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Bush Foundation Selects 24 Visionary Leaders for 2021 Bush Fellowships


(Saint Paul, MN – May 11, 2021) – The Bush Foundation today announced the 2021 Bush Fellows, 24 visionary individuals who are leading transformative change in their communities. The Fellows hail from Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota and the 23 Native nations that share the same geography.

The 2021 Fellows are:

Patricia Acevedo Fuentes

Rapid City, SD

Kahin Adam

Saint Cloud, MN

E.G. Bailey

Minneapolis, MN

John Lee Clark

Saint Paul, MN

Antonio Espinosa

Maplewood, MN

Sandra Gabriela Filardo Eden Prairie, MN

Dr. Rachel Renee Hardeman

Golden Valley, MN

Peter Hill

Pine Ridge, SD

Salma Hussein

Brooklyn Park, MN

Guled Ibrahim

St. Louis Park, MN

Nathan Caleb Johnson

Minneapolis, MN

Naomi Ko

Savage, MN

Wizipan Little Elk

Mission, SD

Kimimila Locke

Wakpala, SD

Brian Lozenski

Mounds View, MN

Michelle Tran Maryns

Minneapolis, MN

Natalie Nicholson

Bemidji, MN

Dziwe Willard Ntaba

Minneapolis, MN

Funlola Otukoya

Minneapolis, MN

Courtney Schaff

Fargo, ND

Jodi Rave Spotted Bear

Twin Buttes, ND

Justin Terrell

Richfield, MN

Mai Thor

Oak Park Heights, MN

Michael Jon Westerhaus

Minneapolis, MN

“The 2021 Fellows are addressing a wide variety of issues in communities around the region,” said Bush Foundation Vice President of Grantmaking Anita Patel. “Each is seeking to be a stronger leader and greater force for justice and equity.”

The Bush Fellowship provides Fellows with up to $100,000 over 12 to 24 months to pursue education and learning experiences that help them develop the skills and relationships to foster large-scale change in their communities and region. The Fellowship is distinctive in its flexibility, allowing Fellows to define what they need to become more effective and equitable leaders. Fellows can use the funding to pursue such things as education, leadership training, networking and mentorship.

“We believe in investing in people who can address challenges today and who are driven to grow their ability to have even greater impact in the future,” Patel said. “We see past Bush Fellows at the forefront of solving our region’s most critical issues, and we are excited to see the impact these new 2021 Fellows will have in the coming years.”

Fellows are selected by a diverse group of community leaders from across the region. From this year’s 538 applications, a committee of Bush Fellow alumni selected quarterfinalists for one-to-one mentoring sessions with a Bush Fellow alum. Semi-finalists shared more about their vision and plan with Foundation staff, and finalists completed interviews with a selection committee of community leaders.

“These 24 Fellows are committed to strengthening their capacity to lead large-scale, equitable change,” said Patel. “In this time when our region faces reckoning around racial justice sparked by the murder of George Floyd, inequities exposed by COVID-19 and challenges to Native sovereignty, we need leaders who can imagine new systems and transform existing ones. We find inspiration in the vision these Fellows offer our region as they work inside and outside of systems to foster new and just approaches.”

More than 2,400 people have received support from the Fellowship. The Bush Fellowship counts among its alumni playwright August Wilson; The Sioux Chef founder and CEO chef Sean Sherman; former Minnesota Governor Arne Carlson; author and storyteller Kevin Kling; founder of the Healing Justice Foundation Dr. Joi Lewis; epidemiologist and infectious disease expert Michael Osterholm; South Dakota poet laureate Lee Ann Roripaugh; Minneapolis City Council member Andrea Jenkins; Humanize My Hoodie Movement co-founder Jason Sole; and former special assistant to President Obama for Native American affairs Jodi Archambault.

