Watching a one-man show in Harlem a year and a half ago, Susie Buffett was mesmerized by the performer — a Yale University graduate in his mid-30s.
Always thinking of her hometown, she approached him afterward and asked whether he would come to Omaha. He said sure. And that is why Daniel Beaty will visit schools and take the stage for his show, “Emergency,” at the Holland Performing Arts Center at 7:30 p.m. on Feb. 15.
“We can overcome,” the African-American performer says in the show, “if we change the way we see — see ourselves, see our past, see our possibility.”
New York magazine called his show “funnier than most serious plays and vastly smarter than most funny plays.”
“It's an amazing show,” Susie said. “It's just such a personal and strong statement about race and what goes on in this country. Very powerful.”
She is making it easy for people to attend. Her Sherwood Foundation is largely subsidizing his visit and his show, with ticket prices at $10, or $5 per person in groups of 10 or more. (It is not recommended for children under 13.)
You've heard of the cleverly named Sherwood Foundation. In lore, Robin Hood rode through Sherwood Forest, robbing from the rich to give to the poor.
Susan A. Buffett, whose father is one of the world's wealthiest people, Omaha investor Warren Buffett, isn't robbing anyone. But the billionaire's daughter has devoted herself to helping the poor.
Her foundation, which has donated millions to the Omaha Public Schools, also advocates and funds early childhood education — and is hoping to reduce the amount of unwed teen pregnancies.
“Early-childhood education for the poorest children, at the youngest possible age, is what will change K-12 education in this country,” she told me. “I believe every child pops out at birth with, give or take, the ability to learn and achieve. Then it becomes all about opportunity and what happens in their lives from birth to age 5.”
Parents or other caregivers need to read regularly to preschool-age children, but that doesn't always happen. Many kids from poor areas, Susie said, enter kindergarten unprepared and start failing. “And the kids' teachers get blamed for it.”
In November, a 21-year-old said at a press conference after his arrest that he had committed 14 robberies in Omaha in four days on behalf of those he loved — his five children by his four “baby mamas.”
“That's a problem,” Susie Buffett said. “And guess what? Those five kids all will go to kindergarten.”
Teen pregnancy, as she and others have said, is a big part of the problem in the cycle of poverty, especially in the black community. Unwed mothers accounted for 76 percent of African-American births in the Omaha area from 2008 to 2010.
“It's something we talk about here (at the foundation) every day,” Susie said.
“If everybody could just wait to have babies until they are out of high school and in committed relationships, it would change not just the K-12 system. It would change the whole face of poverty.”
To fight poverty, she puts her money where her passion lies.
The Buffett Early Childhood Fund donated $5 million, as did the Winnebago Tribal Council, for construction of an Educare center slated to open next January.
It is on the Winnebago reservation 80 miles north of Omaha and will be the first such early-childhood center on an American Indian reservation.
The University of Nebraska's Buffett Early Childhood Institute, created in 2011 with a gift from Susie's foundation, focuses on the development of children under 8, especially those who suffer from poverty, abuse or challenges of development, learning or behavior.
Ken Bird, president and CEO of the nonprofit Avenue Scholars Foundation, said Susie Buffett has informed many people about education — even though she is not formally an educator.
She sits with other wealthy Omahans on the board of Avenue Scholars, which is designed to support “students of hope and need through high school, college and the workforce.”
“Susie has educated people with her work on early childhood and with her passion,” Bird said.
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“Her support for the importance of a good, early start for all young people is remarkable. And she brings a balance with Daniel Beaty. It shows the importance of not only a great start but also a great finish.”
Singer, writer, composer and actor Beaty portrays a cast of 40 characters, according to a press release, “weaving a stirring commentary on what it is to be human and the longing to be free.”
While in Omaha he also will perform and lead workshops for students at Central, North and South High Schools. And he will lead a workshop for the Young, Gifted & Black troupe at the Rose Theater.
Beaty graduated with honors from Yale, majoring in English and music, and earned a master's degree in acting from the American Conservatory Theatre. He is an adjunct professor at Columbia University in New York.
The play he will perform in Omaha, originally titled “Emergence-See!” was critically acclaimed when it ran off-Broadway starting in the fall of 2006. He has performed other original works, received numerous awards and worked throughout the U.S., Europe and Africa.
Susie has helped bring other unique voices to Omaha. As a national board member of the social services agency Girls Inc., she was instrumental in securing a visit last year by first lady Michelle Obama. Other speakers for Girls Inc. luncheons in Omaha have been then-Sen. Barack Obama, former President Bill Clinton, then-Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright.
Daniel Beaty isn't a household name like those, but Susie believes his message is important — for folks 13 and up from various age groups and backgrounds — in all of Omaha's households.
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