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Nebraska's new African American Affairs commission meets first time
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African American Affairs

Nebraska's new African American Affairs commission meets first time

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Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts recently decried critical race theory on a call-in radio show, encouraging parents to engage locally.

The Nebraska Commission on African American Affairs laid the groundwork Wednesday for what it hopes to accomplish as the state’s newest agency.

“I hope for it to be a positive impact on, not just the African American community, but Nebraska as a whole,” said LaShawn Young, who was elected chair of the commission during its inaugural meeting. Young is a partner at Young and Young Attorneys at Law in Omaha.

This meeting was about laying a foundation, she said.

The commission was created under a bill that was signed into law in August 2020. It’s tasked with doing “all things which the commission may determine to enhance the cause of African American rights and to develop solutions to problems common to all Nebraska African Americans.”

It is the first new agency to launch during Gov. Pete Ricketts’ tenure, according to the governor’s remarks. Members were appointed by Ricketts after a selection process.

“It’s uncharted territory — and so you’ll have the ability to determine where you take this by being intentional,” Ricketts told the group.

The group heard remarks from Ricketts and briefings regarding the commission’s budget, the Department of Economic Development and the Department of Administrative Services. Near the end of the meeting, a majority of commissioners also voted to start each meeting with a prayer, pending affirmation that it would not conflict with state law.

Along with electing the chair, the 14 commission members voted for four members to comprise an executive committee.

Laban Njuguna of Aurora, co-founder of Zabuni Specialty Coffee Auction, asked chair nominees on Wednesday how they felt about having three immigrants on the commission.

State Sen. Terrell McKinney, who represents North Omaha in the Legislature, has previously raised concerns about the number of African immigrants on the commission, noting that they would not have the same experiences as people who grow up Black in the United States.

Three of the 14 members, or 21%, are immigrants.

Several members spoke in support of their inclusion and the perspective they’ll bring to the group.

“All of us do come from different experiences, and all of us have something to contribute — and you have a lot to contribute,” said John Carter, who serves as chief deputy sheriff in Dundy County and owns a gun store in Benkelman.

Nebraska Department of Economic Development Director Anthony Goins also encouraged members to “respectfully challenge the narratives that have been put out.”

During the meeting, commission members discussed the importance of economic opportunity and education.

“I really want this commission to really be about the business of ensuring that the African Americans in this great state feel included and they have the opportunities that the ‘Good Life’ should offer,” said Clarice Jackson, executive director of Voice Advocacy Center in Omaha.

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