The Bush Foundation will accept applications for the 2022 Bush Fellowship beginning August 10. The Bush Fellowship is open to anyone age 24 years and older who wants to build their ability to make change happen. Applicants must live in Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota or one of the 23 Native nations that shares the same geography.



Patricia Acevedo Fuentes is passionate about equitable community design. She understands that architecture is powerful and permanent but sees that her field often ignores the impact one building can have on an entire community. As an architect, she seeks to make the design and construction of places and spaces more equitable and inclusive. One of the few Latinas in her profession and in the region, she wants to play a leading role in creating communities of justice and belonging. She will expand her knowledge of public policy to better address exclusionary practices and funding formulas that adversely affect rural and remote areas. She will also build connections with leaders engaged in the design and spatial justice movement.

KAHIN ADAM — Saint Cloud, MN

Kahin Adam is on a mission to decrease barriers to culturally relevant health care and mental health services for immigrants and refugees. He learned first-hand as a refugee from Somalia how difficult it can be to navigate health systems and how lack of access to health care leads to chronic disease and mental illness. Today, he serves as an educator, community organizer, and the only psychotherapist in St. Cloud specializing in the treatment of patients who have experienced trauma. He wants to create and embrace new culturally effective ways to reach and provide immigrants and refugees with quality mental health and health education. To influence change in health services and outcomes in his community, he will develop public policy skills and build a network of colleagues around the country working in the field of trauma-informed care.

E.G. BAILEY — Minneapolis, MN

E.G. Bailey fell in love with film as a young boy when a traveling crew came to his Liberian village and he saw his first movie. Many years later, his own film, New Neighbors, was featured at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival. His passion for all forms of art — from spoken word and poetry to photography and film — has led him to co-found multiple organizations and platforms for artists. Now, he wants to create spaces and opportunities for Black filmmakers in Minnesota to thrive so that the region retains its artists and becomes a national center for talent and expertise. He envisions a vibrant, flourishing film community where artists can create and tell their stories and Minnesota’s stories. To advance this bold vision, he will engage an advisory team of Black media makers, study with organizations that provide pathways for Black content creators, and bring ideas back to Minnesota from other cities that have created premier film centers.


John Lee Clark is — quite literally — building a new world. A member of the DeafBlind community, he is helping lead a movement to build touch, contact and direct connections to make it possible for people like him to live on their own terms, not according to dominant norms in sighted and hearing society. He and his community are reengineering how classrooms are arranged for meaningful learning, how homes are designed and how meetings are run. They have found new ways to communicate, navigate, socialize and even speak. Now he wants to take this movement to a new level, bringing its principles and practices to all aspects of the lives of those in the DeafBlind community, from higher education to the arts. To lead this groundbreaking work, he will study with creative thinkers and artists, connect with fellow educators and artist mentors, and pursue training to lead change through collaboration.


Antonio Espinosa envisions a correctional system where people come out of it stronger and more resilient than when they entered, supported by a community committed to their success. In his role as a senior corrections officer in the Stillwater prison, he believes his purpose is to inspire hope, healing and transformation. In partnership with a person serving a life sentence, he launched a support group to help prisoners and correctional officers learn from each other as peers. He also launched “Art from the Inside,” an initiative that brings purpose to people who are incarcerated and shares their humanity with the wider community. He wants to build on this work toward a larger transformation in the corrections system and the community. To bring about the major change he envisions, he will pursue formal leadership training and mentoring from other leaders of color.


Sandra Gabriela Filardo is a passionate advocate for changing the way the judicial system handles non-violent crimes. She believes the current system creates a revolving door for many who commit crimes because of poverty, addiction and mental health issues. She wants to prevent these non-violent crimes from becoming a gateway to a lifetime in the criminal justice system. As an assistant Hennepin County attorney, she seeks to create a community-based system of healing and care focused on preventing trauma and recidivism. To be a persuasive leader who can influence this system-wide change, she will study other jurisdictions that have successfully changed how they address non-violent crimes. She will also pursue advanced education to develop community-building, critical thinking and problem-solving skills.


