$1 Million Gift Has Supported Relevant Issues Facing the Omaha Community

The initiative will help needs surrounding inmates in the Nebraska prison system.

A $1 million donation by Minneapolis resident and Omaha native John Morgan to the University of Nebraska Foundation has funded a new re-entry initiative at the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO) to address community needs, including inmates in the Nebraska prison system.

The re-entry program, known formally as The Transformation Project, is housed in the UNO College of Arts and Sciences and is administered in collaboration with the following groups: the UNO College of Public Affairs and Community Service; the UNO College of Communication, Fine Arts and Media; the Malcolm X Memorial Foundation; and the Nebraska Department of Corrections.

Dr. Manning Marable, a leading Malcolm X expert and professor in the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University, serves as a consultant to The Transformation Project.

As part of the project, the life of Malcolm X is studied and taught. Malcolm X strongly believed in education, commitment to purpose and self-transformation and personal growth as the method for rising above one’s circumstances. The project helps inmates explore beliefs, attitudes and actions that are central to successful re-entry by using the practices of motivational interviewing and cognitive behavioral theory. The Transformation Project uses examples and experiences of Malcolm X to help inmates determine their core values and identify choices and actions that support those values as a means to successfully re-enter communities.

The project’s inaugural session lasted July through December of last year, with 21 inmates completing the program at the Omaha Correctional Center, 2323 Ave. J. Classes were held weekly and lasted about 90 minutes. Topics included education, employment, housing, positive social networks, and mental and physical health.

A new session began April 20 at the Omaha Correctional Center, and will wrap up this summer. Later this year a third session begins at the Nebraska State Penitentiary in Lincoln.

Future sites include the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

Chris Rodgers, a member of the Douglas County Board of Commissioners since 2004 and a senior community services associate at UNO, leads The Transformation Project. Rodgers earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism and a master’s degree in business administration from Creighton University. He also received a master’s degree in public administration from UNO.

UNO students and faculty have been responsible for creating, administering and evaluating a model for self-transformation that can be used in prisons or by anyone wishing to make significant life changes. Information has been collected from local, regional and national experts.

It is hoped that the initiative will serve as a model for similar programs around the country.

Morgan, a graduate of Omaha’s North High School and 1969 graduate of UNO, said making this gift has enabled him to give back to the community where he grew up and to the university where he earned his degree.

“I invested in this project at the University of Nebraska because I wanted to take the transformation that Malcolm X experienced in prison, and bring that story to men in prison so that they might transform their own lives,” Morgan said. “My long standing interest in helping those affected by poverty and racial inequality is very well served by this project; it could make a significant difference in the lives of prisoners that benefit our society in multiple ways. The least of which would be lowering recidivism and the staggering cost of incarceration. But I am really hoping for a permanent change that leads to a better life for them, their families and the community at large. I’m grateful for the education that I received at UNO and I believe that the university is uniquely positioned to develop and expand this project.”

Morgan currently serves on the UNO Campaign Committee for the University of Nebraska Foundation’s Campaign for Nebraska.

Morgan’s business career began in the computer industry; first, with IBM and, later, with Memorex and Data Serve. In 1982 Morgan founded an equipment-leasing company and merged it with TCF Bank in 1997. Today he serves as CEO of Winmark Corp., a Minneapolis-based company that creates, supports and finances business and has more than 850 franchised territories in North America. The company specializes in small ticket and middle market leasing, and developing franchises for retail stores that buy, sell and trade new and used merchandise. It is the parent company of Play It Again Sports®, Once Upon A Child®, Plato’s Closet®, Music Go Round®, Wirth Business Credit® and Winmark Capital.

Currently Morgan serves on the advisory board of the Page Education Foundation, a mentor and scholarship program in Minnesota. He also has served on the board of directors of African American Family Services and the national board of Girls, Inc.

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