000 in ARPA funding for the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Metropolitan Omaha to restore the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Monument at 24th and Lake Streets.
The Board also received a presentation on the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. Kyle Kinney from Nebraska Family Helpline said mental health issues have grown through the pandemic, which sped up the transition to 988. He said suicide is the second leading cause of death for Nebraskans aged 10-34 — and the tenth overall.
Kinney said the transition not only provides a shorter, easier-to-remember number, but an infrastructure was also created to mirror the 911 response. Calls are routed to local crisis call centers — the Boys Town crisis center in Nebraska’s case.