Despite a long list of achievements, Preston Love Jr. isn’t ready to head off into the sunset. The 77-year-old has attained a range of successes throughout his eventful life; induction into the Nebraska Black Sports Hall of Fame as a former Cornhusker and Detroit Lions draftee and innovations as a marketing executive at IBM, to name a couple.
His catalog of accomplishments would satisfy most men, and he had planned to retire after moving back to Omaha in 2006. Those plans changed when he realized the state of voter activity of his beloved neighborhood.
“I came back to take care of my family after my father passed, but I was disappointed to find my community in shambles,” Love says. “Youth voter participation was virtually nonexistent. I was sad to see the children’s ignorance about their history.”
Love thinks North Omaha is being hurt by an undoing of important policies. He thought that Barack Obama, as a black presidential candidate, encouraged voter turnout in 2008, but that Medicaid expansion hurt the community due to the governor and senators’ nonsupport. He also thinks that without residents of North Omaha voting, the community will lose the leverage needed to make an impact, especially on a local level.
As the terms of the nation’s first black president came to a close, Love began to help that disconnect with his Black Votes Matter Youth Initiative. Political work certainly was not new to him. In 1980, he organized the successful mayoral campaign of Andrew Young in Atlanta, Georgia, (Young was previously the nation’s first African American Ambassador to the United Nations.) From 1983-1984, he served as national campaign manager for the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s presidential bid. The list goes on.
These days, he relishes early morning starts at his office next to the historic Elks Hall off 24th and Lake streets, fielding calls with his secretary and organizing events for associates such as city council member Ben Gray.
He is spreading the word in his community on a regular basis through the media. In 2015, he published a book titled Economic Cataracts, theorizing the relationships between poverty and low voter turnout. A column titled “Black Votes Matter” has appeared in the Omaha Star. It started as a way to prepare the North Omaha community for the 2016 elections.
But his passion is educating youth about the importance of black history and black votes. He serves as an adjunct professor in black studies at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, and he has sponsored an annual tour titled “Face-to-Face with Black History” for high school students.
Love specifically looks for innovative ways to motivate young people into participating in civic matters like sponsoring the tour and publishing a new children’s book, Bridge to Your History.
“I can’t sit back and watch everything we’ve fought for fall apart,” Love explains. “These kids only knew about Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X. My book will walk younger children through the important landmarks we visit on the Face-to-Face with Black History Tour, hopefully inspiring them to participate in the expedition when they’re a bit older.”
The Rev. T. Michael Williams, co-pastor at Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, has been a part of the popular tour since 2017. He has seen it grow from 40 people in its first year to 100 participants in 2019, seeing firsthand how the trip can affect young people in the community.
“We take students through significant landmarks of the Civil Rights Movement in Memphis, Tennessee; [and] Birmingham and Montgomery, Alabama,” Williams says.
He continues, “One of my young church members was affected by our visit to the Legacy Museum in Montgomery, Alabama, during the first tour. After seeing the hardships generations of African Americans endured, she wants to come back to Omaha after completing her studies at North Carolina A&T to positively impact her community.”
Williams commends Love’s hard work raising awareness for important issues.
“Preston believes encouraging kids to understand history and their power to vote is part of God’s plan for him, and I agree,” Williams says.
“I’ve become ‘John the Voting Baptist’ for the amount of footwork I’m doing to encourage people to vote,” Love jokes. He says there seems to be a disconnect between philanthropic sets and organizations that work on the grassroots level, such as Love’s.
Love encourages corporations and for-profit organizations to provide more outreach towards different positive groups that need resources and funding.
“A lot of organizations are failing yet holding on,” he says. “Leaders in the corporate world like to contribute indirectly through charities and the United Way, but I would love to see more direct relationships other than support for the banquets.”
Love would like to see voter participation among younger voters rise to the levels he saw during the Obama era. His initiative is helping. The 2018 mid-term election saw over 14,000 North Omaha voters, a 10% increase from 2014 and a record turnout for North Omaha midterm voter participation. Recent black representatives who won in local elections include Marque Snow, Kimara Snipe, Shavonna Holman on the board of Omaha Public Schools; Fred Conley of NRD; and Eric Williams of OPPD.
All these people are now representing those who voted for them. Because black votes matter.
Visit prestonlovejr.com for more information.
This article was printed in the October 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.