Anderson Sainci and Temwa Phiri are two African-American men who found me worthy to be their friend. They are incredible fathers, partners, friends and servant leaders in Dubuque.

Anderson is a board member of the Dubuque Community School District who advocates for access to educational opportunities for all students. Before joining the City of Dubuque’s Human Rights Department, Temwa was helping students to stay in school and locating those who dropped out to re-engage and complete high school. Both are also active with My Brother’s Keeper Network in Dubuque, among other civic involvements.

Whenever we visit, I can’t wait to hear about their latest service project and feel their passion through their words. I am full of gratitude to know both men and to witness their talents and gifts at work for the good of others.

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The way I see it, Anderson and Temwa are not trying to be their best self in Dubuque. Rather, they are trying to be their best self for Dubuque.

One way that we can be our best self is to speak up. Whenever we hear about injustice done to Black men and women, we must have the courage to say, “We join others in condemning the senseless deaths of George Floyd and other Black Americans.”

What if the injustice was done to

Anderson or Temwa? What will it take for this issue to become personal? It is

personal to me. It must be personal to us. It must be part of who we are, our being, every day rather than a reaction whenever an unjust event occurs.

What can we do? The late Stephen Covey stressed, “Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” Get to know people who are different from us. Explore our differences. Change must begin within ourselves first. We have a choice to be the person who begins a change in a community. Community is changed by people. Communities together can change neighborhoods, cities, counties, and so on.

Throughout my career in education, I have had opportunities to work with Hmong, Laotian, Vietnamese, Chinese, Hispanic, Native American, African, African American, and other populations. They wanted a better tomorrow for themselves and their loved ones. One of the joyful moments for me is to watch their children grow and thrive.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character.” I embraced that without reservation. I am sure many people feel like I do.

Dr. Brene Brown, a storyteller and University of Houston professor, once said, “It is not about doing the next right thing when you’ve got a little bit to lose. It’s doing the next right thing when it doesn’t matter how much you have to win or lose, but when other people that you’re serving have a ton to lose.”

Now is the time to do the right thing. Speak up about racism. Learn from each other. Promote social justice through collectively talking about and addressing systemic racism, bias and hate. These actions will cultivate and grow a more diverse community.

Over the years, many people like

Anderson and Temwa have helped me grow. When I wasn’t able to advocate for myself, some lent their voice on my behalf. Whenever appropriate, I lend my voice because I know the importance of having a voice. Lending my voice is one way to pay it forward. The strength of any community is to lift everyone. Together, we form a stronger nation.

The author has been president of Northeast Iowa Community College, which has campuses in Peosta and Calmar and centers across the region, since October 2011. His email address is weel@nicc.edu.