Senator Terrell McKinney – a new voice for North Omaha | Regional government
It wasn’t simple or easy, but Terrell McKinney found his calling.
And he is Senator Terrell McKinney today.
McKinney has made the difficult – and often dangerous – journey of growing up as a young black man in North Omaha with all the challenges that come with trying to shape his future in an environment that tends to present a lot more obstacles than opportunities.
And, as is the case with many young black men, there were occasional encounters with police along the way.
His mother and father separated when he was young – and his father eventually ended up in prison.
“I was a kid with a lot of issues,” McKinney said.
There were starts and stops to find his way, but the road probably started with Joe Edmonson, a legendary youth wrestling coach from North Omaha.
And then Roger Parker, who followed in Edmonson’s footsteps.
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“He wasn’t just a mentor, he was more like a father figure,” McKinney said.
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There were still a lot of hurdles to overcome, but “that’s where it all started,” he said in an interview on the sidelines of the legislative chamber where McKinney, 31, is today. state senator.
McKinney eventually became a state champion wrestler at Omaha North High School in 2007.
“I was always trying to figure out life in North Omaha,” McKinney says. “I was not the best student. My main focus was wrestling.”
Although wrestling may have provided a breakthrough path, it was not an open path.
After considering moving to the University of Northern Iowa after high school, but not encountering much interest from his wrestling coach, McKinney decided to enroll at the University of Nebraska at Omaha. and join the wrestling team there.
He would become an All-American and the UNO win a national championship before the university suddenly decided to end its football and wrestling programs.
At UNO, McKinney said ‘I was in school but I wasn’t there, I was going to class but I wasn’t paying attention’, battling injury and eventually losing eligibility to compete.
At 19, he became a father and now helps raise his daughter.
Next stop would be Maryville University in St. Louis and that, McKinney says, was “the best thing that ever happened to me.”
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What remained was an often dangerous environment where he and a few friends had been shot at the same time, a bullet hitting the windshield of the vehicle they were traveling in, as well as “too many close encounters” with law enforcement officers. order.
In 2010, he recalls, he and some friends were walking in a park and were told to go home but refused to go.
An officer “was trying to stop me and I fought him off,” McKinney said, and it led to a bloody head, a hospital visit and a trip to the county jail.
“I needed to get away from the environment I grew up in,” he said.
Maryville was “a culture shock,” McKinney said. “The demographics were different. There were more wealthy kids. I still had injury issues, but I was doing well in school.”
Meanwhile, in Omaha, McKinney’s best friend was gunned down at a party. he returned home for the funeral, then returned to his new life.
McKinney graduated from Maryville in 2014 with a degree in sports business management. A master’s degree in business administration from Midland University in Fremont followed. He’s a part-time law student at Creighton University and now he’s coaching wrestling after injuries cut short his own wrestling career.
“I didn’t want to be outside the window anymore,” he says. “I wanted to be inside the door.”
And following protests in Omaha over the 2020 killing of George Floyd while in Minneapolis police custody, McKinney “began to communicate with” State Senator Justin Wayne and began considering an offer. for a seat in the Legislative Assembly.
That North Omaha seat had been that of Ernie Chambers, whom he would leave for the second time due to term limits. Wayne is the other senator from North Omaha.
“When I started racing he (Chambers) didn’t give his approval,” McKinney said. “He told me ‘be yourself’. He sends me stuff from time to time. And he’s got my back.”
McKinney said he relishes the “opportunity to use my voice to stand up for my community” as a member of the Legislature, and the challenge that comes with it and the “opportunity to make a difference.”
In the Legislative Assembly, he became the loudest voice against the construction of a proposed new state prison, advocating instead for criminal justice reform.
When he goes to visit Nebraska prisons with other senators now, inmates he knows approach him to say hello.
“We are building a prison to lock up a community that has been neglected,” McKinney said.
In his community, McKinney said: “I hear sirens at night. And I hear gunshots at night.
“We need to invest in opportunities in North Omaha,” he said. “We need to bring hope and education. We need to invest in education and job skills.
“We have to break the cycle of poverty, drugs, prison.
“I want to use my voice to defend my community.
“I hope I can lead by example and help show them the way.”
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Photos: The Nebraska State Capitol through the years
Contact the writer at 402-473-7248 or [email protected]
On Twitter @LJSdon
“When I first started running he (Ernie Chambers) wouldn’t give his approval. He told me ‘be yourself’.
— Senator Terrell McKinney