Increasing public trust of police and bringing racial equity to medical research are among the goals of the 2020 Bush Foundation fellowship recipients announced today. The prestigious program honors innovators and leaders from Minnesota, the Dakotas, and the 23 Native nations within those areas who are working toward shaping a better future for their communities.
Bush fellows receive an investment of up to $100,000 each over 12 to 24 months. The money is supposed to be used for formal and informal learning experiences that help each recipient develop skills and relationships needed to become more effective, equitable leaders in their communities and beyond.
“Fellows spend their fellowship dollars according to plans they create and tailor to their unique needs to grow their leadership capacity,” said Anita Patel, Bush Foundation’s leadership program director. “They often have similar goals but take very different paths.” Examples of ways in which fellows have used the funding in the past include continuing education, working with executive coaches, forming cohorts, strengthening connections with cultural heritage, and traveling to meet leaders and explore new ideas.
Past recipients of the Bush Fellowship include Pulitzer-prize winning playwright August Wilson, former special assistant to President Obama for Native American affairs Jodi Gillette, and former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson.
This year’s class of 24 fellows, including 16 Minnesotans, were chosen from a pool of 746 applicants.
The full list of the 2020 Bush Fellows and their bios from the Bush Foundation are as follows:
Amira Adawe (Saint Paul, MN) — Amira Adawe is on a quest to redefine beauty. She aims to end skin-lightening practices that both expose people to toxic chemicals and harm their identities. An immigrant from Somalia, she understands that people around the world often feel pressure to lighten their skin to fit into dominant Western society. Recently, she led a successful effort to influence Amazon to stop selling skin lightening creams. Now, she wants to create a worldwide effort to end the narrative of colorism with young girls. To lead change on a global scale, she will study the makers of skin lightening products to better understand their marketing strategies and build a network of other organizations around the world focused on this issue. She will also pursue training to build her facilitation and executive leadership skills.
Matuor Dot Alier (Fargo, ND) — Matuor Dot Alier learned about leadership at a young age. As a teen in a refugee camp in Ethiopia, he took charge of many other Sudanese boys orphaned by civil war and was recognized for his ability to build community and promote peace. He brought his talents to the U.S., where he led the African Student Association at Penn State University. Now, in Fargo-Moorhead, he helps immigrants and refugees move from surviving to stability. He wants his community to recognize and value the voices and perspectives of all people, and to provide access to educational and economic opportunities that enable every resident to contribute to the life of the community. To become a leader who empowers others to lead, he will deepen his understanding of and connections to communities that have organized successfully for change. He will also pursue a graduate degree to deepen his leadership skills.
Dave Anderson (Minneapolis, MN) — Dave Anderson understands the power of a home. He knows that stable, affordable housing allows people opportunities to build wealth. As executive director of All Parks Alliance for Change, he believes manufactured housing can help solve the affordable housing crisis for hard-working families. He has lobbied for public funding for manufactured home parks, fought efforts to close parks and promoted resident-owned cooperatives. He seeks to challenge the stereotype of these parks as places of poverty and danger and instead reveal them as places of resilience, diversity, pride and self-sufficiency. To advance his ideas and influence on a larger scale, he will pursue training to lead a multicultural movement for change and study innovative ways to reshape the narrative of park communities.
David Archambault II (Cannon Ball, ND) — David Archambault II has a vision of sustainability and self-determination for the people of Standing Rock. He wants to inspire his reservation with new business models and practices that reverse cycles of generational poverty and government dependence. He is influenced by his experiences as former chairman for the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and owner of a business on his reservation. He believes the people of his Native nation can build their own homes, produce their own food and generate their own power, as their ancestors did for many generations. To advance his ideas and lead this necessary change, he will pursue greater knowledge of innovative systems for housing, food security and renewable energy production, building and modeling what he learns for the members of Standing Rock.
