These are the amazing, generous, and fascinating Iowans who will be sharing their stories
Abe Goldstien was born and raised in an orthodox Jewish community in Rochester, New York. He moved to Des Moines in 1969 to pursue an education and career in advertising. During college at Drake University – and for several years later – Abe had very little to do with Des Moines’s Jewish community or the religious customs of his youth. It wasn’t until he started to perform Yiddish (Eastern European Jewish) music on his accordion that he reconnected with his heritage. Today, Abe is the leader of the Java Jews, Iowa’s only klezmer music band. He’s also a CultureALL Ambassador who talks to children and adults about keeping alive their unique family customs and traditions, no matter how strange they are.
“I grew up in an orthodox Jewish home, but I pretty much abandoned the religious customs of my upbringing once I moved to Des Moines for college. Many years later, I became friends with a local chassidic rabbi. He connected me with my roots by describing me as a 'Goldstien Jew' – a title I am proud to carry.”
Anthony Stevens is chair of the psychology department at DMACC Urban Campus. His work on “Culturally Relevant Algebra Teaching: The Case of African Drumming” has been published in the Journal of Mathematics and Culture. Anthony lectures and performs in Iowa schools and colleges frequently. His instruction spans the subjects of mathematics, social studies, African American history, and music appreciation. He also is the percussionist with The Bone People.
"Over the years, I have had the opportunity to have conversations with several white supremacists. This specific story is mine as an African American man and my experience with a particular member of the Ku Klux Klan and the relationship we built."
Carol Spaulding Kruse was born in California and earned a B.A. and M.A from California State University in Fresno before moving to Iowa. After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Iowa, she moved to Des Moines. She is currently a Professor of English at Drake University, where she teaches courses in fiction writing, American multicultural literature, writing for children, social justice writing, and service writing. She also writes fiction and non-fiction for adults and children under the name Carol Roh Spaulding, which blends her Korean and European heritage.
“I am a mixed-race California native, but I had to come to Iowa to discover my family background anew. My story is about the moment I knew what I wanted to write stories about--when I discovered an important dimension of my own family background during my first semester of graduate study at the University of Iowa.”
A Chicago native who ditched corporate America, Christina Fernandez Morrow now runs nonprofits and launches cool initiatives like the Warren Morrow Latin Music Festival. She is a published author and blogger. When not writing, or negotiating band contracts, she bikes local trails with her daughter, knits and plans international adventures.
Mourning the death of her husband, Christina Fernandez-Morrow navigates the dubious world of online dating as a widow and discovers the expansive nature of love.
Dartanyan Brown returned to Des Moines after 30 years as a teaching Artist and leading edge technology teacher in Marin County, CA. He worked as a staff writer, sound designer, technology curriculum innovator and jazz educator for private business as well as private and public education. His family's Iowa experience began in the 1890's in Monroe county in the towns Buxton and Albia. The Buxton experience shaped his family's view on culture.
Dartanyan became an Ambassador for CultureALL because he shares a vision of creating greater inter-cultural, ethnic, generational and inter-species harmony on planet earth. He is currently a sound designer for NYC-based Jaimeo Brown Transcendence on the Motema recording label. Locally, Dartanyan creates workshops for students at Des Moines North and Hoover high schools, Meredith and Harding middle schools.
“This is a story about a kid who watched Superman – but wanted to be Clark Kent!”
David James (DJ) Savarese graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Oberlin College in May 2017 with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing. An ASAN Scholar Fellow, he was also the recipient of Oberlin’s William Battrick Poetry Fellowship and their Comfort Starr Award for meritorious scholarly work in Anthropology. His poems and prose have appeared in The Iowa Review, Seneca Review, Prospect, Disability Studies Quarterly, StoneCanoe, Wordgatherings.com, Voices for Diversity and Social Justice: A Literary Education Anthology, and A Doorknob for the Eye(chapbook). Currently a 2017 Open Society Foundations Youth Exchange/Human Rights Initiative Fellow, he works to make literacy-based education, communication, and inclusive lives a reality for all nonspeaking people.
"I won the lottery when my parents adopted me from foster care; I won it again when they included me in regular education. Now, I seek to help kids much less fortunate than I by showing people what a nonspeaking student with autism can do."