Dr. Rachel Renee Hardeman comes from people who are deeply committed to Black liberation. She was raised to question everything, seek the truth and use it to create change. Her research over the past decade as an associate professor at the University of Minnesota School of Public Health exposes structural racism as a fundamental cause of health inequity. As leader of the University’s newly formed Center for Antiracism Research for Health Equity, she will generate rigorous research and community knowledge to dismantle the racism at the core of health inequities. She understands this work will require complementary skills to those cultivated in academia. She will pursue formal leadership training, executive coaching aimed at nurturing Black women leaders, and media coaching to cultivate a larger platform as a change agent.

PETER HILL — Pine Ridge, SD

Peter Hill is determined to revitalize Indigenous languages. Over the past 20 years living on the Pine Ridge Reservation, he has observed the rapid decline of Lakota speakers from 6,000 to fewer than 2,000 today. Nine years ago, he launched a Lakota language program that started as an in-home daycare. Today, that program has grown into an immersion language elementary school and a resource library with more than 1,000 children’s books, hundreds of Lakota language learning videos, and dozens of Lakota games and apps. To continue as a leader of this movement and to engage other Native nations, he will seek advanced education in language revitalization and formal opportunities to cultivate leadership skills. He will also develop connections with educators who have led successful language revitalization efforts in other parts of the world.

SALMA HUSSEIN — Brooklyn Park, MN

Salma Hussein is a connector, educator, healer and passionate advocate for Somali women and girls. She and her sister founded Girls Initiative in Recreation and Leisurely Sport (GIRLS), a nonprofit organization that has blossomed into a cross-cultural community and safe space for women and girls to exercise and play sports. In her work with GIRLS, she sees the impact that strong relationships have on the lives of youth. Similarly, as an assistant public school principal, she understands the connection between trusted relationships between students and adults and academic success. She is determined to build a community of caring adults who can end the opportunity gap that disproportionately harms Black, Brown and Indigenous students. She wants to be at the forefront of system change in education, producing joy, healing, connection and liberation for educators and students. To be this transformative leader, she will earn her doctorate degree and pursue a coaching certification.

GULED IBRAHIM — St. Louis Park, MN

Guled Ibrahim is an attorney with a big goal: close the justice gap by increasing the number of new Americans in the legal profession. He understands from his own family’s immigration experience how important culturally specific legal support can be. As one of the few Somali American attorneys in Minnesota, he knows that the state’s legal profession suffers from a lack of diversity and an ever-widening justice gap for low-income, refugee and immigrant populations. He seeks to be a forceful advocate for policies, resources and programs that make the justice system accessible to all. To better understand how to shift systems and become a thought leader at the center of closing the justice gap, he will develop public speaking, coalition building and leadership skills to bring about large-scale change in this well-established profession. He will also expand his professional network, broaden his expertise in the legal field, and study local and national models that are successfully recruiting a greater diversity of students to law school.


Nathan Caleb Johnson sees a deep need for people of color to have a more equitable role in creating buildings and spaces in their communities. He wants design and construction processes to change to be more inclusive and to have greater economic impact for communities of color. From his work on the Rondo Commemorative Plaza, he observed how a small project with broad input can catalyze a large-scale proposal for change. To help the architectural and construction fields embrace a leading role in creating economic and racial justice, he will visit cities around the world to develop new models for community-engaged development. He will also study leadership methods that inspire equitable solutions and lead efforts to diversify the architecture profession.

NAOMI KO, Savage, MN

Noami Ko believes artists can be bold architects of social change. She recognizes the tremendous impact that film and television have on perceptions of people and communities. Through her experiences as an actor in Hollywood, as creator and star of the award-winning “Nice” that premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, and as founder of the Asian Pacific Islander American MN Film Collective, she has seen that people of color lack access to the film and television industries. She wants to develop new pathways and systems for Asian Americans, especially those from the heartland, to share their stories and to build wealth in the entertainment industry. To lead this transformation, she will study policy making in the U.S. and in South Korea to better understand how to create equitable opportunities for underrepresented filmmakers.


