Tag Archives: activism

Dominique Morgan

January 15, 2016 by
Photography by Bill SItzmann

I’m gonna be so honest with you right now it will piss…you…off. I started writing music at seven. Music just comes to me. I don’t read music. The shit just happens and I just go with it and I just go with it ‘til I can’t go anymore.”

Dominique Morgan, orator of the aforementioned, was a show choir kid at Benson High. At age 14, he came out as gay to his family, “who were cool with it.” He left home during his senior year, “making a stink about being grown,” and followed friends to UNL, where almost no one knew he wasn’t enrolled or that he got by sleeping in cars. Bad checks led to prison.

That was before 2009. Now he is one of the metro’s most celebrated R&B recording artists and a prominent activist. Morgan recently headlined at the Baltimore Pride Celebration, which he described as a highlight of his career.

Morgan is involved at various levels with the Gay Lesbian & Straight Education Network, Queer Nebraska Youth Network, the NAACP, Urban League Young Professionals, Metro Omaha Tobacco Action Coalition, and the Omaha Entertainment and Arts Awards. He founded Queer People of Color (QPOC), a group whose focus is providing diverse, local role models for LGBTQIA youth.

An unguarded man expressing his pain and hope on- and off-stage, Morgan brought himself and his fans to tears during an acoustic set with Kevin Sullivan of Bells and Whistles during the 2015 OEAA nominee showcase at Reverb Lounge. His album, Loveaholics Anonymous, is a well-received tribute to the highs and lows of romance, earning him three nominations for best R&B artist, album of the year, and artist of the year. A holiday album, Dom’s Favorite Things, launched in late 2015. If the past is prologue, the next act for this Omaha original could be biblical. What comes after a year like that?

“I’m not worried about that,” says Morgan with a sincere, charming theatricality and flair, but no bull. “I don’t want to be stuck. It’s time for a break.”

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Independence has perks. Morgan is allowing himself time for creative recharging.

“Time to catch a breath and start over fresh. ‘Loveaholics’ is a good, solid album. It’s going to ride me out for another year. With no label, I’m not forced to put out ‘stuff.’ I feel like there’s some things I haven’t done yet musically and I need to take a break to be able to be open to it.”

Morgan says he struggled early on with being open about his painful past. 

“What I was missing for the longest time was focusing on me,” says Morgan, admitting that leaving his prison life out of his published music created imbalance in his new life. “I treated [that life] as if it didn’t exist. It’s hard to balance the two when my music comes from my experience. There would be songs I would write about, but wouldn’t record them or I would record them and never release them. How do you write from those experiences, but you won’t talk about those experiences?”

Working with at-risk teens helped tip the balance toward full disclosure for Morgan.

“When I was working with young people and discussing my process of coming out at a young age, there were so many levels with these young people that I could have worked on, but I wasn’t because they were things I didn’t want to talk about or deal with.” 

Ultimately, the superhero in Morgan opted to open up, using his greatest strength—experience—to connect with everyone needing a loving example. Fusion is one of Dom’s favorite motifs.

“It’s been hard because for a while, people were like, ‘What does he do? Is he a musician? Is he an activist?’ Soon people realized that I blended the two together.” 

When Morgan started receiving notice from the media, he was understandably leery of the attention. Exposing one’s inner most self, as well as past crimes to the world, can be discombobulating, especially when left in the hands of another  writer.

“I was really nervous about having an open conversation about my life. I wanted to talk about music. I wanted to talk about my ‘this, that, and the other,’ but you have to be able to talk about everything. This last year has been the first time that I’ve been open to talking about everything.”

“I did hide for a while,” Morgan continues. “My formative years were not the best. I’m a reinvention of myself. I thought, ‘Do I let people see this shiny, glossy version of Dominique Morgan, which is really safe and comfortable, or do I get outside of my head?’”

Reinvention, acceptance, love, fusion, music, and activism. Dominique Morgan brings it all together.

“It’s part of the process. You can’t reinvent yourself without embracing your old self.” 

Visit dominiquemorgan.com to learn more.

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Rudy Smith

March 7, 2014 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

One of Vicki Young’s happiest childhood memories is a day at Peony Park, the reward for a year of safety patrol service at Mount View Elementary. But if Young, now president of the NAACP’s Omaha branch, had been a child of the ’60s instead of just one decade later, the gates of the popular  amusement park would have been closed to her.

“If not for his work, we would not have been able to go to Peony Park,” says Young of the long-term effects of Rudy Smith’s civil rights activism of the 1960s and beyond.

Today “Whites Only” signs are found only in museums, and the notion of a seat on a bus being governed by convoluted, Plessy vs. Ferguson “separate but equal” thinking seems archaic, backward, unconscionable.

But just 40 years ago Omaha was a segregated city, and amenities like Peony Park were off-limits to African Americans. This didn’t sit well with Smith, who worked to desegregate the popular amusement park. For this and countless other civil rights accomplishments, Smith was awarded the NAACP’s Freedom Fighter Service Award this past December.

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Smith attributes his activism to a Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speech. His Omaha church group attended a Baptist convention in Denver, and his pastor encouraged Smith, then 13, to hear King speak. “King was riveting, mesmerizing,” Smith recalls. “I had never heard anything like that before in my life.”

The experience was a seminal one for Smith. It forced him to look around at his environment and to first see things as they actually existed and then as they should be. “It changed my whole value system. I saw two worlds: one white and one black, one affluent and one oppressed.”

So he set to work. Smith joined the NAACP’s Youth Council, eventually becoming president of a seven-state region. He participated in sit-ins, protests, and marches. One of these protests resulted in life-long employment with the Omaha World-Herald. When Smith and his group gathered to protest the paper’s dearth of African American employees, the production manager invited Smith and his minister in to talk. He told them he couldn’t control union hiring practices, but he could offer non-union jobs. Did Smith know anyone looking for a job? Smith replied, yes, he was.

Smith’s first position with the paper was in the basement as a paper sorter. He continued his employment with the newspaper after graduating from Omaha Central High School in 1963 and during his UNO years, working 40 hours a week while attending classes. He was pivotal in introducing black studies to the university’s curriculum and initiated the hiring of more black professors.

When he completed college in 1969 as the first black graduate of the School of Communication, he continued on with the paper, this time as a photographer. In his youth Smith lent his voice to the civil rights cause.  Now he would turn his eye—and the lens of his camera—to chronicle the struggle. He was there when Robert Kennedy was campaigning in North Omaha two weeks before he was assassinated.  And he covered the riots that burned North 24th Street in the summer of ’69.

“I knew that the people were frustrated and tired of being boxed in with no opportunities. The ’60s were volatile. Civil rights opened the door of change in Omaha. It’s up to us to step through that door still,” says Smith, now 69 years old. “The struggle isn’t over.”