Dr. Jackie earned the Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music & Dance. She worked as a performing artist and owned her own business, Potpourri Fine Arts Academy, for over 25 years before returning to school to earn a Masters of Divinity degree. An ordained Elder in the United Methodist Church, she enjoys singing, dancing, playing piano, ringing handbells, writing, and photography.
“This story begins in Dayton, Ohio in the aftermath of the 1960s Civil Rights Movement. On its face, it might seem to be a story primarily concerned with theme of living in a majority world as a minority. However, I am more a story of living as a square peg in a round world.”
Emmett Phillips went from serving the country as a medic in the Iowa Army National Guard to serving his community through youth development and artistic activism. He just finished his 3rd school year of working with the Backyard Boyz – a program for middle school and high school students at the nonprofit Children and Family Urban Movement. Emmett is also a teacher and performer of spoken word and Hip-Hop and an actor. Emmett believes in the power of the arts as a means of creating positive social change.
“My story is about a time where a routine recruitment session turned into a pivotal change in perspective that sparked a lifelong quest for answers.”
Eric Idehen is from Nigeria, but was in Ukraine and Spain before coming to the U.S. In eleven years, he rose from a dishwasher to vice president of diversity at Wells Fargo. In 2009, Mr. Idehen went to Dubai and Egypt as part of a Business for Diplomatic Action program. While there, he worked with local government leaders, business groups, Non-Governmental Organizations, nonprofits, and media companies to identify how American business can best work with Middle Eastern companies. He has earned many awards for his business work. Mr. Idehen values community involvement and has achieved one of his lifelong dreams by becoming the founding president of Cornerstone of Hope, an orphanage in his hometown of Benin City, Nigeria as well as a second orphanage in Pujehun, Sierra Leone.
"Just because I speak English with an accent does not make me worthless. I am a piece of treasure, full of talents, but often under-utilized. I am underrated because of my beautiful accent, a diamond that never lost its value. I am a human being."
Gurwinder Kapur is a native of Singapore who served as a combat instructor in the Singapore Armed Forces from 1979-1982. He has been living and working in the United States since 1987, and currently works as a Senior IT Training Consultant in Information Services at the Principal Financial Group. Gurwinder has presented and facilitated several diversity and cultural events at the Principal, Drake University and DMACC.
“Wikipedia describes “fresh off the boat” (FOB) as a term used to describe immigrants who have arrived from a foreign nation and have yet to assimilate into the host nation's culture, language, and behavior, but still continue with their ethnic ideas and practices. My story is about the severe culture shock I experienced when I moved from Singapore to the USA.”
English, Punjabi, and Malay
Jacqueline Easley McGee is a native of Des Moines and a graduate of Carleton College. She is Director of Community & Diversity Services for Mercy Medical Center. Jacquie has led the way for African American women in our community, being the first African American woman to serve in a leadership role on Des Moines School Board, Central Iowa Regional Workforce investment Board, Des Moines Metropolitan Transit Authority Board of Trustees, and other organizations. She has volunteered extensively in the community, serving on the board of many organizations including I’ll Make Me A World in Iowa, the Tai Dam Village Association, Greater Des Moines Habitat for Humanity, and the United Way of Central Iowa. She has won numerous awards for her work in the community and was inducted into the Iowa Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011.
“Ty joined our family at 20 months having been born with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome and traces of cocaine in his system. He had many diagnoses over the years, from attachment disorder to ADHD at the beginning of his life and mental illness at the end. This is a mother's story of loss but also of hope – with support for the message that there is help for those who suffer, and it does get better."
Josephine (Josie) Shaw is a native of Kenya and a member of the Luhya tribe. She came to the United States in 1989 to attend Central Missouri State University. In addition to sharing her culture as a Cultural Ambassador for CultureALL, Ms. Shaw advocates for Swahili-speaking immigrants, many of whom are refugees from Central Africa. She also owns and provides translation services for the for the company Sunshine Affiliates. Josie fulfilled her dream of becoming a U.S. Citizen in 2017.
