Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans whose work embodies the spirit of a modern, robust democracy. Among our 2021 honorees are educators, administrators, students, and everyday Nebraskans. We’ll officially honor the winners on April 29, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.
Civic Nebraska honors Ja Keen Fox as its 2021 Defender of Democracy for stepping forward in the fight for racial justice.
Fox began his advocacy and activism work in 2016 as president of the Urban League of Nebraska Young Professionals, creating initiatives such as Black & Brown Lobby Day, which changed the way young professionals of color engaged with elected officials. Since then, he has helped lead change in Omaha and the state through his work with nonprofits, policy leaders, and citizens.
Following the May 30, 2020, killing of James Scurlock in Omaha amid a nationwide mobilization against police violence, Fox organized protests, trained organizers, facilitated conversations, and consistently used his platform to affect change.
Part of that effort was a sustained protest in response to a decision by Douglas County’s top prosecutor, who determined that the man responsible for Scurlock’s shooting death would not face criminal charges. Eventually, a grand jury was convened and indictments were handed down.
“Ja Keen has made himself a force to be reckoned with in the Omaha and Nebraska political world,” said Westin Miller, Civic Nebraska’s director of public policy, who nominated Fox. “He may upset some people, but he refuses to let civility be wielded as a weapon – civic engagement requires us to sometimes be collaborative and sometimes be in conflict, and in the past year Ja Keen has done both.”
Fox told the Omaha Reader in 2020: “There is an awakening that what used to be thought of as radical can only be deemed as necessary right now. What we used to frame as radical, like, people are starting to understand that this is survival for the most vulnerable people. We’re finally saying no, this has to be enough. I think that has really allowed us to see change in a way that feels new and relevant and fresh and exposes what’s really possible.”