Valeriah Big Eagle (Rapid City, SD) — Valeriah Big Eagle believes that an equitable education can heal. As one of the first Ihanktowan women to pursue a doctoral degree, she wants to inspire and empower fellow Native Americans to seek higher education to heal themselves and their communities. She understands the inequitable challenges that Native students face in earning a college degree, especially if they are in settings with little support for their cultural identity. She is studying practices in higher education that support Indigenous students and seeks to influence programming and public policy initiatives to improve their graduation rates. She aspires to one day lead a college or university. To amplify the voices of her community and serve as a force for change, she will complete her Ed.D., seek leadership training and become more deeply engaged in professional networks to learn how to best influence change.
Guy Bowling (Minneapolis, MN) — Guy Bowling understands from personal experience the challenges of parenting, especially without positive role models. His lifework has focused on helping young, low-income men transform into responsible and involved fathers. He sees the struggles and barriers these men face in the child support, criminal justice, public assistance, child welfare and education systems. He wants these systems to work together to better support engagement of fathers and to increase the economic stability of families. To strengthen his ability to lead this transformation, he will pursue a master’s degree to grow his knowledge of policy making, research and evaluation. He will also form more connections with organizations focused on empowering fathers of color and improving police and community relations.
Joseph Brings Plenty (Eagle Butte, SD) — Joseph Brings Plenty believes culture can help the children on the Cheyenne River Reservation find a better way of life. He experiences the healing power of his Lakota heritage and spirituality daily. Deeply committed to living on the reservation, he knows that when people learn about where they come from, they start to care more about who they are. He sees that culturally based programs, including a highly successful boxing program he created, help young people empower themselves, their relatives, their community and their nation. To be the strongest role model possible for the next generations, he will obtain a bachelor’s degree and seek greater knowledge of Lakota cultural practices and the Lakota language.
Amanda Carlow (Pine Ridge, SD) — Amanda Carlow is witness to the power of the Lakota language. She sees transformation in young people when they learn the language of their ancestors. A leader of the movement to revitalize the language within her Oglala Lakota Tribe, she began speaking Lakota as a youth basketball coach and saw the excitement and interest it sparked. She wants to build a broader effort to increase the self-esteem, self-identity and pride of youth through a Lakota language immersion track at Pine Ridge School. To lead this large-scale change for the reservation, she plans to increase her knowledge through a Ph.D. program in Indigenous language and culture and to form connections with other organizations that have successfully revitalized ancestral languages.
Roque Diaz (Minneapolis, MN) — Roque Diaz seeks to inspire big change in music education. An immigrant from Puerto Rico, he played professional trumpet for ten years before returning to college. His performance and academic experiences, combined with his position as director of school partnerships at MacPhail Center for Music, helped him find his voice as an advocate for more inclusive, culturally diverse and relevant music education. To elevate his position in the field, he will complete his Ph.D. study of two artistic organizations that are working toward diversity, equity and inclusion and share his discoveries with other higher education and music institutions. He will also seek mentors of color, acquire business skills and improve his public speaking for bilingual audiences.
Laetitia M. Hellerud (West Fargo, ND) —Laetitia Hellerud was raised to be courageous and engaged in the world. Her parents modeled service and commitment to community, values she carried with her as a refugee from Burundi to Fargo. In her new home, she rose from volunteer and entry-level positions to head of a program for New Americans to a leader in a multi-sector workforce development coalition. She is deeply involved in and committed to civic life in the Fargo and West Fargo areas, where she sees New Americans investing in the community by buying homes and operating businesses. But she still sees few people of color on the governing bodies in her community. To equip and engage more New Americans and people of color to serve, she will build skills in community organizing and seek advanced leadership training.
Evva Karr (Saint Paul, MN) — Evva Karr is ready to rise. As founder of one of the first public benefit corporations in the world focused on digital games, she sees how few women and people of color occupy leadership positions in her industry. She wants Saint Paul to become a national center for women, people of color and queer entrepreneurs in creative technology. Typically more comfortable behind the scenes, she wants to learn how to tell her personal story to inspire radical change in leadership in the digital games arena. To equip her to speak boldly to a broader audience, she will improve her storytelling and public speaking skills. She will also seek education in how to invest strategically in games created by diverse entrepreneurs.
