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An Ambrosian Bridge to A Better Community

Photo of Willie Barney at Pollard Breakfast

Willie Barney addresses the Freeman Pollard breakfast in 2017.

August 2017


The St. Ambrose community has long known Willie Barney '90 to be a significant enricher of lives.

An extensive article in the Omaha World-Herald published Aug. 9 strongly attests to how, where, and why.

Praise comes from all corners for Barney and his work with The Empowerment Network, which he created in 2006 to revitalize the North Omaha neighborhoods he saw suffering from despair and socio-economic neglect.

Willie tried to create solutions from the ground up, writes World-Herald columnist Eric Grace.

"We haven't always agreed on everything that was happening within the community," reads a quote in the piece from Jannette Taylor, a former gang intervention specialist in Omaha. "Throughout all of that, I never had to guess what his purpose was, where he saw the community growing or what his vision was for the city. ... He always invited everyone to the table - even when some people wanted to flip the table over."

There's more:

Omaha, Neb., Police Chief Todd Schmaderer described Willie Barney as "a very strong bridge," someone who is constantly bridging Omaha's dividing lines of geography, race, and social class.

Said a county treasurer: "Willie is one of the most significant leaders in Omaha, period. He had a vision (for north Omaha) that was different than anything I had seen before."

Barney, who played football at St. Ambrose and earned his Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics, provided the keynote address at last spring's Freeman Pollard Scholarship Breakfast. He cites the late Dr. Pollard, the first black professor to teach at St. Ambrose, as a significant life influence, along with fellow SAU alumni Jim Collins '69, '16 (Hon.) and Fred Harris Jr. '95 MBA.

Barney also said his commitment to social justice was nurtured at St. Ambrose.

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