While Omar Jahwar did not initially set out to heal America, he lived the majority of his life promoting, inspiring, and pointing people towards pathways of healing. His lifestyle of transformative leadership was accurately reflected in one of his most prolific quotes: “Only inspired people can inspire people.”
Before he was “Bishop Omar,” or even “Pastor Omar,” Omar was just a kid with a big heart, bright smile and a bold plan. From an early age, he was passionate about leading change and advocating for peace where it was necessary. This led him to become involved in social activism and community programming when he was just 16 years old.
By the age of 17, he was working with at-risk youth who were gang-involved and violence prone. Only slightly older than some of those he worked with, he was changing minds on the streets of South Dallas, where he grew up. At 19, he was winning hearts in juvenile detention facilities. Before he turned 20, Omar Jahwar had made a bigger difference than most people do in their entire lives.
But he was just getting warmed up.
In his 20s, Omar became the first state-appointed gang specialist in the state of Texas. He negotiated truces between rival gangs in prison. He brokered the first peace treaty between the Bloods and Crips gangs in Dallas.
Over and over, where others saw impossible problems and lost causes, Omar refused to accept anything but solutions. Where others threw up their hands and walked away, Omar rolled up his sleeves and rushed in. Over and over, he stemmed the tide of violence by inspiring people with solutions.
Omar always knew he couldn’t change communities on his own and believed strongly that spirituality was essential to lasting change and transformation He always intentionally and effortlessly connected Christian principles to the culture that he sought to change.
Bishop Omar also knew he needed to train up a new generation of leaders. So in 1997, he founded Urban Specialists. He brought together people with some of the toughest backgrounds from the streets, like Antong Lucky. He taught them how valuable they were and inspired them to transform their lives and improve communities from within.
Urban Specialists has changed the lives of tens of thousands of urban kids and turned around more than 90 percent of the schools where it operates. Even now, the Urban Specialists can be found breaking up gang fights and building bonds of friendship and community.
In everything he did, Bishop Omar built extraordinary and unlikely partnerships. He liked to ask: “Are you courageous enough to collaborate with your enemies?” His answer, always, was yes.
In 2016, when a gunman murdered five police officers and injured another 11 as retaliation for police officers killing two unarmed Black men in other parts of the country, Bishop Omar knew what to do.
While Dallas descended into chaos, Bishop Omar and his Urban Specialists hit the streets. A group of former gang members, they sought out people threatening violence and convinced them to peacefully protest instead. Bishop assembled protest leaders and police officers in the same room and brought both sides to peace – drawing one of the most dangerous situations in Dallas history to an end.
But his ability to unite and uplift is clearest in Heal America . With a keen understanding of the times and the belief that, “You can’t heal what you hate,” he created the Heal America Tour platform to bring people together to find solutions to difficult issues. Knowing that the fight for healing and principled change would be difficult, he still advocated for the fight using “love and redemption as the only weapons that can win.”
Bishop Omar passed on March 11, 2021, after a long battle with complications from COVID-19, just as Heal America was taking off. (To see the full story behind Heal America, click here.) But his legacy lives on in countless individuals who he inspired to believe. The students he molded. The gang leaders he mentored. The families he strengthened. The communities he saved.
He knew that no matter the problem, inspired people can inspire. Although he’s not physically here with us, his life’s work lives on. It won’t stop until his vision to heal America is achieved.