Episode 22 | Crossing Cultural Divides To Create Community

Apr. 12, 2018

Show Notes:

In this episode, Chuck is joined by Gladys Godinez of Lexington, Neb., to discuss the work of a committed leadership team in her community to build a welcoming and inclusive space for health, education and a thriving rural future.

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Full Transcript:

[0:36] Welcome to Catch Up With Chuck, [0:37] from the Rural Futures Institute [0:39] at the University of Nebraska. [0:41] I’m Chuck Schroeder, I’m executive director [0:43] of the Rural Futures Institute, and today my guest [0:47] is a genuine courageous bridge builder. [0:52] Gladys Godniez from rural Lexington, Nebraska, [0:56] has become a friend of ours through one of our projects, [0:58] and Gladys we’re just delighted to have you here. [1:00] Well thank you very much for having me. [1:02] You have a great story, and we wanna get into that today, [1:05] because it really is all about building community. [1:07] Right. [1:08] Well listen, if you’ve watched these episodes [1:12] for some time, you’ll know that [1:13] last November we had Dr. Kirk Dombrowski, [1:17] who’s the John Bruhn professor of sociology [1:20] at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, [1:22] talking about a very important project that Kirk led, [1:27] called HealthVoiceVision. [1:30] It is part of the minority health disparities initiative, [1:33] of the University of Nebraska. [1:35] But it was a research project, and a learning project [1:38] that was conducted in Lexington, Nebraska, [1:41] looking at the challenges that minority residents would have [1:46] in accessing healthcare, crossing language barriers, [1:51] cultural barriers, a lot of issues. [1:53] And it ended up having really a wonderful impact. [1:57] Well, here’s Lexington, Nebraska, [2:00] one of the most diverse ethnic populations in the state. [2:04] Actually their high school I think is [2:07] the most diverse high school in Nebraska, [2:11] and it is the home of today’s guest. [2:13] Right.

[2:14] Gladys, I’d like for you to tell us a bit [2:16] of your remarkable story, that brought you to Lexington, [2:20] and your life there. [2:22] Well, I was born in Guatemala City, Guatemala. [2:26] My parents, my older siblings, and my grandmother [2:30] moved to Inglewood, California. [2:32] And then after that we moved to Lexington, Nebraska [2:35] when I was about 10 years old. [2:37] Due to the meat packing plant called IBP, [2:40] currently we have Tyson. [2:42] After that I graduated from the [2:44] Lexington High School in 2000, [2:46] and moved on to UNK with a political science degree in 2006. [2:51] Moved and lived in Kearney for a little while, [2:53] and then moved out of state to Wisconsin. [2:56] In 2016 we decided to move back due to us having kids, [3:00] and wanting to be close to our grandparents. [3:03] Sure, sure. [3:04] In Lexington it was interesting before, [3:08] when I was there, because, [3:10] and I kept thinking about it, in elementary school [3:13] I saw a vision of my dad being a provider. [3:17] And we went to the store and we were just [3:21] doing a simple transaction, right? [3:24] Cash transaction, and he got yelled at. [3:28] And he continuously got yelled at [3:29] because the cashier thought that it was due to the fact that [3:33] he couldn’t hear, that he wasn’t able to communicate. [3:37] So that was hard for me. [3:38] In middle school I was called the N word, [3:40] in high school we had a town hall, [3:42] and the leadership there told us that we were not welcomed. [3:46] So through that process we try to see the light, [3:50] we founded a leadership group within the high school, [3:53] and then through college I try to make sure [3:56] to come back to our community, [3:57] and develop relationships with our high school students, [3:59] so then they can know that they do belong, [4:02] they are part of our community [4:03] and they can also become leaders within our community.

[4:07] Well listen… [4:09] I was in Lexington when we [4:12] brought the HealthVoiceVision project to it’s close, [4:15] and were celebrating that. [4:18] One of the outcomes is a presentation called [4:22] Looking Past Skin, Our Common Threads. [4:24] And that exhibit previewed that night, [4:28] at The Dawson County Historical Museum– [4:30] Right. [4:31] You were one of the speakers [4:33] from the community that night, and told a very moving story [4:37] about your decision to return to Lexington. [4:40] And to be a part of these changes that you saw occurring. [4:47] Share some of your observations. [4:49] Sure.

[4:49] Well, we moved back to Lexington, [4:52] and man at 65% Hispanic, %10 of African dissent, [4:57] we have a lot of a large diverse community. [5:00] And it has helped. [5:02] The high school currently has flags in your entrance. [5:06] All 40 or plus flags in the entrance, [5:08] which means, hey welcome, you’re welcome here, you belong. [5:11] The chamber of commerce has a logo [5:13] embracing different flags from our community. [5:16] It’s the logo itself it says, “Embrace Lex.” [5:19] So what a 180, right, from the time that I left, [5:22] to the time that I came back. [5:24] So now I see that our community [5:26] is trying to bridge those gaps. [5:29] And I saw the lack of the diverse community to have a leader [5:35] and or have that communication [5:37] with the rest of the community. [5:38] So… [5:39] I found it my call to be able to go into Lexington [5:44] and say if this is my community, [5:46] if this is where I’m gonna raise my children, [5:48] I want all voices to be heard. [5:50] Well you have been very much a part [5:52] of building that conversation.

