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Diversity and Inclusion

Celebrating a Century of Diversity at Boys Town

​​​​​From its inception in 1917, Boys Town welcomed every child regardless of race, religion or creed. At the time, many believed such integration was scandalous. There were threats and condemnation. But Father Flanagan was steadfast in rejecting all forms of discrimination, and he embraced every child who needed hope, a helping hand and a home.​

How the Principles of Diversity Shaped Boys Town

When Father Flanagan founded Boys Town in 1917, the United States was a segregated nation. Black and White soldiers in the U.S. military served in segregated units. Interracial marriages were illegal in Nebraska and more than 30 other states. Much of America’s Protestant majority believed that Catholics’ only loyalty was to the Pope and that Jewish people were too “foreign” to be “real Americans.” Meanwhile, the boys Father Flanagan provided a home for in downtown Omaha lived as a diverse family, each proud, respectful and accepting of their heritage and those of others; the boys lived in parity with one another even when it drew condemnation from many in the Omaha community. In 1921, Father Flanagan moved his home from downtown Omaha to Overlook Farm (the current location) to create a diverse community where all were equal no matter their race, religion or background. Father Flanagan’s strong values and courageous move made Boys Town itself the first intentionally integrated community in the United States. Today, Father Flanagan’s deep belief and fearless commitment to diversity and equality remain a bedrock of Boys Town’s mission.

“I know when the idea of a boys' home grew in my mind, I never thought of anything remarkable about taking in all of the races and all of the creeds. To me, they are all God's children. They are my brothers. They are children of God. I must protect them to the best of my ability."​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​ 
– Father Edward J Flanagan, Boys Town Founder​

We are committed to creating a culture of respect; attracting, developing and retaining diverse employees; and driving leadership accountability and ownership. Learn more

If the future of our country is to be secure from dangerous enemies from within. Parents and guardians of children must become more conscious of the responsibilities which God has placed upon them. We must become more virtuous in our own lives that we may teach more effectively the lessons of proper citizenship by example, as well as instruction. Kindness and love will open the heart of any problem boy. That heart will melt within the warmth of the sunshine of love. I have really never found a boy who wanted to be bad.

The Stories This Bus Could Tell

This old bus has many a story to tell. Not only of games won and lost but also of a sad chapter in our nation's history when children were prevented from the joys of athletic competition purely due to the color of their skin.

Why would an Omaha school need a bus specially equipped to travel great distances? It all started with a disheartening incident in 1946. It was one of Father Flanagan's core beliefs that every boy engage in some form of athletic competition to build his character and physical strength. And from its inception, and at Father Flanagan's insistence, Boys Town's policy was to accept all boys in need regardless of race. Because of this, Boys Town's sports teams were fully integrated at a time in America when this was sadly a rare occurrence even in large Midwestern cities such as Omaha. This meant that in order to compete, Boys Town teams had to travel relatively large distances by road, rail, and air to play games against other integrated institutions.

In 1946, the Boys Town football team traveled to Miami, Florida to play an exhibition game in front of thousands of spectators at Burdine Stadium later known as the Orange Bowl. Originally slated to stay at the Blackstone Hotel on Miami Beach, the team was forced to find accommodations elsewhere when the hotel refused to allow Boys Town's integrated squad to stay there.

At the stadium, things took a turn for the worse when the game's organizers forced Boys Town's non-white players to sit out the game. At one point, the team's African-American quarterback was booed by the crowd simply for venturing onto the field to bring water to his teammates. Upon hearing of this, Father Flanagan refused to allow his athletic teams or any other Boys Town groups to travel anywhere south of the Mason-Dixon Line.

So in early 1953, Boys Town used donations to purchase this bus, a 1952 Flxible Visicoach, built in Loudonville, Ohio to transport its student-athletes around the nation. After it was taken out of service in the 1960s, the bus was left to rust on the Boys Town farm until it was discovered, restored, and cut in half by Boys Town students so it could be placed on permanent display in the Hall of History. Today, Boys Town alumni visiting the campus once again climb those familiar steps, turn left, and take a seat on a bus that now takes them on a journey back in time without ever moving so much as a foot.

Stories of Inclusion

Dan's Story

Dan: At Boys Town, we had Indian friends of mine, Hispanic friends, there were Black friends, I mean it was a complete mixture. But we didn’t see color. The only time we saw color was when had passes in high school and we’d go into town. Then we’d see how some of our classmates were treated by other people because they weren’t white. And that kind of disturbed us, because when we were at the home everybody was the same, that’s just the way it was. We didn’t see diversity, we just saw who we were.

Pyper's Story

​Mark: I got a knock on the door, about 10:00 at night, and it was a policeman at the door, and said that he had got a call from some parents that said he had receive...They had received a suicide text that had come out from Pyper. At that point, you know, obviously, ran to her bedroom to make sure she was okay. She was okay. Thank God. But, you know, I slept next to her bed for a month.

Pyper: The biggest thing that has changed since I've been at Boys Town is definitely my self-confidence. When I first came, I was in eighth grade. I didn't really have a lot of self-confidence. So it took me a long time to, like, meet people at first and break out of my shell.

Stevie: Every day, there's a miracle here at Boys Town, and I witnessed one, myself. She was walking down the lunchroom, and she was trying to hold her tray, and all the kids were eating and talking and goofing around. She was walking down, wobbly, with her tray, and she tripped, and the tray flew.

Now, any place else, it would have been laughter and making fun. There wasn't a peep. They looked at her, and they jumped up. Twenty kids jumped up, cleaned up her mess, helped her up, "Are you okay, Pyper? Are you okay, Pyper?" Not one, and I was watching because I was ready to jump on it if somebody was gonna laugh, not one student laughed, and they felt for her. To me, that's a miracle.

Pyper: It gave me a brighter future. Like, I actually got the opportunity to actually graduate, get scholarships, make some friends that would, like, last a long time, make great memories.

Mark: I'm a believer that everything happens for a reason, and kind of the ironic thing about all this is when I was in my 20s, I actually lived across the street from Boys Town and never paid a whole lot of attention to it. And yet, you know, a few years later, Boys Town ends up, I believe, saving my daughter's life.

Alumni Success Stories

Thousands of youths have found healing and hope at Boys Town and gone on to live happy, productive lives. We are proud of all our alumni and the successes they enjoy every day.

Teaching Kids to Understand and Celebrate Differences

Today, Boys Town remains committed to the ideals of tolerance, respect, equality and fairness. It's a lesson that needs to be heard and taught in every home… now more than ever. Here are some resources for parents, teachers and caregivers.

Stand with Boys Town and #TeachLove

Join with us to #TEACHLOVE and make a commitment to promote tolerance, respect and equality. With your help, support and prayers, we can amplify a message of love, inclusion and understanding so families and communities can find a renewed sense of hope and our country can grow stronger as one.

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