Omaha community leader, advocate, connector and entrepreneur Tim Clark, 58, is taking time out for himself for a change.
Recovering from recent major surgery, as well as attending to other personal health matters has prompted this step back. So has a desire to complete a book that, he said, is about “helping people build their circles of influence by making connections that count.”
In a career focused on community building, Clark has worked in gang intervention (City of Omaha) and human development (YMCA director). His Clark Connection Group produced the Omaha Riverfront Blues and Jazz Festival, the African American Leadership Awards, and a multicultural expo. He’s been involved in music and the arts most of his life. As a young man, he sang with Up With People. He later served as the executive director of Love’s Jazz & Art Center. He currently works in the education space as a Business and Community Relations Manager for Metropolitan Community College.
“I’ve always prided myself on being involved with things bigger than me,” Clark said between puffs of a hand-rolled Dominican cigar at his home.
This man of many ventures tried his hand as managing partner of a LoLo’s Chicken & Waffles a few years ago. Things didn’t go as planned, “You have to know when to let some things go,” he said. His Clark Connection Group II owns and manages commercial properties and he’s always looking for new opportunities to extend his reach.
Though, there comes a time for reflection. “2023 is a year of self-care to strengthen the mind, the body, and the soul. I’m turning inward to get stronger so I can focus on helping people around me,” he said. “I find myself in quiet spaces more, listening for what’s next.”
This reset comes in the aftermath of a 2017 prostate cancer diagnosis. Active surveillance monitored things until the disease turned more aggressive last year, 2022. In December he underwent a procedure to remove his prostate. Post-op tests reveal he is now cancer-free.
“Thank God, we got it out just in time.”
Clark is working to control his diabetes, hypertension, and glaucoma. He uses a WOWT TV show he hosts, “Heartland Focus,” as a forum to advocate that men, especially African Americans, be more pro-active with their health.
“Being proactive is getting your annual checkups
and having a medical home where doctors get to know you and your body and where you feel comfortable having a conversation about what’s bothering you. If you choose to be proactive you can catch things like prostate and colon cancer before they really take hold of your body.
He’s attracted to people who do the right thing and invite others to follow. “When you put yourself out there you hold yourself accountable and ask people to join you,” he said.
Clark hosts the social media platform Moving People2 Action that, he said, is about “listening, educating, and getting people to act.” Said Clark, “It can be a better world if we give people something to do. I’m always challenging people around me, even the guys who come to my Man Cave for some conversation and adult beverages, by asking, what are we going to do to make a difference and how do we help each other grow?”
His motivation to do for others, he said, comes from his late mother, Irene. He was the 10th of her 13 children.
“People looked at her as kind of the community mother. When it was time for celebration, comforting, somebody needing a meal or prayer, she was there. She was always willing to give second chances. She was just in this spirit of forgiving and hoping people would turn around.
“She taught me to give unconditionally. I do what I do today out of that same passion and commitment to make this world a better place. Another principle I took from my mom is Biblical – the more you give, the more you receive – and this whole notion of if I can help somebody, than my living is not in vain. It’s all about looking out.”
Even living in poverty in North Omaha’s Hilltop Projects, his mother still managed to help others.
“We grew up with a strong sense of community and family. Folks coming up from the South in the Great Migration needed a place to stay. A lot of times we would take them in until they could get a job and get on their feet.”
That example of selflessness combined with a spiritual foundation laid at St. Mark Baptist Church, where he still attends services, informed Clark.
The Benson High grad also inherited his mother’s fearlessness. She escaped the drudgery of Mississippi sharecropping life, to pursue new opportunities in Omaha. He used a music-football scholarship to expand his horizons by attending the University of South Dakota, which led to touring with Up With People. The gig took him to some 15 countries and 130 cities.
“Coming from the background I did, being able to travel the world and be exposed to different cultures most definitely had a profound impact to shape who I am, I had some unbelievable experiences. What it taught me was that we’re more alike than not. We have more in common than not. If we focus on what’s best for humanity this will be a much better place.
“I learned to appreciate the differences of people versus judging them. We get in trouble when we seek to judge. We should appreciate each other for who we are and our uniqueness. You don’t have to be like me, I don’t have to be like you. But we’ve got to be mindful of how we make people feel. We have done some great injustices in the way we make some people feel.”
Upon returning to Omaha, his community ties led to him doing outreach work with one of the city’s first gang intervention programs.
