Young and Black in Omaha: ‘It’s Going to Change Everything’

OMAHA, 3:13 a.m. CDT – In a drab strip mall with a shuttered grocery store at one end and a check-cashing parlor at the other, Chris Bridgman walks into a storefront.  Door marked No. 5032.

Deborah and Chris Bridgman say Barack Obama would change everything.  BRAD DAVIS/The Ballot Box

Deborah and Chris Bridgman say Barack Obama would open new possibilities in their lives. BRAD DAVIS/The Ballot Box

It’s there that campaign volunteers – most of them black – make phone calls, write letters and organize canvassing campaigns to elect the first African-American president.

Bridgman, a 17-year-old student at Omaha’s predominantly black Benson High School, bounds into the office, finds the table full of Barack Obama paraphernalia, and promptly unravels a roll of Obama stickers.

“How many of these can I take?” he asks the campaign worker.

“Well how many do you want?” she asks.

Bridgman takes seven. They’re not just for him: Kids at his school – most of them also younger, black men – want to show their support for Obama.

Why is electing Obama so important to Bridgman?

“Because it will mean that we as African-Americans can do anything.”

Bridgman’s mother, Deborah, wrote a $15 check to pay for two campaign signs and a bumper sticker.

The mother and son live in a predominantly black, economically depressed neighborhood of Omaha. Within a mile from the campaign office, 14 people have been killed – mostly in gang-related violence – since January. The Obama campaign opened an office here, along a main drag of tire stores, boarded-up shopping plazas and fast food joints. It’s the third office in Omaha, an area that could be up for grabs for a presidential candidate for the first time since 1964.

Deborah Bridgman, who also has a son away in college, said she couldn’t believe Omahans would vote for a Democrat. That’s not the town she knows, she said. If it does tip Democratic, Deborah Bridgman said, it would be a “quiet surprise.”

Even though he’s only 17, Chris Bridgman said he most cared about healthcare and the minimum wage.

Because of his age, Chris Bridgman gets lots of calls from army recruiters.

That’s his mother’s biggest issue: ending the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. If the next president doesn’t end the wars, Deborah Bridgman said the military could come knocking on her door.

“You know, how dare they think they can take away my boys?” she said.

Chris Bridgman left the campaign office, armed with his stickers. He’ll share them with his friends at school, he said, even though most of them aren’t old enough to vote.

Because this election is important, he said. And not important in an up-in-the-clouds sort of way, Chris Bridgman said.

If a black man were to ascend to the presidency: Well, it’s simple, Chris Bridgman says:

“It’s going to change everything.”

— BY BRAD DAVIS

Slideshow: Scenes from the “Hope Wall” in Barack Obama’s North Omaha campaign office.  The wall features posters created by children in the predominantly black neighborhood.

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One response to “Young and Black in Omaha: ‘It’s Going to Change Everything’

  1. Brad…all I have to say is that you kick ass!!!
    you did as much work as all of us combined I think!!

    AMAZING

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