What Drives Ben Gray?
“Witnessing the Civil Rights Movement – is what drives me now.”
“Understanding the journey - the history of how we got here - is critical to future progress.”
Social change has always been a driving force in Ben’s life. From being a witness to the events of the Civil Rights Movement to understanding the need to create one’s own platform to be heard – Ben Gray has embodied the energy of progress. As a Black man recognizing the need for Black stories to be elevated, Ben was an original social justice influencer. A longtime photojournalist, he leveraged public access TV and created Kaleidoscope to hold space for his community’s lens before YouTubing and streaming made social movements accessible. Ben has also devoted incredible time and effort to elevating the youth of north Omaha, often working to intervene in the lives of systems-impacted youth, through investment in programs that provide meaningful experiences and job opportunities. As a former systems-impacted youth himself, Ben co-founded – and has since secured $1 million/year in public funding for – the Step Up summer jobs program.
Progress happens both slow and fast, and steady progress is as important as catalytic events. Ben has been crafting forward progress, curating the relationships and the institutional knowledge that shifts systems. Ben’s work has consistently positioned him as the Black person in the room working to break down barriers and carve the path forward for equitable representation. He has always been and is unafraid to challenge the status quo to move into justice.
Ben is married to Freddie J. Gray, former president of the Omaha Public Schools Board of Education. They have a blended family of seven children, twelve grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
that Shaped Him
“My service to my country changed my life.”
Born and raised in Cleveland, OH, Ben’s life is one of many turning points. As a child, he lost both of his parents in 1963 – a pivotal turning point. At the age of 16, he ended up in a youth incarceration center after living with his sister.
The decision to look for a way to change his life led Ben to answer the call of duty, enlisting in the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. Ben served primarily at Offutt Air Force Base where he was given a top-secret security clearance and graduated with honors in aerial photography. Ben began working for KETV as a photojournalist in 1973. Four years later, he and eight other African American colleagues filed against the station’s license alleging discriminatory practices. The suit resulted in the launch of “Kaleidoscope,” which Ben hosted and produced for three decades.
“I learned discipline in the military. I learned to complete the mission. When it came to the equal employment ordinance, I completed the mission. When it came to the budget, I completed the mission.”
“All of those experiences make up who you are and who you’ve become.”