By Karlha Velásquez Rivas
*This is a translated version of a Spanish story that ran in El Perico. The conversation originally took place in English and has been edited for length.
Kimara Snipe is a Communications Manager and Youth Specialist at the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table and a library specialist at the Omaha Public Library (OPL) and. She also represents Subdistrict 8 on the Omaha Public Schools board, the term of which runs from 2018 to 2022.
She is not afraid to say that she was adopted, much less to express her opinions with respect and education, flags that she has held high throughout her life at the service of the marginalized communities in the city. He has lived his entire life in South Omaha.
She is recognized for her work focusing on poverty and creating more opportunities for the police to connect with the community. With the Omaha Public Schools Board, she helped create the Teen Talk About program, which focuses on literacy for at-risk youth ages 12-18.
She currently serves as president of the South Omaha Neighborhood Alliance (SONA) and is committed to improving neighbourhoods through communication, collaboration, empowerment, and the promotion of positive perceptions.
El Perico talked to Snipe via Zoom. In an interview, she tells us about her opinion regarding the protests against racism in various cities of the country, including Omaha, and what she considers to be the things that can be improved to have a more united community.
How do you identify yourself?
African American. Part of the community and this neighbourhood and I’m here for them.
What is your opinion on the community’s reactions to George Floyd’s death? Do you think they do more harm than good?
I think it is a positive factor and we have to continue to raise awareness of the community’s concerns and that awareness that the talks should continue after the protests. I was impressed by many young people who were at the marches I attended. Omaha has good people, and they are a reflection of their families, schools, and churches. And it is the job of the leaders elected by the people to pay attention to that.
What was it like growing up in South Omaha and how did it shape your view of race?
South Omaha has overwhelmingly impacted my point of view on many issues, most notably the economic issue, the power of education and the need we have to grow together as a community. South Omaha has demonstrated the true power of a united neighbourhood and the effort of neighbours working together to be better.
What has been the main problem you see in Omaha?
I think the disparity is a big problem. Omaha is a great community. There are people living in poverty and there are still racial inequities. People without a car who depend on transportation and have access problems. I struggle with it myself. Students without internet access, struggling with the challenges of education. We have to show these things and everyone must be part of this and look for a solution. Including businesses, workers, educators, the faith community and elected public servants.
In your opinion, do you think racial segregation is present in Omaha?
We have decades of Redlining (the red line is the systematic denial of various services by federal government agencies, local governments and the private sector, either directly or through selective price increases) in real estate agents. In some areas where white people are more favoured and try to keep people of color in North and South Omaha. Those practices generate segregation in the matter of obtaining housing now.
When people think of Omaha, they see it as the north being black and the south being Latino. That creates more segregation, so another group in the city is ignored. Now it is seen that the number of Latinos in Omaha is growing more. There are many more African-Americans living in South Omaha. and some of those groups move west of the city.
We have to find a more inclusive way of bringing the city together because our similarity index is extremely high and there is a reason for that and it is the policies that existed before I came along.
What do you think is affecting the educational system in some places now?
The big challenge now is how to safely reopen schools during the pandemic. And to be clear we are always working in a safe environment. All students are valuable, have the opportunities to grow and have skills, and the knowledge necessary to have a productive life.
Do you think that children receive a good education in public schools?
I have had the opportunity to be in private schools but most of the time I am in public schools. I have attended Saint Bernadette School (private). But I think that students can have an excellent education in public schools, as long as we are doing our job to address that disparity in every respect.
The difference between private and public schools is resources. Public schools have an enormous responsibility regardless of the student’s family income, physical problems or language. We work with students with behaviour problems. Public schools reflect society more.
It can be an enriching experience to prepare each student for life after high school.
In terms of resources for schools, do you think it is equitable?
It is a constant struggle. We need to always be aware of the needs of each school building and how we’re addressing those needs. And in the larger context we need to insure challenges faced by OPS and even other urban districts because it’s not just the OPS system.
I meet school board members across the nation who suffer the same thing so we need to make sure all of that is reflected in the allocation of state dollars to aid public education. We recently just got 54,000 Ipads with hotspots. That’s necessary. The area I live in a racially and ethnically concentrated area of poverty, which also suffers from extremely horrible broadband
Do you think the protests are due to a racial or socioeconomic problem?
Both of them. If you treat a person ruthlessly, you leave an unfair disadvantage and we have to do what we can to make sure that this disadvantage does not extend to the penal system.
We have seen Nestride Yumga, a nationalized African American woman confronting protesters in Washington D.C. for not protesting the murders that occur among black people.
Do you think she was correct?
No, because the sense of protest is lost. There is no reason to overlook criminal activity. I do not approve of criminal activity. But these protests are aimed at addressing the criminal actions taken by some people who have sworn to protect us. We will be able to better tackle crime when within the community faith is restored in our institutions and people cooperate with law enforcement to identify such criminal activity.
How do you feel about the Police in Omaha?
I can’t speak for the whole community, but I suppose I would say that, overall, I encountered many police officers who want to have good relations with the community and make constructive changes. I created a program in the Library where I invite Captain Mark Matuza every week and we have a good relationship and it is a beautiful occasion. I want to help those law enforcement leaders do it. But there is also a very valid frustration when we see that a chokehold (like Floyd’s case) is still being used as a mechanism among officers.
Our (police) department is better than that. On the other hand, we have to press to improve policies, transparency and union contracts with the community.
There is the issue of taking funds away from the police across the country. Do you think that will make the community safer?
Before reaching that point we must ask ourselves questions and give ourselves answers. The first question is how you can define “take away the funds” and the other is how to define community policies. I think that what they mean is the reallocation of dollars within a budget of the city government to everywhere to reduce crime and make a city for a better life, and that includes the Police Department.
But, it could also mean an assessment of every dollar that is invested in the department. Is there any place in all that spending where dollars could be allocated to improve community policies? I mean, can we get the officers out of their vehicles to positively interact with the residents? I think that would be a conversation that we could have.
What is the primary need in your neighbourhood for education, housing, and safety?
We have a lack of fresh food in South Omaha. Full neighbourhoods with no access to supermarkets, fresh vegetables, and other healthy foods. This usually happens where there is no reliable transportation access. A young man faces greater challenges to be a good student, hungry, destitute, or fearful of gang activity. By this I mean, I live in a neighbourhood where you don’t see equal priorities.
From SONA, what are the main objectives for linking communities?
Well, now people are very busy, many have two jobs and others work from home. In other neighbourhoods there are retirees, some others with limited budgets. Our job is to focus as leaders in our communities, to do the best we can to improve living conditions. Keeping many connected to the best of their ability, especially during the pandemic.
According to Omaha population statistics, 70% are white, 11% black or African-American, and 12% Hispanic or Latin American. Welfare shows that of the beneficiaries in Omaha, 31% correspond to the black community. How can that dependency be reduced?
This can be done through a program on education, economy and work.
Omaha is known for a great work ethic, but people need to be trained for today’s emerging economies. If we don’t have adequate transportation infrastructure to move workers from the city center to the Sarpy County cornfields, for example, we cannot move forward. We need to make sure that new factories and job provider data centers are located closer to a ready workforce.
Finally, what is the next step to improve the community?
I think it is leadership, it is time to encourage leaders to challenge them to work to make our place a better city. We have to have someone to join us. Leadership is not just a job, it is a real thing. We have very good people with ethics and we have many opportunities and leaders must come with that.