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Lead for Minnesota fellow works with Worthington immigrants and the community

Texan Ricky Mojekwu is a Lead for Minnesota fellow working at Kivu Immigration Law, fostering community engagement and ensuring that people feel their voices are being heard.

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Ricky Mojekwu, a Lead for Minnesota fellow, is working at Kivu Immigration Law, fostering community engagement and helping local immigrants feel welcome. Tim Middagh/the Globe
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WORTHINGTON — Ricky Mojekwu might be a Texan, but as a Lead for Minnesota fellow, he’ll be working toward a more unified Minnesota built on caring communities for the next few years, right here in Worthington.

“My particular focus would be making sure the immigrants and the children of immigrants and their families feel like their voices are being heard,” Mojekwu said. “It’s not an easy thing to go someplace new and feel welcome.”

One of Mojekwu’s first projects, still in progress, is a listening tour, in which he will interview 50 people and write a report about what improvements could be made to the city of Worthington. So far, he said, almost everybody is saying the same things — inclusion is an issue and people feel they aren’t welcome or their voices aren’t being heard.

“The common thing is, ‘the town is divided.’ That’s what everybody says,” Mojekwu noted.

They don’t all agree on how it’s divided, though. The language barrier plays a role for some immigrants, and some don’t want to speak their own languages in public for fear that they’ll make English speakers uneasy.

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“People want to see people who look like them in positions of power,” Mojekwu said, pointing out that studies have shown that African American students who have an African American teacher are more likely to go to college and graduate than those who don’t.

“The more people I talk to, the bigger picture I can get,” he said.

Seeing the possibilities

Mojekwu, originally of Houston, Texas, attended Saint Leo University, a small Catholic school in Florida, where he majored in political science and minored in legal studies and computer programming. While his mother is from Illinois, his father hails from Lagos, Nigeria.

As a child, Mojekwu shared his father’s interest in computer science, but he was also interested in the legal field and wanted to be an attorney when he was in seventh grade.

“At first, I didn’t think it was possible for me,” Mojekwu said. “I didn’t know any attorneys. I didn’t know any attorneys that looked like me. I didn’t know any Nigerian attorneys.”

At the time, he was an athlete, and his interests were shifting. For a while he even wanted to be a veterinarian, and finally, in his sophomore year of college, one of his mentors told Mojekwu the Houston area needed more attorneys, especially good ones.

He found a Nigerian attorney after all, who mentored him and set him to work in her principal office in McAllen, Texas, which lies near the U.S.-Mexico border. There, Mojekwu worked in immigration law, which has its own legal process separate and distinct from the criminal court system most Americans are more familiar with.

Mojekwu said he’s interested in working in the area of criminal immigration law, particularly as a defense attorney, as there is a lot of creativity involved in that field and many of his college mentors were criminal attorneys too.

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Working in criminal immigration law can be complex, because it involves two completely different processes, and that adds a lot to the stress of someone thrown into those systems, perhaps the first time for both. Even relatively minor laws can trip someone up, and when that person is an immigrant the legal issues can get very sticky very quickly, particularly for deportable offenses.

“It’s a lot of stress that both immigrants and children of immigrants go through,” Mojekwu explained. “If I can relieve any of the stress, I think it would be a purposeful mission for me.”

Leading in Minnesota

Mojekwu arrived in Worthington on Aug. 14 to begin his Lead for Minnesota Fellowship.

LFMN is affiliated with Lead for America, a 501c(3) organization aiming to place “leaders in high-impact changemaking roles in their hometowns and home states” and to build a “leadership force to address our nation's most critical challenges in every corner of this country.”

The Lead for Minnesota Fellowship starts with a year of AmeriCorps service, in which fellows are matched with a local host, where they will work full time in a paid position to address critical community challenges. Most fellows renew their fellowship for an additional one-year term.

A recruiter for the fellowship reached out to Mojekwu and he read about the program on its website.

“They highlighted a problem and they were hiring people who want to solve the problem,” Mojekwu said. “And these are two things that are important to me, solving problems and advocating for everyone.”

Mojekwu had to write an essay about why he would be a good fit for the program and then went through an application process, filling out paperwork and creating a video identifying issues in the community that he wanted to solve. Candidates were recommended as endorsed finalists and then those who were matched with potential hosts were interviewed by them.

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Mojekwu began the process of applying in October and signed his contract in early August.

He was surprised to be accepted into the program, given that he’s from Texas, but said that could actually be helpful to his work as it would allow him to be viewed as a more neutral party.

Community, engaged

Broadly speaking, Mojekwu works with community engagement, making sure immigrants in the area are aware of legal processes and that assistance is available if they need it. Each day he looks at the analytics for Kivu’s website and tries to keep community members informed and involved, reasoning that it would make him feel more welcome in a community if a local business had information in his language, too.

“Ricky has been busy getting to know the people of Worthington by participating in community events and chatting with people one-on-one,” said Erin Schutte Wadzinski, of Kivu Immigration Law. “He is getting a sense of what role he can play in this community to help bring people together and to foster a greater sense of belonging for everyone who calls Worthington home.”

Kivu and the Southwest Initiative Foundation partnered to participate in the Lead for Minnesota program because both organizations believe in helping to revitalize rural communities and launching the next generation of civic leaders, she added.

“Community outreach and engagement is an integral part of Kivu Immigration Law’s mission as a social enterprise law firm, and I’m thrilled to have Ricky join our team,” Schutte Wadzinski said.

Mojekwu also plans to get involved in the Worthington community in other ways. He’s working on becoming a substitute teacher for District 518 and could potentially serve as a coach as well, as Kivu has a four-day workweek.

Though he misses his family back in Texas, Mojekwu loves the camaraderie of the fellowship, and sometimes visits another fellow, Sabri Fair, a Macalester College graduate working with the Region Nine Development Commission in Mankato.

He also looks forward to the possibilities the fellowship presents.

“There’s always those things you can’t plan for, that you can’t know,” Mojekwu said. “I learn the most from the things I never planned for. … that’s where the true learning experience is from.”

Related Topics: MINNESOTA
A 1999 graduate of Jackson County Central and a 2003 graduate of Augsburg College, Kari Lucin started writing for newspapers in Minnesota and North Dakota in 2006. During her time as a reporter, she covered beats including education, watershed, county and agriculture, and frequently wrote about health and science. She has also served as an online content coordinator and an engagement specialist at various Forum Communications properties. She was a marketing assistant at Iowa Lakes Community College in Estherville for two years, where she did design work in addition to writing and social media management.

Lucin is currently a community editor with the Globe of Worthington.

Email: klucin@dglobe.com
Phone: (507) 376-7319
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