Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Build Up Omaha awards recognize Omahans whose work embodies the spirit of a modern, robust democracy. Among our latest honorees are community advocates, neighbors, leaders, students, and everyday Omahans. We’ll officially honor the winners at our third annual celebration Nov. 15, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.
Civic Nebraska honors Ferial Pearson, assistant professor of teacher education at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, for bringing kindness and understanding to others through courageous speaking as well as a special ongoing project with her students.
Pearson and her students started the “Secret Kindness Agents” following the Sandy Hook Elementary mass shooting in 2012. The group commits anonymous, random acts of kindness.
Students decided to give each other “secret agent” names – and nicknamed Pearson “Mama Beast” because, they say, “she stays in beast mode.”
Pearson is a self-professed queer Muslim woman who speaks openly about her identity and encourages others to do the same.
A native of Nairobi, Kenya, Pearson was an Omaha Public Schools teacher for 10 years, during which time she taught English and reading at South High School. At South, she started a Gay-Straight Alliance and Unity Club; she also taught at Ralston High School, where she started an Avenue Scholars Foundation and a Gay-Straight Alliance Club.
“Dr. Pearson exemplifies the mission and values of Civic Nebraska,” said Jules Ward, who nominated Pearson. “She spreads the message of sharing a civil society using civil discourse.”
Civic Nebraska honors Akile Banister, founder of the Banister Leadership Academy, for his work teaching leadership, life, and social skills to youth in his community.
Banister founded the Banister Leadership Academy, which empowers K-8 youth with leadership skills through fun, hands-on, and engaging team-building activities. The program teaches leadership skills through such methods as Tae Kwon Do, dance, gang prevention classes, parenting classes, mentoring, and tutoring.
“Banister’s Leadership Academy is what I’m all about,” he said. “I use an enthusiastic and genuinely friendly attitude to radiate my sincere passion for helping the youth in my community.”
Banister has worked with underserved youth since he was 16. His drive stems from losing two of his cousins to drive-by shootings, both due to gang-related activities.
With an undergraduate degree in nonprofit administration from the University of Nebraska at Omaha and a master’s degree in organizational management from Peru State College, Banister has over 10 years of experience working with at-risk youth. Through it all, he has repeatedly proven his ability to lead through diverse and challenging circumstances.
Along with founding Banister Leadership Academy, he provides a free youth leadership program on Friday and Saturday nights called The Night L.I.F.E. (Leadership in Fun Environments).
“I am always seeking new opportunities to learn, grow, and help others become successful,” Banister said.
Meet Ferial Pearson, Akile Banister, and their fellow Build Up Omaha honorees Nov. 15 at Empire Room Omaha. Get your tickets here.