Undesign the Redline Recap Blog

On June 25, the Junior League of Omaha had the honor of hosting the first virtual tour of The Union for Contemporary Art’s Undesign the Redline exhibit. Led by Susan Stroesser, a volunteer of The Union, and Paige Reitz, deputy director of The Union, our members had the opportunity to learn about the history of the redline in Omaha and the lasting impact that we can see today.

According to The Union, “Beginning in 1936, the neighborhoods of Omaha’s Near North and South sides were systematically segregated from the rest of the city by means of prohibitive and discriminatory home lending practices. In Omaha, and cities across the country, red lines were literally drawn on city maps by the federally-funded Home Owners’ Loan Corporation, identifying predominantly African-American and immigrant communities as “hazardous” and unfit for investment.

Systemic challenges today, like inequalities in housing, education, income, criminal justice and health are far from separate issues. These challenges are rooted in a deep and entangled history of policies, practices and processes that remain unrevealed and misunderstood. As new forces begin to transform cities and towns, decisions about interconnected challenges are therefore often made ‘in the dark.’”

The virtual training enabled League members to have meaningful conversations that encourage us to continue learning and growing as a League. It also provided us with a connection to the communities that we are predominantly serving in our new Hunger and Access to Healthy Foods focus area. Of our five current community partners, all five are in the top ten zip codes of poverty in Omaha, and two of them are in the number two spot. All of these community partners are located in areas that were previously redlined.

Historic Omaha Redlining Map

Below are comments from a few attendee’s experience. “I am very grateful to have had the opportunity to virtually tour the Union for Contemporary Art and learn about structural racism in both its current and historical context within our community. The virtual docents were incredibly knowledgeable in leading discussion and providing relevant resources. These critical conversations are necessary within the Junior League of Omaha, and I am glad that our members are committed to growing and learning. It is clear that we can do better, and experiences like this offer us an opportunity to expand our understanding and better serve our community moving forward.” – Anne Bowen, Placement Chair

“Omaha has a history similar to so many cities of similar size – and lots of our members have no idea how much racism is a part of that history. The Union’s Undesign the Red Line training helped us learn about the intersections between red lining, public school segregation, public transportation, food deserts, and a lack of healthcare facilities in both north and south Omaha. For many of our members, it was the first time these issues had ever been discussed, and the Union does such an incredible job addressing the topics that no matter where you are on the journey, there is something for everyone. I loved how the Q&A at the end allowed of members the chance to share stories and connect their own lived experiences to the content of the exhibit. It was especially helpful to have Paige in the training to provide research in the chat for us as topics came up.” – Stephanie Kidd, Diversity and Inclusion Chair

“The ‘Undesign the Redline’ event was incredibly timely and insightful. This event proactively addressed and educated membership on systemic race issues. The speaker provided a detailed history of segregation and racism within the Omaha community and a few league members shared their personal stories which further demonstrated the persistent nature of the issue. The educational impact of this event is meaningful and it was one of my favorite JLO events as a result!” – Sophia Petrow, Done in a Day Vice Chair

Shannon Lang, Hunger & Access to Healthy Foods Chair