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Our Spring Cohort Shares What Motivated Them to Become FUSE Fellows

As the spring cohort embarks on their journeys to advance racial equity and ensure a just recovery from the pandemic, they share their personal motivations for becoming FUSE Executive Fellows. Read more.

HALA FARID

Hala is working with the Housing and Planning Department in Austin to support anti-displacement efforts amidst the launch of a new transit plan.

“My immigrant father believed the path to becoming a real American was through owning a piece of America – buying a home. His struggles to straighten his finances and make ends meet so that we could keep a roof over our heads were intense. This struggle led him to eventually accept homeownership as merely a dream for people like us. Watching the slow death of his dream ignited my passion for creating homeownership opportunities for people of color, new Americans, and low-to-moderate-income people. I learned first hand to appreciate the importance of homeownership in achieving the American dream of financial independence. Homeownership and stable housing are key to financial stability.

Politics and recent rhetoric compelled me to seek a change. I was tired of being a spectator, and felt I must serve and do my part – at the very least, speak out. I believe meaningful change happens locally and can be scaled through customized replication tailored to the needs of each region. As housing is what gets me up each day, the FUSE fellowship was the perfect bridge for me. It is a way to serve, test what I am capable of, and to transition to the next chapter of my career. I am very grateful for this opportunity. After 19 years in one place, I have a fresh beginning and a chance to work on what I truly love.”

TIFFANY PATTERSON

Tiffany is working with the Office of Equity, Diversity & Inclusion in Atlanta to prioritize a vaccine roll-out among Black and Brown residents most affected by the pandemic.

“In September of 2020 my father passed away in a prison due to a lack of adequate healthcare. For every moment, through every visit, when I felt depleted – absolutely robbed of my power to protect and care for my dad- I have felt empowered and restored by the career I’ve built in social justice. As an advocate of the Sustainable Development Goals (2030 Agenda), I have delivered sustainable development solutions while managing programs involving hunger, education, economic justice, social inclusion and the environment. I am especially interested in working with causes that address social equity – not only because of the potential impact on vulnerable populations – but also on my family and future generations. I believe these issues weigh in the balance of how cities organize resources.

This particular initiative, One Atlanta, and my fellowship on COVID-19 response and recovery hits home with me. It allows me an opportunity to put my hands on something that resonates at a deeply personal level. In memory of my dad, I am honored to contribute to the development of sustainable initiatives such as One Atlanta, which hones in on achieving a more safe, resilient, and socially just Atlanta – the town I call home.

I know change won’t happen overnight, but as I effect change each day, I can rest peacefully through the night knowing that I did something to set the outlook of a better world in motion. I look forward to teaming with FUSE Corps and civic partner agencies to produce a more inclusive and just society.”

JOHN-PAUL CHAISSON-CARDENAS

John-Paul is working with the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute to implement a business model that enables the institute to scale and deepen its work.

“As a war-survivor and immigrant from Guatemala, I have seen firsthand what happens when diversity, equity, and civil and human rights are not respected. This knowledge has guided my educational and professional trajectory. To have the opportunity to work at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, a venerated institution at the epicenter of the U.S. civil rights movement, is, in many ways, a dream come true. My greatest hope is that my voice as an immigrant, an indigenous person, and a Latinx scholar will help all people understand that the U.S. civil rights struggle has been and continues to be a shining light of hope in our journey towards inclusion, equity, and social justice.”

DWAYNE CAMPBELL

Dwayne is working with the Office of the City Manager in Durham and community members to reduce the use of law enforcement in emergency response strategies.

“While the United States has traditionally been viewed as the land of opportunities, the disparities in outcomes across demographics have been exacerbated, or unveiled, by the COVID-19 pandemic and a national outcry for racial justice in 2020. Today there is still a lot to celebrate in the U.S., yet we have a far way to go in creating a perfect Union. It is incumbent on all of us to play a pivotal role— regardless of the scope, in ensuring that we do not return to the system of inequity that we had collectively become numb to. We cannot continue to deliberately or inadvertently perpetuate the normalization of racial injustice and economic inequity across the various demographic groups.

Consequently, I bring my expertise in leadership, research and evaluation to support Durham’s continued improvement. As a systems change thinker, I’ve had lots of desires for what my neighborhood should look like, and how residents are treated with dignity. As a resident, I understand the importance of public safety, which includes the police force, in any thriving society, and my lived experience as a Black man in America underscores the need for better policing. This executive fellowship is a great opportunity for me to address the changes I want to see in my neighborhood. I can’t continue being an armchair expert, as true change comes through doing.

