Creativity. Reinvention. Education. Culture. History. Are these the first words you think of when you hear “North Omaha”? Perhaps not, especially in mind of what’s often portrayed in the media. But as a longtime resident of North Omaha, I would love to share a different perspective of the world I know, one full of delicious tastes, vibrant culture and phenomenal people.
Did you know that during the mid-twentieth century, North Omaha and specifically the area around 24th and Lake (affectionately dubbed “the Deuce”) was a hub for traveling jazz musicians? Because of its proximity to other cities, musicians would often stop here while on tour. Greats like Louie Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Ray Charles all performed at local venues (think Allen Showcase Lounge and Dreamland Ballroom) along with Omaha’s own world-renowned Preston Love Sr., turning passion and pain into notes that reached down into the soul. These days, jazz is still represented at the Love’s Jazz and Art Center, where notable musicians such as Mike Phillips still stop in and jam.
Just across the street and down a bit is The Union for Contemporary Art, a non-profit organization which puts the unity in community through art, and it’s astounding. The facilities themselves are beautiful, and each room inside provides a new excitement; a colorful exhibition featuring unconventional materials, a private studio covered in intricate beads and textiles, an artist-led Ceramics workshop filled with smiling faces and clay smeared frocks. Outside hosts a fantastic abundance garden, complete with a greenhouse and an outdoor classroom to help educate the next generation.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the revitalization happening around North 30th St; as an area once known for government housing is now home to shiny new apartments and townhomes, business spaces and a trendy coffee shop, all thanks to the Highlander Development. There’s an air of hope...and excitement, even from out of towners, as my buddy from the Bronx was the first to take me on a drive through the area once everything was completed, proud of what her new hometown was becoming.
Now myself, coming from a blue-collar family, Disney vacations and excursions abroad were just not a part of my life. My mother though, never wanted me to be limited by our circumstances, and at an early age she introduced me to the wonderful world of books. After school or sometimes on a Saturday, we’d frequent the Charles B. Washington branch off 30th and Ames, and I’d go nuts checking out books on the South American rain forests or the lives of Ancient Egyptians. These days, the Washington Branch is still opening the world for young minds by reaching out to local schools and daycares to invite kids of all ages to stop in. Micki Dietrich, the Washington Branch Manager is passionate about making reading fun, and her and her staff work hard to tailor the library collection to the local community along with having creative spaces available. She shares “We have rooms that function as a third space; meeting and study areas community organizations use, free of charge. The Quilters We Are group for example, creates quilts for Veterans and the elderly.” She adds, “It’s really the community that makes us special.”
Another beacon of education on this side of Dodge is North High School. North is a STEM Magnet school celebrating 100 years in 2024, and it’s also where I learned raku pottery, accounting and graphic design. Principal Gene Haynes (or Brother Haynes for those in the know) has been encouraging youth in North “O” for 53 years; as my father’s coach at Tech High, and as my Assistant Principal many moons ago. He shares “Education is the key to success in our community, and we want our students to be successful, no matter the direction they go. I love the caring community here in North Omaha...we can survive anything thrown at us.” I couldn’t have said it any better.
You see, North Omaha is my kind of beautiful. It’s the smell of Jim’s Rib Haven wafting through the air on a summer day, it’s the gleam off a candy painted car on 24-inch rims, it’s the sound of a drumline practicing rhythms in the distance for the Juneteenth parade. North Omaha is also education and creativity, it’s making the best of what you have, and doing so with pride and resilience. Omaha as a whole will always have my love, but the North side absolutely has my heart.
Join the Nebraska Tour Company Tour Team to discover more about the rich history of this district: North Omaha Tour