“Being there, it was like a weight was lifted,” Nebraska State Sen. Terrell McKinney describes his trip to Africa
On the west coast of Africa, near the Gulf of Guinea, Nebraska State Senator Terrell McKinney sensed a sensation he rarely experiences in the United States.
“Being there, it was like a weight was lifted,” he said from his seat at Culxr House, a community hub inside the North Omaha district he represents in the Nebraska Legislature. “Whatever sense of alertness I had here, I didn’t have there. I was able to just relax.”
Willie Hamiltion, president of Black Men United, sponsored the senator’s mission to build a sister city link between Omaha and Jameston, a township in Accra, Ghana’s capital. “Giving our kids an identity so they can understand where they came from,” McKinney explained.
However, an intriguing occurrence occurred as McKinney attempted to develop this sister city relationship with Ghana. In addition, he found himself better comprehending his own individuality.
Accra’s metropolitan center, renowned as “Africa’s Capital of Cool,” the pleasant climate, superb restaurants, a vibrant bazaar, and a lively nightlife scene were all reasons for tourists to enjoy Ghana. All of these factors compelled the Ghanaian government to promote “The Year of Return” in 2019, aiming to establish Ghana as the premier destination for Black people worldwide.
However, the Nebraska state senator also had ties to the nation’s past. For instance, he was astounded by tales of the mighty Ashanti Empire fending off the British under the leadership of women.
“You always hear about the warriors in Africa, but you rarely hear about the women,” he said. “The women stepped up in a major way.”
McKinney, who grew up amid North Omaha’s poverty, felt a connection to the Ghanaian people’s suffering. During his stay, the inflation rate rose to over 30 percent. He observed urban poor exhibiting an entrepreneurial spirit and hustler’s mentality. He believes that, for a variety of reasons, African American communities often lack this trait.
“How they address their issues is to get in the street. Let’s make some money in a legal way,” he said. “The people that are not in the best situation aren’t walking around with their heads dropped.”
According to the state senator, the fact that the majority of African nations and African American areas such as North Omaha share consistently low conditions is no coincidence.
“It’s crazy to me that our ancestors come from a natural resource-rich continent, but the people are the most impoverished in the world,” he said while comparing his hometown to Accra.
“Then you look here. Supposed to be in the greatest country in the world, but every Black neighborhood is impoverished and that’s viewed as a coincidence.”
This perception of discrimination against the African-American people of North Omaha was a major factor in McKinney’s decision to challenge Ernie Chambers for the District 11 seat. A too-high poverty rate, health inequalities, and a disproportionate number of Black North Omahans incarcerated in the state prison system are concerns that McKinney is concerned about — issues that have not changed much since he was a child, he said.
McKinney feels that the state of Nebraska’s historical mistreatment of its Black citizens is a major contributor to the underlying problem.
“Part of me feels like Nebraska doesn’t want Black people to be here if I’m being honest,” he said.
“The barriers that you have to jump over, crawl through, and shake to get anywhere in Nebraska as a Black person is a reason you see so many young Black people just leave.”
McKinney wants to take what he calls ‘the Black dialogue’ to a worldwide scale and have open discussions about the resolution of historical wrongdoings affecting millions of African Americans.
“When it comes to us — no matter who was at fault — no one has come close to a reconciliation piece in a real way. How can we put the struggle of the Black man, Black woman, and Black kids on center stage globally, and get people to pay attention to what happened to us historically? In a real way. Not an, ‘I’m sorry…move on the next day.’ A meaningful, ‘Y’all were wrong.’”
McKinney does not exclusively refer to American and European slave traffickers and owners.
The importance of Ghana’s role in the transatlantic slave trade cannot be emphasized, he remarked. During that dark period in American history, the country, which was formerly a British colony known as the Gold Coast, was a key hub.
Slave castles constructed by European merchants continue to exist as historic educational centers and tourist attractions. In Ghana, McKinney visited several of them. When Americans inquired about the slave trade, he saw that native Ghanaians hesitated and frequently appeared ashamed.
“It’s like, ‘You’re home, why are you asking about that?’” he said of Ghanian reaction to slavery questions. “But for us, we are still in search of who we are and our identity.”
McKinney went searching in Ghana. He entered the slave castles and, he says, saw the “dungeons and the feces, blood and spit” still evident on the walls and floors.
“You’re walking on it,” he said. “How can I move on from something that is still there?”
The state senator’s motivation to better the lives and livelihoods of his citizens is fueled by the same convictions. His objective is to bring economic fairness and genuine opportunity to North Omaha.
McKinney, Senator Justin Wayne, and others gained $336 million in pandemic recovery monies for both North and South Omaha during the previous session.
This funding will eventually affect a variety of fields, including multifamily and single-family housing as well as infrastructure. He thinks that it would stimulate small business growth and job creation, although the effects will not be realized immediately.
In the interim, the state senator thinks that initiatives such as demolishing and rebuilding the Spencer housing complex will have an effect. He also thinks that the vows to do better by Black Omahans and North Omaha citizens, signed by a number of Omaha-area business leaders after George Floyd’s death, will be of assistance.
“To me, doing anything here you have to be intentional,” McKinney said, motioning towards the street outside Culxr House. “It’s easy to build a building, but it will have no economic impact on the community. We had a group of business people in Omaha sign a letter saying they’re going to do better. But what did they do to do better? How many of them are willing to sacrifice their seats at the table to uplift you?”