Editor's Note: Seventy-Five North would like to recognize an error for publishing the misleading headline that previously titled this article naming Frank O'Neal the current Poet Laureate of Nebraska. This was a mistake on our part and apologize for any inconvenience.
To recognize the potential growth and uniqueness of Prospect Hill neighborhood without crediting the historians of that area would be a mistake. One cannot miss the mention of a special resident who brings character to this historic part of Omaha. Poet, historian, and community resident Frank O’Neal is worth a thousand mentions having brought so much knowledge of not only his experiences but also the impact of the cultural significance of Prospect Hill itself.
As a local resident for over 50 years, give or take a few traveling escapades to explore the world, Frank has never forgotten his roots and what made him the dynamic storyteller that he is today. He recently finished an 8-part series on the local cable channel 22 around his perspectives on culture, history and all things creative. On the show he performs live the details of his ideology on love, activism, the culture of hip hop, philosophy, common sense, and of course poetry. This is just off a recent book tour for his fourth book title. Just before that, he wrapped up a special video project in collaboration with Surreal Media Lab which poetically explains why he does not use the ‘N’ word through visual and audio performance. Subsequently, Frank also does frequent appearances as a guest poet for Verbal Gumbo, a monthly spoken word gathering hosted at the Omaha Rockets Kanteen.
“There are two biggest days in our lives. The day we were born and the day we figure out why.”
Frank shares that he was always on a quest to figure out that reason. His creative expression became a tool to do so. He began as a percussionist and performed with bands throughout high school and into his early career years in the military in the Coast Guard. He remembers being inspired to play after watching a show called “Liberace” (1950’s-60’s) and even later he realized that the drums helped keep him out of trouble. In addition, he was subconsciously inspired to do something with his life and be dedicated to his family like he witnessed his own father do.
“My father was a chef for the military. So he would be gone for almost two weeks out of the month,” Frank says. “But he introduced me to a few powerful men that changed my life forever. Besides the men who were already living in this neighborhood growing up. God Bless my parents for buying this home. All the men who lived around here were all men of color who served during World World II. And when they came back home, the City of Omaha built these homes for them.”
Frank remembers having enlisted at 18 and when he came home from boot camp, he remembers those three men being so proud of him. The entire neighborhood continued to play a role in building a foundation for his upbringing. Frank talked about how everyone watched over each other’s kids and he details the names of every person who is either still living or has lived on his block. He is proud to mention that he is still friends with all of them.
“I just love this neighborhood, you know what I mean? There is just so much history here. I don’t wanna let that go,” Frank said. “All of these homes may have changed with different siding but they are all still that stucco design. These homes still look the same and they were built in 1947.”
Once again Frank can describe a moment from almost every year of his childhood and into his adult years having grown up in this neighborhood. Once leaving the military, he transitioned into the healthcare field for 20 years and built a family of his own. He began writing as a way to reflect and and eventually became a natural historian for his hometown. While Frank is fond of these memories and although appreciates the history, he still wants to witness the continued growth of it. Making it a priority to preserve things, Frank uses his creative expression to pass down these stories to anyone who is willing to listen.
Frank continues to share with public speaking engagements and writing various articles and books. He recently performed for Omaha’s chapter of Creative Mornings (view the video here). In addition, he showcased a video poem at the Nebraska Arts Council gallery in collaboration with Jason Fischer (view the highlights). If you ever get a chance to meet Frank, be sure to grab him and sit down for five minutes. You might learn a lot about the history of this city and hopefully be inspired to preserve your own neighborhood stories.
About the Photographer - Davie Grams, LLC is a Nebraska based business whose purpose is to provide photography services and community outreach through various programs and projects. Follow the Davie Grams trail on Instagram @davie_gram, and Facebook @Davie Grams, LLC
About the Writer - JoAnna LeFlore is a freelance lifestyle writer based in Nebraska. She is an advocate for celebrating culture and shares her experiences regularly on her blog at joannaleflore.com. Follow her adventures on Instagram and Facebook at @leflorecreative.