Kirsten Kennedy (North Branch, MN) — Kirsten Kennedy believes that regional food systems can drive economic growth and improve community health. She envisions systems that promote job growth, equitable access to healthy food, and sustainable farming practices. The pilot online farmers market she helped to create as a leader within the Women’s Environmental Institute has grown from four farms to 24, and now includes partnerships with public benefit programs, senior centers, schools, health providers and emergency food sites. Now, the former mayor of North Branch and head of the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership for Chisago County wants to create models that can be replicated nationally. To advance her vision, she will study successful examples of transformational leadership and restorative food systems.
Ani Ryan Koch (Minneapolis, MN) — Ani Koch is not afraid to tackle big challenges. As a young person, they stepped up to be a visible LGBTQ leader in their community, opened social spaces for LGBTQ teens and started one of the first gay/straight alliances in Iowa. A first-generation college student, Ani earned a master’s in public health and was tapped to lead an initiative to improve services for transgender members of the state’s largest health plan. Ani continues to see significant disparities in how health care systems serve marginalized people. They want to create a national model that serves trans people equitably, provides a blueprint to address health disparities and leads to long-term cost savings. To help lead this transformation, Ani will seek coaching to build their communication and leadership skills and increase connections with other leaders in transgender health and health care innovation.
Matthew Koncar (Lauderdale, MN) — Matthew Koncar wants to increase public trust of police. As a police officer, he has a front-row seat to police-community relations. His experience at the center of protests following police-involved shootings motivated him to explore ways to improve trust between community members and the police who serve them. He recognizes that police are often called during traumatic and emotional times in people’s lives and that how officers carry out their duties in these situations can impact perceptions and relationships for decades to come. To effect transformational change in police-community relations, he needs advanced education and training to move into leadership positions. He will pursue a master’s degree in public affairs and study organizations that are successfully building trust between the police and community.
Allen Lewis (Virginia, MN) — Allen Lewis envisions a future where emergency services in rural communities are more effective, timely and equitable. As the fire and emergency manager for Virginia, Minnesota, he is leading the consolidation of two area fire departments to better serve communities on the Iron Range. Now, he wants to forge alliances among public, corporate and nonprofit leaders to develop regional, data-driven models that address fragmented and inefficient emergency delivery systems. To lead this large public sector change, he needs to increase his knowledge about effective models of emergency services around the world. He will also improve his negotiation and consensus-building skills and build a diverse network of advisors and mentors.
Dr. Brittany Lewis (Minneapolis, MN) — Dr. Brittany Lewis knows research can build community power and equitable solutions. She wants to help elected leaders, government officials and community members better understand how to use data as a tool for positive change. As founder and CEO of Research and Action and a senior research associate at the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, she helps create community-centered housing, economic development and criminal justice research products that are accessible and actionable for non-academic audiences. She has helped bring hundreds of low-wealth families across the region to the decision-making table through this model. Now, she wants to teach, support and grow the next generation of action researchers who can influence equitable policy and action. To grow her capacity to educate and empower, she will seek coaching skills and study new ways to use data visualization to demystify complex ideas.
Dr. Essa Mohamed (Rochester, MN) — Dr. Essa Mohamed wants to apply culturally sensible approaches to medical research. He believes more inclusive practices will lead to better informed, more targeted health care solutions and interventions. He seeks to improve health outcomes by increasing the number of women and members of racial and ethnic minorities who participate in clinical trials and medical device development. His Ph.D. thesis explored the prevalence of liver disease in African and Asian people and helped him understand the underrepresentation of diverse populations in medical research. His findings helped lead the World Health Organization to prioritize hepatitis at a global level and the Mayo Clinic to change patient screenings. To better understand how to shift systems and bring equity to medical research, he will study market evaluation and strategic decision making and develop a network of medical industry mentors.
