Native Omaha Days is back in a big way, filling North Omaha with the joy of a community family reunion and, this year, spreading the fun around the city.
The 2021 community reunion and celebration started Monday, got rolling with a gospel music festival Wednesday night and picks up the pace Thursday through Sunday with events ranging from free guided trolley tours of North Omaha to blues, jazz and R&B concerts, food trucks and vendor fairs and the ever-popular parade.
Unlike many recurring events, Native Omaha Days didn’t miss a year because of the pandemic. It takes place every two years, and 2020 was an off year. But COVID constraints made people miss getting together, and they seem extra excited for the 23rd biennial celebration, said local NAACP President Vickie Young, who’s in charge of the 2021 parade.
“People are ecstatic,” Young said. “We’re excited about the opportunity to come together as a community, to celebrate our accomplishments, to recognize each other and really just spend time with each other.”
The event was started 46 years ago by Omahans Vera Johnson and Bettie McDonald. It’s now put on by an organizing committee that includes the Native Omahans Club, the Omaha Economic Development Corporation and the Empowerment Network.
Organizers weren’t sure what to expect because of the pandemic. But the response has been enthusiastic from locals and Omahans returning from afar, said Young and Vicki Quaites-Ferris, event planning facilitator for the Native Omaha Days organizing committee.
One measure: Young said they had to close parade registration early after it reached its capacity of 90-plus entries.
“There’s a big buzz going on,” Young said.
One of the popular events that lends itself best to reminiscing and catching up with old friends happens Friday, from 4-8 p.m. That’s the “Stroll Down Memory Lane” in the historic North 24th and Lake Streets Business District. While people can literally stroll if they want, the main attraction is free guided trolley tours on North 24th and North 30th Streets, and points of interest in between.
The North Omaha Historic and Revitalization Tours will help people reconnect to buildings and neighborhoods they knew from back in the day, and to learn about new things that are happening there.
“It gives people a chance to have those really fond memories, but it’s also an opportunity to really highlight the new development that’s taking place, not just along 24th Street but for instance 75 North and the mixed-income housing that’s taking place up on 30th Street,” Quaites-Ferris said.
Daily there will be a food court at 24th and Lake Streets, vendors at 24th and Burdette and music at Dreamland Park. Several events are planned at the Revive Center Omaha, 2402 Lizzie Robinson Ave., including youth entrepreneur networking Thursday at noon, and “A Taste of 24th and Lake and Black Business Market” on Friday at 11:30 a.m.
There’s a golf tournament Friday at Dodge Riverside Golf Club, a blues concert with national acts Pokey Bear and Bigg Robb at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Omaha Design Center, 1502 Cuming St., and several social mixers through the weekend in North Omaha, downtown and West Omaha.
Other groups are timing their own events — such as family and school reunions — with Native Omaha Days. The Culxr House, a creative community center and record and clothing store on North 24th Street, is having a a North Omaha Block Party and album release event on Friday.
And then of course there’s the 23rd Biennial Homecoming Parade. It’s scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday, after an opening prayer at 9:45 a.m. It starts at 30th and Lake Streets and goes north to 30th and Sprague Streets.
The parade will feature 10 drill teams, which will be music to the ears and eyes of anyone familiar with Omaha parades, and an eye-opener to those new to the experience. The lineup includes dance groups, Parade Grand Marshal Precious McKesson, and many community organizations and businesses.
For more information, visit nativeomahadays.org.
While Native Omaha Days is primarily a reunion and community celebration by and for Black people from North Omaha, you don’t have to be Black or from North Omaha to participate.
“If you were born and raised in North Omaha, that’s cool,” Young said. “If you were born and raised in Omaha, that’s cool. If not, if you want to hang with folks from Omaha, that’s cool. It’s open to everyone.”