Welcome to the Open Book Card Catalog!

These are the amazing, generous, and fascinating Iowans who will be sharing their stories

Pork-eating Jew

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.”


A Divided Patriot

Amaran Moodley describes himself as “a brown-skinned South African of Indian descent, born in to a family of nomadic storytellers, gold merchants, teachers and visionaries.” His ancestors left their home – not for fear of persecution or to escape poverty or conflict – but in search of adventure and opportunities in a continent foreign to them in every imaginable way. Like his elders, Amaram is also a voyager – he has lived on many continents, and for the past 5 years has called Des Moines, Iowa “home”.

“My story is a journey through the world of African-American culture leavened with adventures involving America's greatest gifts to the world: Jazz music and high technology.”


"But You Don't LOOK African"

Anjni Moodley is an Indian, currently living in Iowa, who hails from Africa. She is currently taking time out to be with her children – and volunteering for CultureALL – while she figures out her next move.

“My story provides some background on Indian in Africa – I will be sharing stories of exploring my identity as an Indian from Kenya through all the moves I have made, and how I ended up in Iowa. My defining moment happened in college when I had to explain who I was – all the questions I was asked started me on the journey to realizing who I am.”


Gujarati, English, Swahili

How I Learned I Wasn't White

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.”


Of Loss and Love

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.


An Integrated Life

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!”


"Incompetent" Optimist

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,, 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."


The Definition of Black

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.”


FOB: Fresh Off The Boat

Gurwinder Kapur 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

Losing Ty

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."


From Rejection to Acceptance

In 2001, James King was a college student and just seven years into a career in the journalism profession when he undertook his first major professional responsibilities: to organize a media organization dedicated to HIV/AIDS awareness and education in Liberia, West Africa. The government had declared HIV/AIDS a disease of national priority and asked every Liberian irrespective of backgrounds to galvanize resources and professional expertis to stop the spread of the disease.

Under the guidance and inspiration of a Liberian clergy, James led some fellow journalists to draft a document that would form the organization Media Against AIDS. He became its Executive Director for seven years. The organization played a lead role in creating HIV/AIDS awareness and education amongst young populations who were most affected by the disease due to unsafe social behaviors.

“Miss Kpanah Jallah lived with HIV/AIDS in misery. At 23-years old with thoughts of suicide, she had been discriminated against, ostracized, abandoned, stigmatized and rejected by members of her family, friends, school and classmates. She regained her self-esteem after Media Against AIDS launched its sustained awareness campaigns of asking people to stop stigmatizing and discriminating against people living with HIV/AIDS. Miss Jallah survived and went on to receive national and international prominence because of her bravery and joint advocacy with Media Against AIDS. My story is her story.”


An Unquenchable Thirst for Knowledge

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 who are refugees from Central Africa. She also owns and provides translation services for the for the company Sunshine Affiliates. Last year she fulfilled her dream of becoming a U.S. Citizen.

I was a teenager when I first came to the U.S. to go to college. I was oblivious to – and therefore fearless of – the challenges of living alone in this new world. I wanted to know, wanted to learn everything – and there was so much I had to learn. Not only did I have to learn to be self-reliant, I had to figure out what to wear, how to do my hair, what to eat, and how to make friends in a place that was utterly strange to me. I also had to learn how to speak “American English” – which was not the same English I learned at home in Kenya. For example, in Kenya, if you were to say ‘excuse me’ to a native Kenyan, it would be considered very rude. My story is about how my unquenchable search for knowledge has helped me survive and thrive in a new country.”


Echoes from the Ghetto

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.'"


War Child

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.”


Lost and Gained in Transition

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 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.”



From Refugee to President: A Story of Perseverance and Gratitude

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."


Different Sides of the Tracks

Matt Conrad and Jordan Gudenkauf were raised in very different circumstances, yet still managed to become friends.

"Stumbling forward or clawing your way up? Our story is about white privilege and other advantageous circumstances."


9/11: One Muslim's Story

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.”


English, Arabic

9/11: A Journey from Unknown to Your Own

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.”


Chiowan: How the City Boy Fell for Iowa

Quentin Abraham is originally from Chicago. He has embraced living on Iowa and now thinks of himself as a Chicago-born Iowan, or" Chiowan."

“My story is about my journey from Chicago to Iowa and how living here has changed my perspective of everything I thought about Iowa and myself. I'll talk about the successes and pitfalls that have taken me to where I am now. I will also talk about my interracial marriage and how the the differences in the environments my wife and I were raised in has affected our relationship.”


Mentors can Make all the Difference

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.

This is a story of a young woman who persevered in spite of little support from a would-be mentor and flourished when support and encouragement were finally given.


The Power of Invisibility

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.”


English, Spanish

Undercover Lesbian

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.”


Otaku – Fan Girl

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.”


You Realize I'm an Immigrant, Right?

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..."



Reveal to Heal

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.”


Who Would Have Known?

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".


English, Vietnamese

Be An Open Book Storyteller

Complete the form and start your journey to become an Open Book.