[5:54] Well listen, when I think about that project, [5:58] the HealthVoiceVision project that Kirk led… [6:03] Kirk Dombrowski is one of the most [6:04] sophisticated scholars in the country, [6:07] he’s a rockstar in his field, [6:09] we’re very proud to have him at The University of Nebraska. [6:12] But let’s face it, here was this [6:14] sophisticated research project, [6:18] dealing with some very complex problems, [6:20] I think it was not unreasonable to think [6:24] this may be an ivory tower project, [6:26] that will result in a… [6:29] An article for a referee journal somewhere, [6:32] that will go on the self in the academy, [6:35] and perhaps never really have an impact on the community. [6:39] Right. [6:40] That’s exactly what did not happen. [6:41] Because I saw real people [6:44] from across the diversity spectrum in your community [6:48] demonstrating really a profound sense of shared community. [6:53] Talk a little bit about what happened, you were there. [6:56] Right, right. [6:57] (Chuck laughs)

[6:58] Well we had a great setup. [7:00] We had foods from different countries, [7:02] we had individuals from different countries, [7:05] we were able to then talk about the impact [7:07] that Lexington has had on us, [7:09] and how we would like to see the future of Lexington, [7:12] being together and talking across cultures. [7:16] So that was powerful. [7:18] But you’re right, academia can just stay in a book, right? [7:20] We can just allow this research project [7:22] to be part of Lexington, and then just let it be, [7:26] but we’re choosing not to. [7:27] We’re choosing to say, give us the data, [7:30] allow us to bring this data to different, [7:33] maybe foundations or whatever it may be, [7:35] and then maybe potentially open a free clinic. [7:38] That is our goal, we’re looking at it [7:40] two to three years from now. [7:42] Our potential of opening a free clinic in Lexington, [7:44] it would be… [7:46] It would be, [7:47] our closest free clinic, or low income clinic is Kearney. [7:51] But it does not allow individuals [7:52] from Dawson County to be there [7:54] unless the work in Buffalo Country. [7:56] And then we have Grand Island, but with limited income [7:59] and limited capability, there’s no way [8:02] that individuals can travel an hour and a half [8:04] just to be able to see a doctor. [8:06] Sure. [8:07] Well it, when I think about that project [8:11] and the changes that are occurring in this… [8:16] Here is a rural community quite honestly [8:18] that has this long history of success, [8:21] it’s one of the great agricultural centers in our state, [8:25] they’ve had great leadership over time, [8:28] went through this challenging period, [8:30] and now a new generation of leaders [8:33] are coming forward to make Lexington [8:36] really the great community that we all remember [8:40] and want to be proud of.

[8:41] So listen, I want you to give us [8:44] a little more of your vision. [8:45] You made a very courageous decision [8:48] to come back and be a part of it. [8:50] Tell me a little more of your vision [8:52] for what the future of Lexington might be.

[8:54] Well I think we have so much to offer. [8:56] I mean, we have a little world within Nebraska [9:00] that we can offer tourism. [9:02] We have the ability to have businesses downtown [9:05] that we can develop, right? [9:06] We have entrepreneurs that may not know how to increase [9:11] and or have a window, successful window [9:15] within the downtown area. [9:16] So it would be great for economic development, [9:18] Lexington area Chamber of Commerce [9:19] to be part of building our downtown area. [9:22] In addition developing our youth. [9:25] We’re having a lot of return students [9:27] coming back to Lexington, so I’m asking our leadership [9:31] to be part of the answer. [9:33] Meaning bringing in mentorship, being part of, [9:37] having them at the table, teaching them the ways [9:40] of how to successfully run our community. [9:42] I think that would be awesome. [9:45] We currently don’t have a daycare center, [9:47] which limits our economic development as well. [9:51] So it would be great to have a daycare center. [9:53] And again, we’re definitely in the conversations [9:56] of having a healthcare clinic. [9:58] Right. [9:59] Yeah, I mean the whole healthcare deal, or course, [10:01] was the focus of that project, but it has so many fingers [10:06] across all elements of the community. [10:08] And that parts been fun. [10:10] And we hope that is fulfilling part of our mission [10:15] with the Rural Futures Institute, [10:17] to really help real people in a community [10:21] create the kind of thriving environment [10:24] that draws young people back, [10:26] and creates that support for entrepreneurs [10:29] and change-agents if you will, [10:31] that really are leading into a brighter future.

[10:34] Well listen, Gladys, one of our core beliefs [10:36] at the Rural Futures Institute is that people [10:39] have the capacity to determine their own future. [10:43] They can make choices [10:45] that will change the course of their community, [10:48] and eventually change the course of the world. [10:51] You are a living example of that. [10:54] I was so intrigued when I heard your story last fall, [10:59] and it’s been so much fun to revisit it, [11:03] and think about where you’re going [11:05] with this remarkable life that you’ve lived. [11:07] So anyway, we’re delighted and honored [11:09] to be associated with you. [11:10] Anything else you’d like to add today?

[11:12] Well honestly I would like to thank you [11:14] for not only investing time, but money into our community [11:18] and developing this conversation [11:21] to be able to find solutions together within our community. [11:24] So I appreciate not only the platform [11:26] but the time and the money [11:27] that you have invested in our community. [11:29] It’s been rewarding to us. [11:30] Thank you. [11:31] So thank you.

[11:32] Well listen, we appreciate Gladys coming [11:35] and sharing this great story with us, [11:37] and I wanna encourage you to stay in touch [11:40] with the Rural Futures Institute [11:42] through our website, through Facebook, [11:44] Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and all of those tools. [11:48] Because we’re gonna be back in another week, [11:51] talking to real people about real places, [11:54] who demonstrate that thriving rural communities [11:57] are a legitimate best choice for worthwhile living. [12:00] Thanks for joining us.


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