Josie Shaw grew up an African girl raised in the Kenyan countryside. She lived a simple life in relative bliss over who she was and what her future would bring. She never expected she would have anything but a fair opportunity in life. When Josie came to the U.S. from Kakamega, Kenya in 1989 to attend Missouri State University, there were so many new choices in her new environment that she could not have foreseen.
"I never imagined that my choices would be informed so significantly by the color of my skin. What restaurants I would choose, what parties I would attend, what terms I would use and how I would speak at all. . . " Hear about Josie’s understandings in "revisiting the obvious."
Leonard "Lenny" Bell is the Youth Education and Training Coordinator at the Evelyn K. Davis Center. He is also serves in the roles of case manager, mentor, and Instructor for Des Moines Area Community College’s YouthBuild Program. Lenny also works with the Brother to Brother and Dream-to-Teach programs in Des Moines Public Schools. He is a Co-Founder and Host of Say What! Poetry, promoting and supporting the art form of poetry/spoken word. He also serves on the board for I’ll Make Me a World in Iowa – Iowa’s longest running premiere African American cultural arts festival.
“When I left New Orleans, I was like a track star running his most important race. . . only I had no final destination. I’ve been looking for that place ever since. Early on, college was always just something to do for me. Looking back, I could have applied myself more academically, but I was just happy with being on the road less traveled. I've always been a soldier at war with revolutionary scars, yet I can still hear echoes from the ghetto saying, ‘I made you who you are. I'm the reason you get to play those. 'I do it for my people' cards. For seventeen years, I gave you seventeen scars.'"
Majda Hadzic was born in Bosnia. She was six years old when her family fled their war-torn nation, bouncing from country as refugees before arriving in the United States in 2000. Despite not learning to read until 6th grade, and never completing 7th or 8th grade, and not speaking a word of English when she arrived in Iowa, Majda excelled in school, graduating a semester early and going on to college at Iowa State University. A 13-year veteran of the Financial Services Industry, Majda currently works as a District Manager at Wells Fargo, where she serves on the Central Diversity and Inclusion Council.
“In Bosnia, my family lived a happy, fulfilling, and loving life. In 1992, a horrific civil war forced us to leave our home, family, and life as we knew it behind. From country to country, we adapted to any way of life that came our way just to survive. When my father was taken away to a concentration camp, my mother, grandmother, sister and I carried on, despite our fear of the unknown. By the time I was 13, I had attended 4 different schools in different countries. I arrived in the United States without being able to speak any English. From food stamps and Goodwill to the fight to get off government assistance, my story is about how I learned to adapt and thrive.”
One of Marlu Abarca's passions in life is "working towards social justice and increasing opportunities for my community. I am passionate about giving, whether it is through service/volunteering, donating, or mentorship...giving a little goes a long way. My educational background is in Psychology and language studies, but my professional background includes experience in youth programming, volunteer recruitment and management, event planning, collective impact, fund and sponsor development, as well as community engagement, communications and social media outreach, leadership/organizational development, strategic planning, and service learning."
"This is a story of a child who had to translate for her non-English speaking parents and how she lost and gained along the way.”
Marta Codina was born in Cuba. She and her parents came to the United States as refugees in 1962, shortly after the Cuban revolution ended. A 39-year veteran of the financial services industry, Marta started her career as a teller during high school in Houston, Texas. She moved to Iowa in 1992 to join US Bank and worked there for 10 years, then joined Wells Fargo in 2001 working her way to her current position as Region Bank President for Wells Fargo Bank. A graduate of the University of Houston, she is a founding member and executive sponsor of the Wells Fargo Central Iowa Diversity and Inclusion Council. She is an active volunteer in the central Iowa community and serves on many nonprofit councils and committees. Mata's passion is around “making a difference” – primarily in the areas of early childhood development and diversity and inclusion.
"I am a Cuban Refugee – I am proud of my heritage and culture. I am also a proud American – I am thankful for the opportunities and blessings I have been afforded. Being Cuban s a bit of a mystery to people in the Midwest. My story is about about my parents, and their courage in giving up a comfortable life in their homeland to start over from nothing in a new country. They did that for me, and I am forever grateful. The sacrifices they made and the lessons I learned from them have helped me to achieve a level of success that I have never taken for granted."
