José Lemus: What Civic Nebraska means to me

Civic Nebraska's Collective Impact Lincoln community organizer on the value of setting aside spreadsheets and focusing on person-to-person connections.

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I went to the University of Nebraska in 2012 to study how laws, policies, and systems affect the life of regular Americans. I assumed that if I read enough books, created enough models and wrote enough papers, I would be able to find the solution to all of the world’s problems.

This is naïve; I know.

It took me a few years to realize that the world doesn’t play out on spreadsheets. That hypothesizing about how policies impact the daily lives of Nebraskans does no good if it isn’t backed up by real, person-to-person interactions. I needed humanity. I needed to learn from real people, to give a piece of myself to the work to begin to understand how society shapes people and where we can begin to collaborate on change.

I was lucky. As I began this process of exploration, a Collective Impact Lincoln community organizer position came up, and I jumped at the opportunity. Finally, I had a chance to work with real people on the issues that I cared about in my hometown.

Collective Impact Lincoln is an initiative between three partnerships: Civic Nebraska, Nebraska Appleseed, and the South of Downtown Community Development Organization. We focus on six neighborhoods with the goal to support community conversations, leadership, and action opportunities to create a more vibrant and inclusive place to live.

A year and a half into my role, I can see that I made the right decision.

Whether it’s partnering on starting a farmer’s market or knocking on thousands of doors in the Hartley and University Place neighborhoods, I’ve learned that people and their varied life experiences are what make our city and its neighborhoods what they are today. From planning a block party to testifying at the State Legislature, the application of your talents to building your dream community makes our work meaningful.

This is what Civic Nebraska means to me. We are an organization of diverse Nebraskans working together to democratize power structures to build vibrant and resilient communities with our friends and neighbors.

People like you and me are the secret to a great community. By learning from and empowering our neighbors, we take concrete steps towards the functional and inclusive society that we all imagine.

— José Lemus

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