Vayong Moua (Eagan, MN) —Vayong Moua was told from an early age that he was his ancestors’ wildest dream. He takes that responsibility seriously as a son, parent and public health leader with a powerful vision for health equity. In his position with the state's largest health plan, he sees that Minnesota consistently ranks as one of the top states in health, education and many other quality of life indicators, yet also has some of the worst racial inequities in the country. He believes that equity is about how we design powerful, inclusive tables, not just individual seats. He wants to seed health equity criterion in policies and management to change institutional behavior. To elevate his leadership, he will seek greater intercultural and conflict resolution skills, as well as deeper connections to his ancestral land of Laos.
Dr. Meghan Curry O’Connell (Elk Point, SD) — Dr. Meghan Curry O’Connell wants South Dakota to become a leader in universal access to affordable, high-quality health care. She observes that many people, especially Indigenous people, live long distances from the care they need in this geographically large, sparsely populated state. In her work as a family physician in rural and underserved communities, she has learned first-hand that systemic change is needed to address disparities in and barriers to quality health care. To generate innovative and strategic solutions, she needs to expand her knowledge of finance, health systems, government policy and health law, and to develop persuasive communication skills. She also plans to seek counsel from other health care leaders who have led successful change in similar political and geographic environments.
Benjamin Schierer (Fergus Falls, MN) —Benjamin Schierer knows diversity creates strong communities. He learned this firsthand when he traveled the world early in his career. He brought an appreciation for diverse people and different points of view with him when he returned home to Minnesota, a place he values for its model of collaborative leadership and emphasis on the common good. He believes that inclusivity and equity are not simply campaign slogans but a way of governing and a way to build vital communities. As a business owner and mayor of Fergus Falls, he wants to foster conversations to counter misinformation and division along political, racial and geographic lines. Because leading effectively at the local level will take exceptional communication skills, he will improve his public speaking and storytelling. He also intends to earn a master’s degree in public affairs.
Jenna Udenberg (Two Harbors, MN) — Jenna Udenberg is on a mission to make the world a more inclusive place for people with disabilities, especially her home community on the north shore of Lake Superior. A wheelchair user from an early age, she understands the physical and intangible societal barriers facing those with disabilities. She wants to change attitudes, approaches and accessibility so that the North Shore of Minnesota becomes a destination for people with disabilities and a model of welcome other areas can emulate. To become both an expert and advocate for change, she needs to learn how to better tell her story to remove the chasm between the non-disabled and disabled worlds. She will also pursue advanced training in Universal Design and visit other locations known for cutting-edge accessibility.
Beau J. White (Kyle, SD) — Beau White is passionate about building Native interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). A proud member of the Oglala Lakota Nation, he is one of the first people from the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation to graduate college with an engineering degree. During a challenging childhood, an exposure to the sciences ignited his lifelong passion for STEM. He wants more people in his community to understand how learning can heal trauma and how science can solve problems. To become a leader who can create new STEM pathways for younger generations, he will study other Native communities that have embraced science. He will also pursue advanced degrees in engineering management to help Pine Ridge solve its infrastructure problems with talent from within the reservation.
Kayla Yang-Best (St. Paul, MN) — Kayla Yang-Best envisions grocery store shelves full of the local, healthy and culturally diverse food she loves. She wants them to be places where she can better identify with the producers. As founder of a small food production company that supplies Asian meal kits and broths to grocery stores, she discovered many inequities in the food supply system, including a significant under-representation of local producers of color. She also found that food producers of all backgrounds were trapped in a supply chain that offered low pricing structures and other market inequities. She has developed a co-retailing model that she wants to scale to bring greater equity to the local food supply chain. To provide the leadership her entrepreneurial vision requires, she seeks to enhance her knowledge of business, finance and investments in food supply chains. She will also seek coaching from leaders who excel in inclusive decision-making and creating inclusive change.