Miyoko Hikiji served as an enlisted soldier for nine years and was deployed 403 days in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom in 2003 – 2004. Her job duties included truck driver, unit correspondent, and administrative sergeant. During the deployment, she completed over 70 supply convoy, security, and raid missions throughout the northwest quadrant of Iraq. Simultaneously, Miyoko wrote a company newsletter, contributed to her support squadron’s newsletter, and wrote articles for a hometown newspaper. Miyoko’s earned 16 military decorations including the Army Commendation Medal (2), Army Achievement Medal (2), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, and Iowa Humanitarian Service Medal. Her transportation company received the second highest unit decoration—the Valorous Unit Award—for extraordinary heroism. Upon her return from Iraq, Miyoko wrote her company’s deployment history for the archives at the Gold Star Museum on Camp Dodge—the Iowa Army and Air National Guard State Headquarters. Her war memoir, All I Could Be: My Story as a Woman Warrior in Iraq, was published in 2013 by History Publishing. Miyoko earned B.S. degrees in journalism and psychology from Iowa State University in 2004. She is a current student at The George Washington University, studying political management. Miyoko works at the US Census Bureau and lives in Urbandale with her daughters Grace and Noelle.
"In Iraq, all the rules and labels were thrown out. Though I was a “female” soldier, whatever that meant on paper was meaningless in the sand. Iraq was a non-linear battlefield, meaning the enemy attacked from all sides. There was no place to operate in complete safety. Nearly as terrifying as the threat of being killed on mission was the fear of being assaulted by the male soldiers from other units I was sent to support. That atmosphere brought out the best and worst in soldiers."
Mohamed Abusharkh was born and grew up in Kuwait; he is the son of Palestinian parents and was raised as a Muslim. He came to U.S. for higher education and graduated with a computer science degree from Dakota State University in Madison, SD. Mohamed has been a resident of Des Moines since 1993. He currently works at the Principal Financial Group as an IT Team Leader. His wife is an American-born Christian from South Dakota. They have four children aged 19, 16, 13, and 6, whom they are raising as Muslim. His family worships at the Islamic Center of Des Moines.
“I am a Muslim (U.S.: 3.3 million), Palestinian (U.S.: 250,000), Refugee (U.S.: 3 million), Immigrant (U.S.: 44 million), U.S. citizen (290 million) and a family man. Share my journey through childhood, migration, higher education, mixed faith/race marriage, citizenship and life before and after 9/11.”
Prakash Kopparapu is from India. He pursued his higher education in Mechanical Engineering and built a career in manufacturing. Being a mechanical engineer, working in factories in rural America, he accumulated wealth of societal experiences in real & rural America. In addition to trying to keep up with his children Krishna & Sami, Prakash enjoys volunteering and contributing to various causes in the community, from State and Local Government and socio-political organizations to ethnic Indian and religious organizations in Iowa.
“I have the unique experience of being an immigrant in the places where immigrants are not seen or prevalent. In 2001, I was in South Carolina working as a mechanical engineer in a factory. On Tuesdays, my co-workers and I would go to a bar called the “Cock and Bull” to play darts. On Tuesday, September 11, 2001, everything changed. I was surprised to find that many people in my town had become hostile, and I realized that I would have some work to do to regain their trust. There was a lot of tension, but my co-workers knew that one negative incident could have brought the whole community’s reputation down. My story is about how they came together to make sure the best of American society prevailed.”
R.J. Hernandez is a musician, chef, and entrepreneur who has been entertaining audiences and educating young people about his culture for more than three decades. R.J. plays a variety of instruments. He is the leader and a founding member of the musical ensemble Las Guitarras de Mexico. As a child, R.J. watched his mother prepare numerous Mexican dishes using just her intuition and experience to measure a pinch of this and a scoop of that. Understanding his mother wouldn’t always be around to guide his cooking lessons, R.J. began tirelessly recording measurements, temperatures, and techniques she used and turned them into recipes, which would later contribute to the success of Raul’s Mexican Food, the chain of restaurants R.J. would open, own, and operate in Des Moines.
"I am a brown man playing and working and trying to get along in a world that doesn't 'see color.' It takes patience to meet people where they are and invite them on the journey to fully see myself and others who are not part of the dominant culture."
