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2020 Uncommon Voices

Jenny Poon with her daughter, Ayda Domingo
While working from home in 2020, Jenny Poon set up her office in the playroom of her daughter Ayda Domingo, who is 6 years old.

As 2020 comes to a close, we asked some of the fascinating people we’ve had the privilege to work with recently to share their thoughts around systems change, new “normals,” how the events 2020 have impacted them, and what it will take to keep our communities moving forward, together.

Jenny Poon

No amount of ‘abundance mindset’ will change your situation if the systems that have been built, are built to keep you out.

Jenny Poon, Founder/CEO, CO+HOOTS/HUUB

The daughter of immigrants, Jenny Poon understands and has benefited from the American Dream, but she also recognizes the shortcomings of American systems.

Cheryl Graff

In my teaching, especially online, one of the biggest chances that I’ve made before I teach any content, is just checking in with the students to see how they’re feeling.

Cheryl Graff, Special Education Teacher

Chicago special education teacher Cheryl Graff has found that using tech tools beyond just teaching math or reading is what has really helped as she, her students, and their caregivers, navigate online learning.

Justin and Melinda Pregont

I don’t feel like I can fix things at a federal level or even a state level, but I really feel like I have influence at a local level.

Melinda and Justin Pregont, Community Leaders, Atchison, Kansas

In 2020, Melinda and Justin Pregont have managed businesses, applied for loans, worked to keep their small town’s entrepreneurial ecosystem going, marched for social justice, and had their second child.

Calvin Arsenia

I had to come to terms with the fact that because I was not actively engaged in dismantling white supremacy in this country, I was somebody who was also perpetuating it. If you’re not actively against it, you’re passively for it.

Calvin Arsenia, Artist

Calvin Arsenia, a musician, healer, and entertainer, thrives on live entertainment and loves working with a stage full of people.

Awais Sufi

I really do think that schools are well-positioned to improve and broaden the way they look at providing supports to students.

Awais Sufi, President and CEO, School Smart KC

Awais Sufi, president and CEO of School Smart KC, says his organization has worked to help improve the opportunities and outcomes for students in disadvantaged communities as remote learning has remained a reality for many this first semester.

Kathy Liao

Now, I stand in front of that painting, and it’s empty. There’s nobody in airports now. There is no type of this interaction at this point.

Kathy Liao, Artist, Mid-America Arts Alliance

Liao, whose job was eliminated along with the studio arts major at Missouri Western State University, has had to bounce back with a new position at the Mid-America Arts Alliance and a changed perspective – professionally, creatively, and personally.

Natasha Kirsch

The pandemic is a wake-up call, and it landed hard on our graduates with plans in the works to open their own businesses.

Natasha Kirsch, Founder, EPEC

Natasha Kirsch, founder of the nonprofit, EPEC, takes an entrepreneur’s approach to her organization. She is constantly looking for ways to provide her students – single parents trying to raise their families out of poverty – with not only the skills they need, but also the wrap-around social services that will bring stability to their lives.

Elizabeth MacBride

Entrepreneurs occupy a stabilizing middle ground in our divided country. Right now, the middle ground, reasonable discourse, pluralism itself – these things are the ‘underdogs’ of our time.

Elizabeth MacBride, Business Journalist and Founder, Times of Entrepreneurship

Business journalist Elizabeth MacBride did a soft launch of her venture, the online publication Times of Entrepreneurship, right as the United States, and much of the world, was locking down last spring. Instead of hopping on planes to cover stories, she spent a lot of time making urgent phone and Zoom calls catalyzed by the devastation of the economic downturn.

Gregg Brown

‘Bootstrapping’ was not a concept, but a practice. [CAPS students] were able to witness and participate first-hand in the need to adapt to changing situations and get comfortable with ambiguity.

Gregg Brown, Network Coordinator, CAPS

As the network coordinator of “CAPS,” Center for Advanced Professional Studies, Gregg Brown leads a program that brings business, community, and public education together to produce personalized learning experiences that educate the workforce of tomorrow, especially in high skill, high demand jobs.

Farah Allen

I think we’re in a place where creativity can really dominate. If you can really be strategic with your creativity, you can solve some problems people never had before. Let’s throw out these old rules.

Farah Allen, Founder, The Labz

Farah Allen, founder of the Atlanta-based blockchain real-time collaboration platform The Labz, started 2020 targeting her platform to musicians.

Angee McGee

Better together: Better for equality. Better for access. Better for acceptance. Better for opportunity. It takes all of us to build a better future and to create a better tomorrow for right now and generations to come.

Angel McGee, Manager of Communications and Outreach, Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy

Angel McGee, manager, communication and outreach at the Kansas City MLB Urban Youth Academy, says the events in 2020 have affected many of the families and youth that she works with at KCUYA. The COVID-19 pandemic forced staff at KCUYA to pause all in-person activities and transition to a virtual platform for some of their programs and camps.

Dell Gines

The lack of critical thinking, the willingness to believe particular narratives irrespective of the facts that counter those narratives, and the general incivility in American society and the weakened capacity for intelligent, non-belligerent dialogue really concerns me.

Dell Gines, MBA, MSF, CEcD, Senior Community Development Advisor, Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City

Dell Gines hopes the weaknesses illuminated by the pandemic will remain a focus whenever life returns to whatever the new normal will be, but he’s concerned that civil discourse on these topics is elusive.

Peregrine Honig

Art is permissive. It solves problems and untangles us from depression. Seeking and experiencing beauty and the transformation of material into thought is a necessity. This truth is a constant.

Peregrine Honig, Artist

The 20th anniversary of The West 18th Street Fashion Show would not be cancelled. “We approached our designers and pivoted our project from a runway event into a full-length movie,” says artist Peregrine Honig.