Young leaders rise to today’s challenges

Paul Duster PHOTO CREDIT: Contributed

From COVID-19 to systemic racism, communities across the county and at home in Dubuque are facing significant challenges that put the well-being of residents at risk.

Nevertheless, we see people and organizations leading conversations and taking actions to improve lives — both during this particularly difficult time and for the long term.

It takes people from all walks of life to come together and do this work. It takes collaboration to ensure that tens of thousands of meals can be distributed each week to people in Dubuque who are food insecure, or to drive policies that bring brain health services within reach for more people.

As we have seen in recent months, the voices of our young leaders are essential to these conversations. Because our youth represent our community’s future, their input is needed today to help build the world they will live in tomorrow. The Community Foundation is intentional about including young people in our work, as we strive to ensure the makeup of our staff and partner network mirrors that of the communities we serve.

Take, for instance, Jakyra Bryant. She was supporting herself through school at the University of Dubuque with two jobs before COVID-19 hit. After losing both jobs at the beginning of the pandemic, she found employment as an “essential worker” at a grocery store, and the risk of potential coronavirus exposure added to the stress of finishing her senior year.

However, the killing of George Floyd and nationwide protests inspired Bryant to take action locally. In June, she organized a peaceful protest at Jackson Park focused on education around systemic racism, keeping in mind to provide masks and hand sanitizer while ensuring social distancing.

The result was a major show of support for change from a cross-section of Dubuque’s diverse population — a significant accomplishment in a city that has grappled with racial tension over the years. We are proud to highlight her work as part of the #AllofUsDubuque campaign, which is focused on unity in the face of COVID-19.

The Community Foundation’s equity coordinator, Clara Lopez Ortiz, is another example of our city’s young people rising to complex challenges. She grew up in Cascade, Iowa, and now lives in Dyersville. After studying in South Korea as part of her University of Iowa undergraduate program and earning her master’s degree at Kingston University London, Clara came back to make a difference in the community where she was raised.

In her role, Clara is facilitating discussions among people from many backgrounds to build welcoming and inclusive communities and workplaces. She coordinates the Inclusive Dubuque network as well as workplace-focused offerings like Best Practices in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion and the Business Leader Equity Cohort.

In addition, the Community Foundation’s Jenna Manders and Peter Supple — both young professionals — have been working closely with nonprofits since March to understand the biggest issues COVID-19 has caused for vulnerable populations in our community. From there, they are working to coordinate grants to organizations that are helping people tend to basic needs like food and safety during this time.

It’s a Community Foundation tradition to welcome diverse voices into difficult conversations — it’s the most effective way of bringing about lasting change that benefits everyone. That’s why it’s exciting to see young leaders shaping the direction of our community. They are an active part of this tradition.

Eight months into 2020, and it’s clear that this is a year of unprecedented challenges. But as people like Jakyra, Clara, Jenna and Peter have shown us, no issue — whether a global pandemic or racial equity — is too big to tackle. Life might be difficult right now, but our future is in good hands.