Over the past several years, I have shared the story of the Omaha DePorres Club with hundreds of students, teachers and community members. There are three responses that I invariably get after a presentation.
The first is “How come I’ve never heard of this?” I usually open my response by blaming my dad for keeping all the DePorres Club materials stored away in his attic. But the real answer has to do with the time in which the DePorres Club existed and the unwillingness of the mainstream media to acknowledge the club. It only makes sense that the sole reason for an organization like the DePorres Club to exist was the correlating existence of racism that needed to be addressed. By ignoring the existence of the Omaha DePorres Club, Omaha could ignore its racist nature. And since the story of the DePorres Club wasn’t a part of the mainstream narrative of Omaha while the club existed, it isn’t part of the mainstream history that is presented and remembered by the collective community.
The second response usually comes from a student who doesn’t see what this nearly seventy year-old story full of black and white pictures has to do with his or her world; “Why do I need to know this?” A great question. A few years ago, a series of articles in Omaha’s largest newspaper, the World-Herald, revealed the deep poverty that exists in Omaha’s African-American community. That poverty didn’t just happen. If Omaha, and cities like it, are ever going to meaningfully address the gaps that exist racially and economically within their boundaries, stories like the one of the Omaha DePorres Club have to be shared in order to create an understanding of how we got to where we are today.
The third response is by far my favorite. As I tell the story of the DePorres Club – a story of ordinary people doing extraordinary things – and show the pictures of where events happened in Omaha, some young person will invariably raise his or her hand, and with a slight tilt of the head offer some variation of the following comment, “Hey, my grandmother/aunt/uncle lives right around the corner from there.” That student will often approach me after the presentation and ask, “How come I’ve never heard about this?”