Each year, Civic Nebraska’s Strengthening Democracy Awards recognize Nebraskans who embody the spirit of a modern and robust democracy. Among our 2022 honorees are educators, administrators, students, and everyday Nebraskans. We’ll officially honor the winners on April 13, but before then, here’s a chance to learn a bit more about what makes them special.
Civic Nebraska honors Joseline Reyna, an organizer, reformer, and advocate for ballot access, as its 2023 Jan Gradwohl Memorial Defender of Democracy.
Joseline, from Grand Island, is an example of citizenship beyond paperwork and legal status. She came to America as a DREAMer – which means she presently cannot vote because of her immigration status. Undaunted, she has fought relentlessly against restrictive voter ID laws and for expanding pathways to official citizenship.
The award is named in honor of the late Jan Gradwohl, a trailblazer for women in the judiciary and a fierce advocate for democracy, inclusion, and justice.
In her role with YWCA of Grand Island, Joseline has knocked on hundreds of doors and called thousands to encourage them to weigh in with our elected officials about their community’s collective future.
Joseline also advocates for fellow DREAMers, sharing her story locally and nationally and joining the push toward positive immigration laws and reform. She has engaged with Nebraska policymakers and supported immigration reform in Washington, D.C.
“Joseline has been organizing her community for many years. She just didn’t always give her actions that title,” said nominator Meg Mikolajczyk of the Nebraska Civic Engagement Table. “In taking these actions, she has fought for so many Nebraska friends, neighbors, and families who deserve inclusion and a recognized status.”
Before joining the YWCA, Joseline worked for the Multicultural Coalition of Grand Island. Her work has been rooted in her personal experience of needing help as a new American.
“Helping newcomers feel a part of the community is very important,” she said in 2021. “There’s often a negative narrative about immigration, and I like sharing my story and other stories to make personal connections to understand that these are personal stories and that these are people in our community.”
Today, she volunteers with young professionals in Grand Island, focuses on creating more opportunity and representation for young Latino professionals, serves on the board of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and volunteers at the local food pantry.
“Joseline fights to make sure everyone who can vote does not face impeded access, while also focusing on expanding pathways to citizenship and greater inclusion for DREAMers and others,” Mikolajczyk said.