By: AIF Staff
On March 11, 2021, the people of Dallas lost a pillar of their community with the passing of Bishop Omar Jahwar. Few make such a big impact in such a short time as Bishop Omar and fewer still embody the awesome power of redemption better than he did.
Bishop Omar was one of the founders and leaders of Urban Specialists, a Texas-based organization dedicated to promoting positive change in inner-city communities and to reducing destructive and violent behavior. Bishop Omar’s life was a personal testament of transformation, as he went from a juvenile criminal offender to one of Texas’ first gang-interventionists to receiving the White House’s Achievement Against the Odds Award. As all those who knew Bishop Omar mourn, they should take comfort in the fact that he is undoubtedly looking down saying: “There is a time for grieving, but then the work must go on.”
Upon his passing, American Idea Foundation President and former Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, who struck up an unlikely friendship with Bishop Omar — one that spanned almost a decade and one that transcended race, socioeconomic status, and party affiliation, offered the following statement:
“At first glance, it wouldn’t seem that a Congressman from Janesville and a preacher from Dallas would have a lot in common, but I was honored to call Bishop Omar a friend. He taught me a lot about redemption and the power of community. I’ll miss his personality, his passion, and his unwavering belief in every person’s inherent goodness.
“Bishop Omar lived his work. He showed me, and the people of Dallas, that real change happens one person at a time. Bishop Omar’s legacy will live on through the ongoing work of Urban Specialists and through all the people he saved during the course of his ministry. The best way we can honor Bishop Omar’s life is to draw inspiration from his example and be a catalyst for positive change in our communities.”
In a Forbes column entitled The Gangster, the Preacher, & the Speaker of the House, Bishop Omar summarized his work succinctly: “This is my role. I tell these young men, ‘There are landmines in this field, this gang life, but if you allow me to lead you, brother if you take my hand, I can show the path around the mines, and you can cross unscathed.’”
He continued, “What we do in communities is we attempt to bring social change through individuals who are closest to the problem, those who can actually deliver help from a hand-to-hand point of view. I recruit guys who’ve lived that lifestyle in some of the roughest zip codes in the nation, and I’m asking them to become front-line soldiers fighting for one idea: that urban life does not have to be stunted by violence and a sub-culture of abuse.”
In 2016, the impact of Bishop Omar was made abundantly clear in a video entitled: Become a Hero, which was a part of the Comeback video series that focused on transformative efforts underway in our communities.
Speaker Ryan first met Bishop Omar during his travels with Bob Woodson travels as he was looking for inspiring examples of individuals and organizations tackling pressing issues in our communities. Almost immediately, it became clear that Bishop Omar and the Urban Specialists were making a difference and developing a model that could be exported to other cities around the United States. In 2018, as Speaker of the House, Ryan continued to draw lessons and inspiration from Bishop Omar, visiting Urban Specialists to discuss their efforts to combat multi-generational poverty and reduce gang violence in Texas.
The efforts being undertaken by Bishop Omar and his organization were highlighted in National Review, which summarized their efforts in the following way:
““Urban specialists” are Pastor Omar’s team of mentors, largely former gang members, who have returned to the neighborhoods they grew up in to try to steer the newest generation onto a better path. Pastor Omar insists that the best people to solve social problems such as gang violence or drug addiction are those who experienced those problems and overcame them….
“Pastor Omar’s urban-specialist model has proven itself in Dallas. The Dallas Independent School District works with Pastor Omar to get urban specialists into schools across the district, and he has an enthusiastic supporter in Dallas police chief David Brown. And he believes that the model can be applied anywhere — from schools to courtrooms to corporate America.”
Bishop Omar’s work was hands-on and sometimes, it was messy. But Bishop Omar lived a purpose-driven life. He created force-multipliers in communities, developing a network of mentors who could meet young people involved in gangs and criminal behavior and speak to them from a position of shared experiences. He saved lives. He prevented violence. He promoted hope and optimism. He made an impact that will reverberate for years to come.
Where others saw problems, Bishop Omar saw solutions. Where others saw dead-ends, Bishop Omar saw ways to turn around. The American Idea Foundation joins his family, his friends, and all those touched by Bishop Omar in grieving his passing and honoring his decades of service to others by drawing inspiration from his amazing work.