North 24th Street was jam-packed with positivity Saturday. Jazz music and singing reverberated as community members greeted one another with bear hugs and catch-up conversations.

Visitors shopped at places like the Holiday Boutique, chowed down at local food trucks, and waited patiently for their turn to meet Santa or ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Kids carried free candy canes from Omaha police officers and “swag bags” from the Great Plains Black History Museum.

For Lisa Watkins, the event was a good way to get kids outside, away from their video games. (Although 10-year-old Clifford Gregory Jr. disputed how often he games.)

Their group, a mix of family and friends, showed off their new children’s books donated by the Omaha Public Library before boarding the horse-drawn carriage and waving like passing royalty as they traveled down 24th Street.

An estimated 5,000 people attended the ninth annual Christmas in the Village event held by the Empowerment Network, according to Vicki Quaites-Ferris, director of operations.

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The event is a festive opportunity for people to see the north Omaha arts, business and entertainment district revitalization in action, Quaites-Ferris said.

Members of the Binney Wirt Spencer and Lothrop Neighborhood Association distributed the last of their donations as part of an ongoing coat drive. William McCain, a volunteer, said he’s attended Christmas in the Village every year it’s run.

It’s the history of the north Omaha community that keeps him and others coming back, McCain said.

The 24th and Lake Streets district was the epicenter of Omaha and a nationally known music scene 50 years ago, said Brigitte McQueen Shew, executive director of the Union for Contemporary Art.

The Union moved into the historic Blue Lion building two years ago. The building once housed offices of both Omaha’s first black doctor and first black dentist.

“So many people got their hair cut here or got candy after school here,” Shew said. “It really is a huge part of our community. So for us, it was an honor to be part of saving this building, so it could be around for another 100 years.”

Shew said she looks forward to amazing things happening in the neighborhood. There are conversations about improving housing, supporting entrepreneurs and starting new businesses.

Part of these developments stem from the 2011 North Omaha Revitalization Plan, a City Council-approved initiative to develop four specific areas — 24th and Lake, Adams Park, 16th and Cuming Streets, and Lake and 30th Streets — as a catalyst for development elsewhere, Quaites-Ferris said.

Quaites-Ferris said Saturday’s event was an idea from Willie Barney, founder, president and facilitator of the Empowerment Network.

Quaites-Ferris said she hopes people at the event have fun, support local businesses and come back to the district again.

“If nothing else,” she said, “just have them leave feeling prideful about living in north Omaha or being in north Omaha or just being part of the community.”


Photos: Durham Museum’s Christmas at Union Station over the years

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