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This is a regular feature where we spotlight NLC Omaha alumni. The NLC Omaha family is a diverse group with a wide range of experiences in business, politics, government, non-profits, entrepreneurship and more. Today, we’re catching up with 2016 NLC Omaha fellow and current board member and Mentorship Chair, JaKeen Fox.
JaKeen is currently the Associate Manager at COACH Village Pointe in Omaha and the President of the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals. He has worked extensively in the field of retail management for eight years, and working in luxury retail at companies like COACH and Saks Fifth Avenue has equipped him with the knowledge to engage with people from all walks of life. It would be safe to say that his work in retail was a key component in launching his career in community advocacy.
As the son of an Air Force Master Sergeant, JaKeen has been able to see the world and interact with it from a young age. Born in Birkenfeld, Germany, he has developed a love for a multitude of cultures, but is most passionate about his work with people of color, with an emphasis on issues affecting the black community in Omaha. During 2015, JaKeen was the volunteer committee chair for the Urban League of Nebraska. There he developed partnerships with Inclusive Communities, the Heart Ministry Center, the Union for Contemporary Art, and Omaha North High School. JaKeen proposed and executed a young professionals of color career day that the school has asked to make an annual event. Recently, JaKeen and his fellow panelists were awarded the 2015-2016 Panelist of the Year award by Inclusive Communities for their Omaha Table Talk discussion of Black Lives Matter.
Why did you originally decide to apply to the NLC Institute?
I applied for two reasons. The first reason was that I honestly felt like NLC Omaha needed a voice like mine. I wrote in my application essay that I am a Black Gay Feminist Christian-adjacent man. When you look at the political landscape in Omaha or Nebraska at large, it's a voice not usually heard. I felt that if there was a chance for me to elevate that voice, I was duty-bound to pursue it.
The second reason I applied was because Sarah Hanify, the recruitment chair for NLC Omaha at the time, came to an Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals meeting to speak about the program. I have been a member of ULNYPs for almost two years now, and no other leadership program in Omaha has ever sought out diverse voices in that fashion. NLC Omaha claimed to be a progressive organization, and Sarah coming to ask us to apply proved that to me.
What was one NLC Institute training that had a big impact on you – taught you a valuable new skill, opened your eyes to something you weren’t aware of before, fostered a new connection, etc.
The NLC Institute training that had the biggest impact on me had to be the Strategic Communications training with Mike Moschella, the founder of the national NLC organization. So often we are taught that emotion has no place in politics, to be "objective"or in some way inauthentic. Mike debunked those notions. He infused the validity of emotion into the strategy of persuasion. I have a new understanding of myself in this field because of that training.
What has NLC meant to you? What have been your most meaningful NLC experiences?
NLC means access. When I started this program, I was brand new to social policy with ambitions far beyond my level of knowledge and capability. After the first weekend with the fellows, I found I had a family that could supplement my areas of opportunity with their strengths. I found we had an exec and advisory board that were committed to our education and success. I found we were connected to a national organization that will answer my phone call. The experience of these meaningful relationships has been life-changing.
How has NLC played a role in your personal or professional life?
NLC has impacted both my personal and professional life. A huge part of my personal brand is the ability to connect my friends and colleagues to opportunity. I have so many friends applying for this program because I can't stop talking about it.
Professionally, NLC has added credibility to my work. The perk of being a part of such a well-connected organization is that you hear "yes" more often. I have had great partnerships with nonprofits in the area and the chance to work with elected officials.
What piece of advice would you give a young person looking to make progressive change in our community?
The best advice I could give a young person looking to make progressive change in our community is to say YES when your opportunity comes. I spent so long thinking that one thing or another would make me "ready" to pursue my interests. What I have found is that my passion will supersede my fears -- if I'm open to that as a possibility.
What qualities would you look for in a person considering applying to NLC Omaha?
The qualities I would look for in future applicants would be self-awareness, ambition, and clarity of purpose. Let me explain. Self-awareness in the framework of knowing what you want to get out of a program like NLC and knowing what you can give of yourself. Ambition is an eagerness to change/create the things this community may be lacking. Clarity of purpose is knowing or seeking what you were put on this earth to do.
What do you see as the future of NLC Omaha? What type of role will NLC Omaha play in the community?
NLC Omaha will become the place thought leaders in our community come to meet and breathe life into each other's visions, no matter your socioeconomic status, race, gender identity, sexual identity, religion, political affiliation, etc. NLC Omaha is in the business of preparing its fellows to make meaningful impacts..
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