The Douglas County Board of Commissioners and the Omaha City Council have peace on their agendas Tuesday. All members plan to sign the Omaha 360 Challenge/Pledge for Peace, to work to end violence in the community.
The challenge is an extension of the violence prevention efforts. It's an initiative of the Empowerment Network, which was launched in September, in partnership with hundreds of organizations.
"The Omaha 360 Challenge/Pledge for Peace is more than a signature on a piece of paper. It is truly a pledge to do your part, play an active role in maintaining peace in the city and county," said Willie Barney, Executive Director of the African Empowerment Network.
"Become a mentor. Join your neighborhood association. Support job programs. Support positive alternatives. Parents can speak to their children and peers can speak to their peers," he said. "That's where the biggest difference will happen."
It was joined by students at Omaha South High School following the October 21st murder of fellow classmate Montrell Wiseman.
Wiseman, 16, had simply been in the wrong place at he wrong time, wearing the wrong color. He was mistaken for a gang member and shot to death.
"He was my locker partner for three years," said South High Junior Khalil Westbrook, "and probably one of the best brothers I had. I sat with him at lunch. It was like another part of me was gone."
Senior Keyona Williams added, "It hit a lot of people hard because he was friends with a lot of people. He was a member of our basketball team, so he was really well-known throughout the school. So that was like the final straw for South High."
A small youth peace movement began, a group of students meeting each Wednesday in the guidance office. The students began distributing a pledge of their own at basketball games. "It just states that we realize it starts with us to get the peace going," said Williams.
"To make sure we can actually come together as a community because right now the community is messed up."
Soon, Benson High School, which lost three students to violence in the past year and a half, jumped on board as well. "They shouldn't have to go through that when they have their whole lives ahead of them," said South High Senior Andrea Guzman.
For Guzman, who often hears about murders in her family's native-Mexico, what she's doing with her classmates is empowering. "They don’t really do much about the violence over there. So, being able to get involved here and now, it’s really great. I feel like I can prevent a lot of things."
Guzman's and her peers efforts have now spread to city hall. City and county leaders who sign the pledge at their Tuesday meetings will vow to do what they can to encourage mentoring, alternative activities for young people and more.
"It makes me actually smile," said Westbrook. "I can come to school and know that I've actually accomplished something probably greater than anything in my entire life."
Williams added, "It's inspiring. It's great to know that people realize that it is time to go forward and make a change. And I think with the city council jumping on board, it'll make a lot more people."
A number of schools and anti-violence organizations will come together at South High Wednesday to brainstorm community strategies and to plan a peace walk to coincide with Martin Luther King Junior Day.
For a copy of the pledge, click on the Omaha 360 link below the map.