Preston Love, Jr. met with Governor Ricketts last week concerning mass incarceration and high rates of recidivism in Nebraska Prisons. It was a remarkably successful meeting. It opened lines of communication and negotiation between the Governor and the African American community. It was a big win for everyone, but not a surprise. Preston makes things happen.
Preston has been an omnipresence in Nebraska politics since his return to North Omaha in 2006. He is so affable and dutiful to his community, his extraordinary history of achievement is not immediately apparent. Few people know, he was a major player in some of the most important African American achievements in the second half of the Twentieth Century. He knew and in many cases was a close confidant of virtually every major Black leader of the era. And, his legacy lives on today in African American leadership from coast to coast.
Many people know that Preston was the son of legendary jazz musician, Preston Love, but few people have a full recognition of what that really means. Simply put, his dad was connected to a big share of the most important musical performers of the 20th Century. Before Civil Rights, he played with a long list of fellow legends like Lena Horn, Billy Holiday and Count Basie. Can you imagine getting up in the morning, as Preston did, and finding Count Basie sleeping on your couch? But that’s still not the whole picture. After Civil Rights, his dad was connected to everyone from Ray Charles to Janis Joplin to Stevie Wonder and the list goes on and on.
Celebrity kids almost always have a tough time growing up. It’s complicated, but he didn’t dwell on his dad’s celebrity. From the beginning he was his own man. When asked by admirers of his dad what he played, Preston would say something like, “I can play a mean CD.” He’s always had it in perspective.
In his early days in North Omaha, like many of the Black kids, Preston was playing ball. He grew up with and competed with some of the best athletes that have ever played sports – more legends, and he too belongs on the long list of the kids who were formed at 24th & Glory. He was a scholarship athlete for Coach Bob Devaney, another legend, at the University of Nebraska, but again he kept sports in the proper perspective.
In 1964, IBM transformed from a medium-size maker of tabulating equipment and typewriters into the world’s largest computer company. They were early supporters of Civil Rights with a commitment to hiring African Americans for white collar jobs, and in 1966, with a spanking new bachelor’s degree in economics, Preston joined a legendary group of Black professionals who would go on to distinguish themselves in business for decades to come.
After an impressive start, ahead of its time, at IBM, he felt the urge to go out on his own and opened the first retail computer store in Atlanta, GA in 1980. It was a huge success, and soon after, Preston's talent was noticed again. This time by Civil Rights legend, Andrew Young, then serving as mayor of Atlanta. He began by helping the mayor to computerize his political operations. He was so good at what he did, three years later when a national call went out to rally the best African American talent in the country to join Harold Washington’s campaign for Mayor of Chicago, Preston was an immediate choice. Again, he hit an out-of-the-park home run, and Washington was elected Chicago’s first African American Mayor.
After the big win, Preston immediately joined yet another legend, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, and his campaign for President of the United States. His run would mark the first time an African American would seek the highest office in the land and have a legitimate chance of winning, and this time Preston would run the show. During the campaign, Jackson and Love would become close friends, and although it was ultimately a losing effort, it would go down in history as one of the most important Democratic Primaries in history. After it ended, Preston was appointed the first executive director of the National Rainbow Coalition – an organization scholars argue was a vital step in the eventual creation of President Obama’s winning coalition.
Over the years, Preston continued to serve the Party and his community in a number of capacities. During this time, he increasingly felt the urge to return to Omaha and support his family. When his father died in 2006, he returned for good, and I do mean good. Since his return, he has applied his wisdom and zeal to mobilizing African American votes through Black Votes Matter and supporting community development at all levels. When you want to do something in North Omaha, he is on the short list of people you better talk to.
A high-powered Washington consultant recently told me, “North Omaha doesn’t fully realize what a treasure they have in Preston. He’s better at strategy off the top of his head than most consultants can come up with in a month of research, and he knows everyone. Hell, he gave a lot of them their start.”
Some say that Preston has had his day, and it’s time for a new generation to step-up. That’s certainly true, but the first thing they need to do, is mind their manners and learn everything he has to teach. There is an unbelievable wealth of wisdom there that should not be lost.
People that study legends will tell you that the team that surrounds them are often more important to their gaining fame than the icon themselves. It’s really mind boggling the number of individuals and communities Preston has served with distinction over the years. He is a man of service, a man for all seasons, to his community and to his God, and is quite frankly a legend in his own right.
Photo courtesy of leoadambiga.com.