Wizipan Little Elk (Sicangu Lakota Oyate – Rosebud Sioux Tribe) is at the forefront of reimagining how the Sicangu Lakota create and distribute wealth. As leader of the Rosebud Economic Development Corporation, he has sparked generational transformation through a successful globally recognized approach that combines business and community-based nonprofit initiatives. He envisions a future where his people and neighbors live in harmony with one another and the land, modeling local solutions to the global challenges of climate change and social inequity. To power this vision, he wants to revolutionize social impact investing in Indian Country, realigning concepts of return on investment with Indigenous values. To lead this visionary change, he will grow his technical skills in impact investing, build professional connections, and improve self-care practices to sustain his leadership.


Kimimila Locke (Dakota, Ahtna Dené & Anishnaabe) is on a quest to radically improve educational outcomes for Lakota youth. Over the past two decades, she has embedded culture and community strengths in learning to help students achieve significant academic results. Now, with a group of committed colleagues, she has returned to Standing Rock to open a high school that embraces Lakota traditions. She seeks to create safe spaces that reconnect youth to their land and to the strengths of their culture. She also wants to expand this vision to other Indigenous communities struggling with such issues as loss of language, sovereignty and economic inequality. To lead this large-scale change, she will study and learn from programs around the country and world that are successfully building Indigenous sovereignty and revitalizing language and other traditions with youth.


Brian Lozenski believes Minnesota must reimagine the fundamental assumptions of education if the state is to eliminate racial disparities and meet the needs of Minnesota’s communities of color. He seeks to bring together educators, researchers, activists, policy makers, youth and parents in a central location to share knowledge, exchange ideas, confront inequities in practices and disrupt ineffective education methods. To lead this statewide movement, he understands he must build and inspire a broad community coalition. He will study sustainable movements focused on educational justice and grow his capacity as an historian to structure an education system centered on freedom, struggle and humanity.


Michelle Tran Maryns wants to leverage technology to increase the success of small businesses, especially those run by women of color. She seeks to create a stronger, more inclusive economy by equipping entrepreneurs with the technology tools they need to thrive. As a foreign service officer, she led design of the U.S. Department of State’s first-ever mobile app, an experience that helped her understand the power of technology to lead change on a massive scale. Now she has turned her attention to helping small businesses, which make up more than 90 percent of all businesses in the U.S. To transform her leadership so she can support entrepreneurs of color with technology solutions, she will invest in financial management training and greater understanding of social enterprise models. She will also build global collaborations to distribute regional accomplishments to a wider audience.


Natalie Nicholson (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation) understands the persistence required to achieve a dream. The former Olympian and world champion curler was also a first-generation college student. As a nurse, she co-leads the Indigenous Breastfeeding Coalition in Minnesota to help re-establish a strong, traditional breastfeeding support network for Indigenous families and caregivers, and to help health care providers understand how to help improve rates of breastfeeding in Native communities. She wants to address health disparities in Native populations by providing culturally specific health care services for Indigenous people. She seeks to blend Western medicine and traditional Native American healing practices with her community members. To advance her vision, she will study with Indigenous advisors and healers, complete her doctorate in nursing practice, and take the International Board Certified Lactation Consultant exam in the future, which will make her one of only a dozen Native Americans in the country to hold this lactation certification. She will also seek training in leading complex systems through change.