I’m inspired to do this work with FUSE Corps and the City of Durham because I fully recognize, too, that opportunities are investments, and access to opportunities will ultimately build the social capital for an equitable and striving society across all demographics.”

LEILA PEDERSEN

Leila is working with the Office of Performance & Innovation in Durham to advance an equitable economic recovery for businesses and workers.

“When COVID-19 hit last year it affected everyone, the economic impact fell hardest on historically disenfranchised communities. Just as in previous downturns, America’s K-shaped recovery has resulted in record profits for some, and financial ruin for others.

Growing up in Austin, Texas, I saw how local policies determine who benefits, who is left out, and who is harmed by economic development. Today, Durham’s participatory approach to budgeting presents a valuable opportunity to ensure that every resident benefits from economic growth.

Economic and racial inequities tear at the fabric of our society. Economic security shouldn’t be limited to those with privilege and access. The economy is not a zero-sum game. When we each do better, we all do better.

That’s why I am motivated to serve as a FUSE fellow in Durham, North Carolina, where I aim to advance community-driven solutions to economic recovery that help small businesses thrive and improve worker well-being. To deliver a just recovery, I will work to ensure that public investments are targeted toward people with the greatest need and sustained until everyone recovers, not just a wealthy few.

I am honored to contribute to Durham’s rich history of community activism and economic opportunity so that all of Durham’s residents have access to the resources they need to be healthy, resilient, and prosperous. Together, we can build a more equitable, inclusive economy for all.”

KEN WILLIAMS

Ken is working with the Mayor’s Office of Complete Communities in Houston, TX to launch initiatives that empower residents with increased employment opportunities.

“My lived experience as a Black male raised in Houston, Texas has allowed me to become aware of the role I was destined to play in breaking down systemic barriers, fostering more opportunities, and providing additional resources for individuals who look like me. My life has been rooted in education, civic engagement, and social justice which have contributed to my success. However, I’ve always asked: “Why? Why me? Why not my best friend, Kristy, who at the age of 14 attended an alternative school after being pushed out of a magnet school?” The key difference between my story and Kristy’s is an environment with resources and opportunities. Through mentorship and having the opportunity to participate in life changing programs such as, Longhorn Scholars, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Junior Statesmen of America, and the White House Young America Series allowed me to explore and maximize my potential. These experiences at an early age and my professional journey has allowed me to see the critical role local government has in creating an environment enriched with resources and opportunities to determine the success of an individual.”

ANDREW WEST

Andrew is working with the Workforce Development, Aging, and Community Services office in Los Angeles County to ensure that the county supports its older adults.

“When I was a young man just out of high school, I became my grandfather’s end-of-life caretaker. I observed first-hand how older adults are often disregarded and rendered invisible. Grandpa taught me so much about life and living even as his own life was closing, and I hold my time with him in my heart to fuel my calling as an older adult advocate. I became a FUSE fellow to actively impact public policy around health and social equity for older adults and to raise awareness of the contributions older adults have on their communities.”

RONNELL HAMPTON

Ronnell is working with the Civil & Human Rights Department in Los Angeles to develop a strategic plan for the Equity and Empowerment initiative.

“I am an urban sustainability planner, writer, and podcaster. I use my platforms to address systemic infrastructure dilemmas, because our built environment directly affects the health, economic, and educational outcomes for underserved and underrepresented communities. As a first-generation college student and master’s graduate, I experienced firsthand the challenges our built environment and infrastructure can create for accessing and pursuing opportunity in our society.

Branches of my family tree can be traced back in this country as far as 1695. We have fought in wars, built infrastructure, organized resistance, and fought for our humanity every single generation. I am continuing in that tradition, and so many from my bloodline are doing the same. Although we have yet to access the total capacity of the American Dream, I am hopeful. People that look like me, or had similar experiences, are in rooms making decisions, leading projects, and effecting a material change. Those that came before us paved the way.

My ancestors sacrificed, were denied entry and services, love and self-determination. Race policy and urban design did so much to interfere with me achieving what I have. It’s not lost on me that so many who look like me, even share my same blood, have succumbed to the impact of these race-based policies and, as a result, had to deal with incarceration, struggle with mental wellness, or are dead.

