Speaking of Making a Difference…TEDxUNO

This week, I have the privilege to speak at TEDxUNO! The event is to foster learning, inspiration and wonder and provoke conversations that matter around the central theme of community. I am super excited and it’s already sold out. Yeah! I will be speaking to make a difference with 400 people.



The first TEDx in Cuba: An event in Habana, two years in the making

TED Blog

A rooftop view of Habana, Cuba, which just welcomed its first TEDx event. Photo: Courtesy of Andres Levin A rooftop view of Habana, Cuba, which just welcomed its first TEDx event. Photo: Courtesy of Andres Levin

By Jenny Groza

Habana, Cuba, which was called “the rich man’s playground” before World War II, now evokes an air of mystery—a giant question mark. Are there still midcentury cars roaming the streets? Blighted neighborhoods with broken windows and collapsing roofs? Citizens eking out a living after years of oppression?

These, says Andres Levin, the organizer of TEDxHabana, are common misconceptions about what life in Cuba is actually like. “There’s a thriving arts and music scene, and people are figuring out how to use technology, considering the obvious limitations,” he says. “The TEDx format is allowing us to bring these like-minded people together.”

In 2012, Levin and and his wife, CuCu Diamantes, applied for a TEDx license to hold an event in Habana, Cuba — the first TEDx event in the…

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A Cambio de Colores in the Midwest

Cambio.  What is cambio?  Well, it’s a change.  Colores.  Well, that means colors.  Why are we talking about a change of colors?  Because our Midwestern communities are changing in many respects and  we are witnesses to demographic shifts.

  • Nebraska has some of the country’s fastest growing communities of color, and our Hispanic/Latino population has nearly doubled since the 2000 U.S. Census.
  • Currently, almost 10% of Nebraska’s population is of Hispanic/Latino descent (U.S. Census Bureau, 2013 population estimate), and it is predicted that the number of Hispanic/Latinos in the state will more than triple by the year 2050 due to not just to migration/immigration, but also natural change.
  • According to the Pew Hispanic Trust, approximately 2.4% of Nebraska’s population is unauthorized.

This week, I’m at the Cambio de Colores Conference, which serves as a unique venue to share, learn, discuss, and identify critical areas where the development of information and promising practices will facilitate the successful transition of newcomers into communities large and small.  I believe that being able to integrate newcomers into the fabric of our communities is going to be imperative for the growth and prosperity of the state.  A hostile reception to newcomers and immigrants  will not move communities forward.  In fact, hostile receiving communities:

  • Contribute to the reduction in public safety by increasing fear of police making individuals less likely to contact law enforcement (Ford Foundation, Insecure Communities, 2013)
  • Decrease physical and mental health status by increasing stress levels and feelings of isolation
  • Perpetuate cycles of inequality

According to the Ford Foundation, “A growing number of aggressive local measures attempting to restrict every aspect of life, including housing, education and employment, push immigrants into a marginalized existence.”  Educating receiving communities on the economic benefits of immigration and the reality of globalization may help in dispelling the myths and stereotypes related with immigration.  We need to work together to build strong, vibrant healthy communities for all.

Did you know that there are already 62 cities in the U.S. that have Latino majority populations “Pueblos” as J.S. Onesimo Sandoval labels them, and there are 397 burgeoning pueblos within the next 5-15 years.

What are the characteristics of successful pueblos?  What are these communities doing right that other communities can learn from in terms of integrating newcomers?   How can we work across differences in color, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion, sexual orientation, and other divides to create communities of promise for all?


Symposium on Small Towns 2014: Co-Creating Our Future

MN farmThis week I have the opportunity to participate in the the Symposium on Small Towns in Morris, Minnesota.  It was about a five hour drive up here, and I spent most of my time looking at the farms and the land.  I caught myself thinking about rural life and the significance of place in our lives.

During today’s sessions there was a strong focus on rewriting the rural narrative.  There is so much negative press out there about rural communities and that they are losing population, closing schools and hospitals, and that main streets dying; however, people’s experience limits what they can see.  Rural communities are changing, not dying.  Obviously, there is an impact of globalization and economies of scale, but most are not unincorporating and closing shop.  Thanks to Ben Winchester from the Center for Community Vitality and Randy Cantrell from University of Nebraska Extension, I learned that these are stereotypes and myths that exist.  Facts are that rural population in shear numbers has increased although the percentage of people living in rural areas has decreased from 26% to 19%.  In essence, we need to change our own narratives from a deficit-based approach to an asset-based approach…instead of the focus on the “brain drain” we should focus on the “brain gain” whereby there is an in-migration of 30-49 year olds into rural areas because of quality of life factors.  Additionally, there is in-migration to small towns from immigrants.  So newcomers are making there way into small towns.

A “newcomer” is defined as someone who has lived in a community less than five years.  Here’s some interesting facts about “newcomers” in Nebraska:

  • 40% have bachelor’s degrees
  • 48% have household incomes of over $50K
  • 43% of children
  • They are generally leaving their career and are underemployed in the new community, yet quality of life is more important.
  • 60% say that they will be living there five years from now and the more communities are friendly and trusting the more people want to stay.
  • Newcomers want to live in a place that has vision and where they can see an opportunity to participate and co-create that future.

