United States

Meet RSM Pursue Your Passion Winner: Erika Brighi

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ICS Market Development Senior Associate | Cedar Rapids, Iowa

I am committed to making a lasting impact on my community and those whose paths I cross. Over the past year, I’ve worked to understand underrepresented voices in my community and engaged in representing them through my privilege and voice.

My story
Last Thanksgiving, I set up a meal at the homeless shelter. My intent was to serve food, but instead I chose to sit, eat and talk with guests. I heard their stories. I listened. That day, a man named Jeff impacted me in a way I could have never imagined. He simply thanked me for being there and told me we need people like me to be his voice. I reminded Jeff he has a voice, too. He said, “Yes, I do. You’re my voice.” That sat with me for months. I wrote down his words on my chalkboard and looked at it often. I didn’t know how I would use my voice, or represent his, but I knew I needed to.

Then, George Floyd was murdered. Two days later, I formed an organized ally group. Our initial priorities include social activism for policy reform, education, youth development and activism, and violence prevention. Additionally, I was asked to join and lead ally efforts for the Advocates for Social Justice, whose mission is to create social, political and environmental change within our community. We have since become a nonprofit, and I am now a board member.

Then, on June 18, my friend Carlos’ 20-year-old son, Malik, was shot and killed. Malik had just completed his sophomore year in college. Two teenagers were charged for Malik’s death – with first degree murder and obstructing prosecution. One life lost, and two young lives forever changed.

According to our cities police department, as of July, the number of homicides and shots-fired incidents in our community had already exceeded last year’s totals. As I learned more about the areas in which systemic oppression and racism affects our communities, I became determined to dedicate time to youth development, activism, and violence prevention. I believe we need to address systemic causes of youth violence in order to move toward a safer community.

My cause
ReSET 2020 was formed as part of our cities Safe, Equitable and Thriving (SET) Communities Task Force. The SET Task Force was charged with evaluating economic disparities and opportunities, programming in the city, youth services, housing policies and non-profit organizations. ReSET 2020 is a community-level response to violence that engages youth and families in creating a safer, more equitable, and thriving community.

Upon receiving a significant community foundation grant recently, ReSET 2020 will transition to be known as Community Hope and Transformation (C.H.A.T.) and endeavor upon a yearlong pilot project providing ongoing programming, trainings, support groups, and community engagement events to model and create effective, sustainable change. The foundational strategies of the Group Violence Intervention (GVI) model and restorative practices will guide the project's services and programming through a combination of direct services (youth and family groups and interventions, call-ins, neighborhood "pop-up villages"), restorative practices trainings, arts-based, therapeutic programming, and social media platforms (for community engagement and educational opportunities).

As I began putting together this application, I learned Malik’s father, Carlos, was developing a mentoring group model for young, black males, called Melanated Men. Having taken part in a similar program in his youth, Carlos believes a strong mentorship structure for boys and young men in his community will spare another child from being killed or becoming a killer. He will help shape independent, successful and proud young men.

C.H.A.T., coincidentally, is actively looking for someone to lead their dad’s group (for fathers who have lost children to gun violence). I shared Carlos’ aspirations of creating a mentorship program for young men in our community, and C.H.A.T. is fully supportive of adding Melanated Men to their programming. C.H.A.T.’s recent community grant, in addition to RSM’s prospective funding, would support Melanated Men with Carlos as the leader, and, any additional funding would support their dad’s group.

My plan
I will dedicate my time to providing ongoing and strategic program development support, including:

  • Present-Q1: Strategic planning and assessments; relationship-building with school districts, youth, families, and community partners, and capacity-building
  • Q2: Developing programming modalities and deploying resources
  • Q3: Cultivating a restorative community
  • Q4: Celebrating successes and ensuring sustainability

Whether or not I am chosen for this opportunity, I plan to further develop my skills and knowledge to be a part of bringing lasting change in my community. I will be working with C.H.A.T. and Carlos to pursue their dreams and goals in making our community better for black youth. I have this application to thank for that, as the connection between Carlos and C.H.A.T. may not have happened without it.

I want to build a better future for our youth and for generations to come. Years from now, when I look back at this time, I want to know that I used my skills, my mind, my heart and my voice to make people’s lives better through racial understanding, inclusion actions, advocacy and activism. I have no doubt – I am going to change the world.