On May 3, I started my role with the Civil and Human Rights Department in Los Angeles. In this role, I will disrupt institutions’ systemic operations that impact commerce, education, housing, and health outcomes. For me, the FUSE Corps Executive Fellowship is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to implement what I have learned from my lived, academic, and professional experience to disrupt inequity in the City of Los Angeles. The project that I will lead will allow me to introduce frameworks that provide a racial equity approach to address the digital divide, food security, and COVID-19 response. I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to the impact I will make in partnership with FUSE Corps and the City of Los Angeles. I am truly humbled by how God has led me here and will continue to lead me in the future towards making this world a better place.”

GREG ST. ARNOLD

Greg is working with the Office of Early Childhood Initiatives in Milwaukee to address gaps in access to childcare services.

“When I was a kid, I remember going to the laundromat on Monday nights, and as my mom did the laundry. I remember sitting on one of those rounded plastic chairs doing my math homework or spelling. Sometimes I would pull a chair up to those tall tables where you fold clothes and stand on the chair and do my work there. And when I was done, I would go by the pinball machine and push the buttons and watch people play. In 2019, I learned about what Milwaukee’s Office of Early Childhood Initiatives (OECI) was doing to promote early learning in places like laundromats, grocery stores, offices, and gas stations, and instantly I loved the idea. When I learned that there was an opportunity to work with the city and the OECI through as a FUSE Executive Fellow, I jumped at the chance! I believe in the power our local government possesses to directly touch people’s lives every single day and make our community a safer, healthier, and happier place. The FUSE fellowship allows me the opportunity to work alongside dedicated civil servants to think creatively together and take steps to ensure that every child in Milwaukee can grow up in a language-rich, supportive, and joyful environment.”

RONALD PERKINS

Ronald is working with the Mayor’s Office in Pittsburgh to build out employment pipelines that strengthen the relationship between Pittsburgh’s youth and local employers.

“Following the collapse of the steel mills, Pittsburgh’s inability to provide young adults with post-high school career opportunities has plagued our city. Consequently, many of our youth have fallen victim to endeavors resulting in arrest, prison time, and even death. This fellowship provides the opportunity to work with institutions responsible for creating career pathways to industries that pay above-average wages at entry-level positions.

When young adults in historically marginalized communities are connected to employers looking to hire and provide quality jobs, it can be life-changing for both the individuals and the communities across the entire city. I wanted to become a FUSE executive fellow because it offered me the opportunity to leverage my professional skills and life experiences in a way that could impact Pittsburgh’s marginalized communities and the lives of Black and Brown young adults.

For me, it’s a dream come true to help align the public school’s Career Technical Education program to the workforce ecosystem and high-paying wage occupations and careers. Navigating young adults through a fractured workforce system and connecting them to jobs that offer self-staining wages with advancement is priceless.”

KWASI FRYE

Kwasi is working with the Department of Housing and Community Development in Washington D.C. to support equitable rent control policies through an affordable housing database.

“Taking action against housing injustice in underserved communities is very important to me. As a tech professional, I have a unique perspective on how to utilize technology to advance justice. I recently launched SayLambda, which is a web application designed and developed to decrease the homeownership gap. With FUSE, I found the opportunity to explore how I can continue to leverage tech to fight injustice in housing, with a specific focus on protecting renters. In addition, the reputation of FUSE and the network of fellows illustrated that this was the right place and the right time.”

MARY LONIGRO

Mary is working with the Public Health Department in Austin to ensure the city has the training to respond to mental and behavioral health crises among those who are experiencing homelessness.

“It is my honor to be working with an organization such as FUSE. Its mission is in alignment with my heart and soul, and is many ways is an opportunity to honor my parents. I am child number 11 of a family with 15 children, raised in rural midwest America, in significant poverty and, without indoor plumbing. My parents were second-2nd generation Czech with English being one of three languages spoken in our home, along with Czech and German. I witnessed the challenges my parents faced trying to raise us along with the ‘social stigma’ and shame which accompanied the strains of poverty. My heart knew, at a very early age, that it was “not okay’ for society to treat those with less social and economic opportunities so poorly. This is MY WHY for working with those neighbors that find themself unhoused.

I was drawn to FUSE because it intentionally focuses on complex social issues by placing fellows within government systems to empower and improve social conditions through heightened social consciousness. FUSE is here to serve others. In being a FUSE Fellow I focus on improving the lives of others, which in turn results in my own human experience being better. To put this experience into poetry: Spirits movement catching my consciousness whispering to me to be part of the universal action team uplifting others up!”

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