Above Gerald “Mike” Kuhn’s office desk sits his favorite quote – “You can’t play the game if you’re not in it,” said by Franklin T. Thompson, the city’s former Director of Human Rights and Relations who retired in July.
“That relates to – you can’t be a decision maker if you’re not at the table, you can’t not read the right position, you can’t have an effect on the game,” he said.
From Kuhn’s experience playing basketball to his current position as the assistant director of human rights and relations for the city of Omaha, he has become a playmaker for his community.
Moving to Omaha in the sixth grade, Kuhn began playing basketball at Omaha Central High School, which eventually led him to play collegiate basketball at Hampton University of Virginia before transferring to Kentucky State University where he earned his bachelor’s degree.
After graduating from Kentucky State, Kuhn moved to Detroit and began work as a juvenile probation officer. From there, he went on to get his master’s degree at Marygrove College, which allowed him to begin working with a variety of different people.
“I got tired of locking the same kids back up, so I got my master’s degree and then I started working with a bunch of different populations like juvenile justice, foster care youth, with a therapist for adults, NGI (clients not guilty by reason of insanity) — and I just worked with a host of people in the community.”
Despite initially moving to Detroit for work, Kuhn was drawn back to Omaha.
“I want to give back to the community where I grew up, and I feel like growing up in Omaha really helped me find my way as far as playing basketball in north Omaha and really helped me develop who I am today,” he said.
This diverse experience gave Kuhn what he describes as a “well-rounded view of people in the community,” which helps him in his current role.
Helping the Community
Working with the city of Omaha, Kuhn has had the opportunity to implement new programs for the city, like the Restorative Justice Program, which is a partnership with the Omaha Police Department, the Human Rights and Relations Department, and the city of Omaha Prosecutor’s Office.
The Restorative Justice Program offers diversion for minor offenses and was implemented after the civil unrest of 2020.
“I really like that partnership because I think we have a great opportunity to be able to move the needle as far as justice is concerned as far as bridging the gap of communication and trust between community and law enforcement and between law enforcement and community,” he said.
Kuhn also started a nonprofit that allows Omaha residents to donate basketball shoes that go to people interested in the sport who cannot afford them.
“I’ve lived a lot of places and I’ve never seen people with the heart to give and just to help other people like I see in Omaha, Nebraska,” he said. “So that’s what keeps me going.”
Kuhn’s long-term goals include being the mayor of Omaha one day. For the time being, he is focused on raising his family and serving Omaha in a way that gives everyone a voice.
“I know what it’s like to come from humble beginnings in poverty,” Kuhn said. “I also know what it’s like to be on the other side of the coin and be the upper middle class. And I don’t think that a person can truly be a leader for everyone if they don’t know the bitter and the sweet.”
Kuhn is always working to set and meet new goals and advises others that “if you know the potential of something, keep heading for it, accomplish that goal, and do not let anyone else in between.”