Rae Fehring has 15 years experience as organizational and executive communications strategist, strategic planner, and project manager. She has extensive experience using stories to create compelling content to build an organization’s engagement and position, and building successful relationships within and across organizations and diverse populations.
"I am an African-American woman who birthed an organization and had it essentially hijacked by white women who continue to take credit for my work."
Reba Abraham was born and raised in Iowa. She has been a teacher for more than 10 years and enjoys helping students and other teachers learn. She also loves to travel and learn about other cultures.
"When your whole world is changed by a diagnosis that you have never heard of, it affects everyone differently, and no one can see. When your doctors are researching information alongside you. When you are the expert and you need to tell them what works and what doesn't. This is a story of my life with a rare invisible disease.”
Sara Krzyczkowski is a Michigan native by birth, and a Spartan by choice, with a BA and a BS from Michigan State University. Her family was far more accepting of her coming out than they were of her turning down an education at the University of Michigan. She continued her love of learning (and student loan debt) by garnering graduate degrees from Drake and Iowa State after she was transplanted to the Des Moines area, and spent her first decade after graduation teaching middle school, enjoying the eccentricities and enthusiasm of teenagers whenever she wasn’t rolling her eyes at their crazy shenanigans. She currently leads several amazing teams at Wells Fargo and considers herself fortunate to be part of such a truly inclusive company.
“It is always said that ‘life takes you down paths you don’t expect’. Join me on a voyage of self-discovery and learn how I came to grips with who I am, and how I defined myself as I have come out to my friends, family and community.”
Shabana Gupta is a recent high school graduate who is going on to college to pursue a degree in psychology. Writing has been a part of her life since she was ten years old – she began with short stories and has been published in a newspaper. She continued her creative streak to develop with art as well and has won awards for her work in ceramics. She is a huge fan of the art of anime and manga.
“I consider myself to be well versed when it comes to the world of anime and manga, which I have found to be a strong descriptor of my personality for anyone who has explored the ins and outs of anime plots and characters. I identified and accepted being ‘weird’ as a child, but I was always afraid of showing it. This is a coming-of-age tale about how I was introduced to fantasy, found my voice, and became friends with people similar to myself.”
Originally from from Australia, Shane McQullan is an Urban Forestry Project manager for the City of Des Moines.
"The story of an immigrant with white skin and a pleasing accent..."
Tess Cacciatore is co-founder and CEO of GWEN (Global Women’s Empowerment Network). An award-winning producer, videographer, journalist, keynote speaker, storyteller, social entrepreneur – and now published author – Tess has dedicated her life to advocating for peace, justice, and equality around the globe.
“My defining moment happened in Ghana when I was ending a relationship with a man I thought I was going to marry. I realized when I over-reacted to a situation that I had not healed from my past. This was the crossroads for me, as I realized that if we do not uncover our wounds, (reveal) that we will continue to live on the hamster wheel and keep the same situation to re-occur in our lives. When we reveal, we can begin to heal. This moment inspired the book “"Homeless to the White House"” and the movement #Reveal2Heal.”
Vinh Nguyen was born in Saigon, Vietnam. After the Vietnam War ended, life in South Vietnam changed completely. In the summer of 1981, Vinh’s parents arranged for him to be smuggled out of the country along with other 134 Vietnamese on a tiny boat that was barely seaworthy. After the boat was rescued by an oil tanker, Vinh lived in refugee camps in Thailand and Indonesia before finally being accepted by the United States and relocating to Des Moines.
At the age of 22 with no English language skills, Vinh had many difficulties adjusting to life in Iowa. He has never forgotten the help he received, and he now works to help others, lending his skills and support to many projects and activities in the Vietnamese and Southeast Asian, and Language Minority communities. He also serves as a story teller, speaker and consultant for many topics related to Vietnam, refugee and resettlement process, and second language acquisition issues throughout Des Moines area and surrounding areas.
“I was one of the hundred thousand “Boat People” – refugee who fled harassments and persecution by the oppressive communist regime in Vietnam after the Fall of Saigon in April 1975. I will share my story of the tribulations and challenges of the beginning a new life in Des Moines, Iowa in the early 1980’s".
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