On a chilly December evening, a small crowd of families, supporters, and local leaders gathered to celebrate the graduation of the Lincoln My City Academy’s fifth cohort. My City Academy (MCA) is an invaluable program designed to empower New Americans in Lincoln by growing their understanding of local government and connecting participants with valuable civic engagement opportunities. MCA launched in 2021 during the pandemic, holding the first sessions via zoom.
“Including this cohort, we now have 50 graduates from MCA,” says Francisca Beltran, Community Outreach Coordinator for Lincoln Commission on Human Rights and MCA Co-Leader.
“Our participants come from a wide variety of backgrounds and experiences. They’re all leaders within their communities, eager to learn, and ready to share. MCA simply offers participants a path to more knowledge, connections, and engagement,” says Beltran.
My City Academy participants take time out of their very full lives of work, family, and community commitments to spend a few hours each week learning about Lincoln’s systems, structure, and opportunities. They speak with city council members, county commissioners, the Lincoln Police Department, local nonprofits, and many more.
Participants connect with one another across cultures, growing their understanding of both Lincoln’s diversity and shared values of community and prosperity.
“MCA has effectively bridged the gap between community leaders and immigrants, fostering an environment that empowers immigrants to take on leadership roles themselves,” says Amany Al-Barakat, MCA Graduate.
“Through MCA, I was able to strengthen my community relationships, listen and learn new life stories of members of our community, and expand my knowledge about the roles and services our city and state offer. Anyone given this opportunity should take it and enjoy the ride!..and the food!” says MCA Graduate Vivian Perez Alvarado.
MCA Alumnus Luis Loma spoke to the new graduates. “As an immigrant, I understand the courage it takes to step into the unknown, to forge a new path in a land filled with opportunities and possibilities.
“These cohorts represent a mixture of diverse cultures, experiences, and dreams. I choose to believe that our differences are not obstacles but assets that enrich the collective strength of our community,” says Loma.
“Many graduates of MCA have gone on to actively participate in local decision-making processes, serve on boards and commissions, generously volunteer with community events, and even launch their own initiatives.
“The contributions that immigrant and refugee community leaders make adds to the overall strength and vibrancy of our city!” says Khenda Mustafa, Welcoming Coordinator for Nebraska Is Home and MCA Co-Leader.
In 2024, MCA graduates will be invited to participate in the efforts of the Lincoln/Lancaster County Welcoming & Belonging Strategic Plan to bring their experience and insight into the welcoming work in our city.
“MCA graduates are current and future leaders in our city. These leaders have the experience and knowledge needed to connect diverse communities within Lincoln, leveraging strengths to ensure that all voices are valued, “ says Lisa Guill, Welcoming Communities Coordinator for the Cultural Centers of Lincoln.
“This is an important part of welcoming work in Lincoln. As newcomers build home here, we need more cultural ambassadors to help folks integrate and find belonging,” says Guill.