Leadership and capacity-building is an important issue to highlight.  We need a strategy in order to grow what we need.  Little did I realize, but in Nebraska, there are 27.7 people for every elected or non-profit leadership position.  That means that there is a great opportunity to serve and build this vision for a stronger state, whereas in other places there are fewer of these types of opportunities.  In fact, in urban areas there are 144 people for every position.  How do you harness that opportunity?  We need to rethink our engagement strategy and find ways to bring non-traditional partners to the table.  Instead of doing things “to” or “for” people, we need to do things “with” people and engage them in re-imagining what could be.

Moving forward we need to hear an authentic voice about community assets and build relationships to strengthen the niche, promote the assets, build social capital, and connect the community.  This is a promising way to develop lasting community change that both honors the history, tradition, and people of the area and also allows for new voices, ideas, and visions to be heard.

SOURCE: Small Towns Symposium, 2014: Ben Wichester & Randy Cantrell, Rewriting the Rural Narrative; Craig Schroeder, Discussing the Youth Voice.

Promising Practices Conference 2014

I’m in Washington DC this week for the the Promising Practices Conference, which is a conference all about healthy living and tobacco-free lifestyles.  Check out my posts from the Break Free Alliance blog!

DAY 1:

Blog #1: Moving From Promise to Practice 

Blog #2: New Frontiers in Tobacco Control: Lessons from a Frontier State


Development of Innovative Strategies to Reach the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender (LGBT) Community in Tobacco Control

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.

Acting Surgeon General, Rear Admiral (RADM) Boris D. Lushniak, M.D., M.P.H.








DAY 2: Coming Soon!

Omaha Science Café: Health Disparities: What do WE have to do with it?

Omaha Science Café: Health Disparities: What do WE have to do with it?.

Thanks for the opportunity to speak last night at the UNMC Science Cafe!  I had an awesome time last night talking with everyone about what we can do to help eliminate health disparities.  We can take action and all of our efforts together will lead us to better and brighter tomorrow.

Take Action on Health Disparities

On March 31, 2011, I had the distinct pleasure to host and coordinate a visit from Harvard Professor, Dr. David R. Williams, a leading authority on health disparities and the social inequalities of health.  We spent the day talking with different groups about the systems change that would be necessary to make a more socially just society where health is not just a “right” that we talk about, it is a tangible outcome that all people can feel in their daily lives.  We also discussed the importance of policy and the fact that, “All policy that affects health is health policy.”  It doesn’t matter if it is housing policy, or community development policy, or education policy, all of those types of policies that have an impact on health are in essence health policy.

Athena Ramos with Dr. David R. Williams, Harvard Professor and Leading Authority on the Social Inequalities of Health

Welcome to the Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) 2010

The Summer Institute for Intercultural Communication (SIIC) has a 34-yearhistoryof providing professionaldevelopment people interested in intercultural issues.  SIIC is a home to intercultural scholars and practitioners from many cultures that meet each year to enhance their learning and renew their energies and commitments.

This year I am attending a week-long workshop on facilitating intercultural discovery that is being taught by John (Jack) Condon and Nagesh Rao.  Jack is regarded as one of the founders of the intercultural field.  Nagesh has been an associate professor at the University of New Mexico conducting research on intercultural communication as well as health communication.  The workshop will focus on ways to reflect and expand on individual learning preferences, understanding how we make meaning of messages and things around us, sharpen observation of things around us in everyday life, and discuss uses of photography, television, folklore, music, and film across cultures to facilitate intercultural learning and exploration.

I’m looking forward to an exciting week of learning here at SIIC!  I’ll be providing some notes and updates throughout the week.  Enjoy!

UNMC Culturefest and You

Cultural Representatives

With plates that simultaneously carried cuisine from several nations, hundreds of students and employees gathered in the Sorrell Center for Culturefest on Friday.

Aside from the food, the crowd in the Truhlsen Campus Events Center also was entertained by music and dance from Africa, Columbia, Germany and other cultures.

The event marked the end of UNMC’s 2010 Diversity Lectures and Cultural Arts Series.

Great Plains Theatre Conference – Concert Reading

This week I had the pleasure to be able to direct a concert reading of The Frequency of Stars and Other Matter by Tira Palmquist at the Great Plains Theatre Conference at Metro Community College in Omaha, Nebraska on June 1, 2010.

Cast: Abiut Arcos, Jenny Acosta, Athena Ramos, Oscar Ortiz, Rita Rodriguez, Ethan Strigas, Victor Morales, and Joao de Brito

A couple of years ago, some friends and I started our own non-profit theatre company, Teatro Areté, to serve the Latino and Spanish-speaking community in Omaha.  The company has grown from a passion for theater and for social justice.  Over the years, we have been able to be a number of shows and collaborations including Las Tandas de Los Hispanos, Frida: Behind the Mirror, Los Monologos de La Vagina, At the Feet of Jesus, and most recently The Frequency of Stars and Other Matter.

Being able to highlight real life — the challenges, the surprises, the pleasures, and everything else — through the arts provides a unique ability to communicate with others.  People from all walks of life can identify with the characters, dialogues, and situations that we are able to portray.

We look forward to continuing our community advocacy through the arts.