Dziwe Willard Ntaba has learned firsthand, as a physician working in global health and emergency medicine, the profound impact of dignity and respect in health care. As a young physician opening a clinic in Burundi, he experienced how respect towards and among communities helped transform an impoverished village into a premier public health center. While leading teams of Ebola emergency responders in Liberia, he saw how dignified treatment towards communities was essential to ending that complex public health crisis. Now, in his work at the University of Minnesota Medical School, he is working to better understand how historical mistreatment, trauma and patient experience can lead to poor health outcomes. He seeks to bring perspectives from his global experiences to improve health care in the U.S. To advance his vision, he will pursue the knowledge and tools to build networks to advance equitable health care solutions centered on dignity and respect.


Funlola Otukoya wants to help people of color create generational wealth through increased access to capital. He seeks to expand venture capital funding for people of color and remove arbitrary barriers that have prevented investment in diverse entrepreneurs and businesses. As an investment analyst for the McKnight Foundation, he employs an equity lens to invest in promising opportunities that align with his institution’s values. Now he wants to use his talents to invest in people of color to help them build thriving businesses that will attract an ecosystem of new investors. To create a sustainable circle of economic opportunity, he intends to pursue a business degree. He will also engage with and learn from a network of venture capitalists, financial institutions, policy makers and academic leaders who share similar guiding principles.


Courtney Schaff believes in the power of collective action to shape the world. An organizer with North Dakota United, she has bolstered membership in the state’s education and public employee unions, helped remove punitive collection practices from school district policies, and championed universal school meals. She has learned how to help people and organizations name their problems, identify solutions, and use collective action to drive change. Now she wants to build a more equitable North Dakota by encouraging people to use their collective power to influence policy. She also wants to shift the legislature to a body that includes a more inclusive representation of all people in the state. To be a strong leader of this systemic change, she will seek advanced education in public policy, mentors in organizing strategy, and training in anti-racism practices.


Jodi Rave Spotted Bear (Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara Nation) is called to amplify the voice of Native Americans. She believes deeply in the freedom of the press in Indian Country to reflect the needs and voices of the people. She wants independent media to help Native Nations embrace true tribal sovereignty. She was the first Native American to have a national news beat devoted to Indigenous issues in the mainstream press and the first American Indian woman awarded a Nieman Fellowship at Harvard University. As founder of the Indigenous Media Freedom Alliance, she is leading a large-scale change to elevate the people’s voice and to promote accountability of tribal government. To realize her vision for change, she will seek mentoring from Native leaders who have succeeded in creating independent news sources and seek training to build the business and leadership skills necessary to lead community-wide change.


Justin Terrell wants the justice system to include repair and healing rather than only crime and punishment. He imagines a more equitable system that both responds to people who cause harm and ensures that people and communities who have been harmed have an opportunity to heal. As head of the Minnesota Justice Research Center, he oversees research, education and policy that provides the community with the tools and information for justice reform. He envisions a humane and fair system that is steeped in anti-racist philosophy and practices. To advance his bold vision, he will pursue leadership coaching, mentoring and training to create transformational change.

MAI THOR — Oak Park Heights, MN

Mai Thor seeks to embed disability justice in the work of larger justice and equity movements. As a person living with a disability and as a leader who has helped design more accessible and inclusive systems for people with disabilities, she sees that social justice movements often leave disability out of their efforts. She wants to transform these movements to be completely accessible and inclusive so that every march, rally or community meeting is informed by a disability perspective. To grow her capacity to lead, she will study ableism and disability culture, history and law. She will also convene a network of social justice and disability justice leaders to build understanding and greater solidarity.


Michael Jon Westerhaus understood early in his medical career that many people die from inequitable social conditions rather than from medical issues. He observes that many physicians lack the skills, capacity or connections to address social factors. He wants to develop a thriving network of physicians in Minnesota who help erase the state’s health inequities through anti-racism in their clinical practices and teaching. He believes that storytelling is an effective way to help practitioners embrace this work. To lead change in the medical field, he will deepen his ability to convey personal and community narratives, using performance to help clinicians understand social forces that set patterns of disease and wellness. He will also strengthen connections with community organizations that are addressing inequities to bring greater justice and perspective to the practice of medicine.


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