“That got me involved in the community and solving problems. I was asked to join then – Mayor PJ Morgan’s staff to run the Omaha Community partnership, a violence-gang-drug prevention and intervention strategy for the city.”
That work segued into working for the YMCA, first at the downtown branch, then at North O’s Butler-Gast branch, which gave him his first executive director experience.
He served as vice president of member services for the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, which bolstered his corporate-community connections. His career moves have strategically built his own circles of influence.
“You never get there by yourself. There are always mentors. One of my mentors at that time was the late Joe Edmonson, who had this saying, ‘No magic, just hard work.” He was just one of many people that helped me along the way. In my forthcoming book I explain it’s your job to align yourself with other people’s strengths that complement your weaknesses. You’ve got to give people permission to hold you accountable. That’s why I believe everybody needs a mentor, a coach, an advocate, and a sponsor. You need all four.”
He took over the Executive Director role at Love’s Jazz when the nonprofit faced serious financial and image problems. Trying to stabilize the venue, he said, became a lesson in “understanding my strengths and weaknesses and building a team to help augment me and what I want to accomplish.” Reality, he discovered, can impede plans.
“I don’t care how bad you want it, if you don’t have the bandwidth and capacity to help you fulfill that dream or vision, then it’s very challenging.”
He left the problematic venue, since restructured and renamed, for the more stable environment of Metropolitan Community College in 2019.
“The work I’m doing now for Metropolitan Community College is some of the most important work I’ve done,” he said. “MCC gives community residents an opportunity to skill up so they can move from a job to a career and from just surviving to thriving. I’m really excited about helping as many people as possible come to MCC to get on a path that’s going to change their life.”
To be competitive in today’s workforce, he said, “you have to have some degree of expertise or competency in something and MCC gives that opportunity.” Added Clark. “At MCC we say you can start here and go anywhere. We meet you where you’re at. You don’t have to apply to attend, you just register, and we put you on a path.”
With LB-1024 poised to pump hundreds of millions of economic recovery dollars into North and South Omaha, he said, “It’s really game on for MCC to provide the certifications, associate degrees people need to advance their lives and careers.” With business parks and hubs among proposed new North Omaha development, he said, “The same amount of energy put into attracting new businesses, has to be put into skilling up the community so that residents can take advantage of those jobs. Shame on us as a city, if we don’t ready our workforce to meet the demand that’s going to be in front of us.”
Clark would like to see more North Omaha residents take advantage of what MCC offers. “With the assets and resources MCC possesses there’s no reason why we shouldn’t be seeing greater participation. How we get people to utilize what’s in their own backyard is the work.”
Education is not only necessary to increase employability, he said, but to break down barriers that needlessly separate people.
“Everybody’s got to do their part. Personally, I believe that divide comes from a lack of understanding and getting to know each other. Somebody’s painting a picture about how you should feel about me, and you don’t even know me, and you won’t take the time to get to know me.
That’s the problem. Perception will become reality if you don’t do something to change it.
“We will not break divisions down until we decide to get to know each other and go down that path of appreciation and understanding. If we’re going to become better, we have to have the courage to get uncomfortable. Out of that, you start to see growth, harmony, and understanding. I think that’s what the universe is calling us to be and do – make things better and caring for each other.”
It pains Clark that some segments of the community do not benefit from the prosperity America, Nebraska, and Omaha enjoy as a whole.
“Our challenge as a city, a state, a nation is to pay attention to all our populations and create an environment where we make all people feel they fit in somewhere. Our focus needs to be on letting more people in, versus figuring out ways to keep them out. We so often get in our silos and feel that as long as it’s not affecting me, I’m good. That’s not how we win. We win by embracing and caring for people. It’s not about what we take, it’s about what we leave. Directly or indirectly we’re all responsible for each other’s welfare.”
In this year of working on himself, he said, he not only has his book to finish but an album, too. Then there’s a song he wrote in the midst of COVID-19 entitled “Yes We Can” that speaks to each of us being the change.
“I believe it can be the new anthem for the 21st century,” he said.
He plans releasing the song in 2023, the same year of him being his own change agent.
“I closed each ‘Heartland Focus’, the TV Show he hosts, by saying, ‘Be good to yourself.’ Well, now I’ve really got to start walking the talk so people can see I’m manifesting what I’ve been talking about. I’ve got to be about living and practicing what I preached – being good to myself.”