The Bush Fellowship presents countless opportunities for networking, and professional development. During the Bush Fellowship retreat, I must confess, it was truly humbling and exciting to learn the different journey of each fellow to include their passion, drive and interest. The Bush Foundation staff were phenomenal in making our Bush retreat experience a wonderful one. It was an honor to meet previous Bush Fellows, and to hear about their journey as a fellow. Jason Sole, Repa Mekha and Jennifer Waltma’s journeys as fellows were all truly inspiring, rewarding, and uplifting. These are networks I have been privileged to have and I do recall getting their contact information, and expressing the need to connect with them.
In addition, since the Bush Fellowship announcement became public, I have received countless invitations and calls to serve on various boards, develop programs, assist with research, or plan an event. There were invitations, I had to say “no” to due to my current schedule; others, I expressed a willingness to assist or contribute in certain capacities. Also, I observed the local media and Minnesota Public Radio (MPR), more specifically reached out for an interview. I must say for the record, that old relationships have been strengthened and new ones formed after being selected for the fellowship.
The Bush Fellowship challenged me to harness my full potential and offered the freedom to think deeper about my goals, self-reflect, identify and address my foibles. Working for the City of St. Cloud, the Mayor’s Office, as the Community Engagement Coordinator, and as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC), these roles have been a humbling and rewarding experience, not to mention the challenge of balancing both duties judiciously. I have transitioned from being a Clinical Therapist to providing consultations and presentations to schools, universities, businesses, and organizations on Culturally Sensitive Evidence Based Practices on Mental Health relating to refugees and immigrants. Twenty-six years ago, the non-white population of St. Cloud was 2 percent, today it is about 17 percent. This is a fact. The demography of St. Cloud has changed over the last two decades and it has become necessary for our community to embrace this change including intentional systemic change.
The fellowship allowed me to research on how the different cultures, and groups integrate or learn to live as a collective community, navigating through challenges and finding innovative ways in addressing or remedying obstacles as it relates to race relations. I travelled to Sydney, Australia, to study the Aboriginals, their history throughout colonization in 1791 and their relationship with the British. It was an honor interviewing Henrietta Baird, from the Kuku Yalanji people, also called the rain forest people located Far North Queensland. As an Aboriginal herself, she faced several challenges including the ones encountered by her forefathers. I visited the First Australian Museum learning about the over 500 “countries” the Aboriginals had. I established great contact with both new immigrants, the locals and the Aboriginals. I have been able to identify how synonymous these cultures are to some in the US and recognize the differences. The lessons learned could be translated to my community and beyond. Recently in St. Cloud, a City Council member proposed a resolution for a city moratorium on the placement of additional refugees through primary resettlement. Some residents were visibly upset with the proposal and others in support of it. Majority of the council voted against the said proposal and voted “in support for a just and welcoming community”. It was rewarding to see the overwhelming support from community and the Mayor of St. Cloud galvanize for a welcoming community. The City is not immune to challenges just like any other city, but the collective work from individuals, organizations, business and schools has validated the positive work and contribution from stakeholders, in working towards a welcoming and engaged community.
During the month of November, I participated in our 12th Annual Conversation on Race event, themed “Building Relationships”, the program invited speakers and facilitators to present during circle sharing, this was to allow participants to become aware of local initiatives while engaging in topic of interest and its intersections with racism. My session addressed disparities in mental health care, disparity as defined by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) is the distinction in health care quality not based on different health care needs or patient preference. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), racial and ethnic minorities have less access to mental health services and are more likely to terminate, delay or decline mental health treatment compared to white population. The discussion examined the narrative of mental health among different cultures and strategies to eliminate mental health care disparities; our role as “cultural brokers” in alleviating disparities.
The Jugaad Leadership Program continues to be my inspiration in advancing social capital by “training, placing and connecting” the next generation of minority Emerging Leaders, bridging the economic gap, diversifying the workforce, and improving race relation in my community. The Bush Fellowship has allowed me to invest time and energy into the program; I serve on the Advisory Board for the program. It is fulfilling to see the product a program I co-created and co-designed its curriculum come alive and garner the support of the community. The program is supported by the City of St. Cloud, United Way, Central Minnesota Community Foundation (CMCF), Initiative Foundation, Affinity Plus Federal Credit Union, Centracare Health, Bernick’s, Metro Bus, Adom LLC, and Morgan Family Foundation; it has received accolades and awards including the 2017 Rock-On Award, presented by Mayor Dave Kleis and the City of St. Cloud, and the 2016-17 St. Cloud Area School District 742, Board of Education-Partners In Education Award recognizes individuals, groups or organizations that have displayed outstanding civic participation, leadership, and supported education respectively. We continue to seek and invite more sponsors and partners. On November 30, 2017, the program will receive another accolade for its innovation from Greater St Cloud Development Corporation (GSDC).
As a leader in my community, the Bush Fellowship provided me with invaluable resources to include a life coach that allows me to challenge my passion and interest, embrace dynamic change in my leadership abilities, and recognize obscure skills that needed to be nurtured. My life coach made me think deeply on “what is your why?” and “your biggest passion”. I have observed a transformation in my leadership skills as a person and a professional by focusing on innovative solutions to problem solving, developing small steps to long term goals, accepting the things I cannot change, challenging the status quo, and most importantly, working collaboratively to effect greater change.
I am deeply grateful to the Bush Foundation for the opportunity to serve as a fellow, my entire community, friends and family for the invaluable support throughout this journey, and my wonderful mentors in my life who made this transition a successful one. Dr. Manijeh Daneshpour, professor of Marriage and Family Therapy, Alliant International University and my former supervisor at Recover Health Resources, LLC, Debra Leigh, Lead Organizer, Community Anti-Racism Education Initiative (CARE), St Cloud State University, Ryan Daniel, CEO of Metro Bus, Isaac Owens, Assistant Director – Retail, Hennepin County Medical Center, Oluwatoyin Adetunji, African Yen Catering, and Mayor Dave Kleis, City of St. Cloud, deserve special mention.