Perspectives: Time for passing the torch to young leaders is now

As a first-generation refugee immigrant from The Gambia, I know first-hand what hard work, perseverance and determination means.

I was raised by a father who was a teacher and headmaster for 20 years, and with the stark contrast of my mother who has no formal education. From a young age, I was blessed with the dual perspectives of my parents sharing knowledge of the world and their own struggles and triumphs. 

Questions that always bounced around in my mind included: Who can I learn from? Where do I go to be more involved in my community? And where are the leaders who look like me?

Sul Dibba, is a first year Admissions Counselor at Augustana University, born in The Gambia and raised in East Sioux Falls as an immigrant refugee. Sul graduated from Augustana University in 2017 with a BA in Business/Communication Studies. He is the Co-Founder of Our Growth Project; A non-profit focused on education, art and entertainment to find the greatness within the youth of Sioux Falls. Community has a special place in my heart and I love my city.

If you look around the Sioux Falls community, the majority of our leaders and the most highly successful people are white.

There’s not a problem with that exactly. Where the problem arises is the lack of representation and visibility for people who come from systemically non-dominant backgrounds, especially immigrant backgrounds.

It is an empowering experience when you’re able to see those who look like you in important positions. Trying to succeed in a space where there aren’t many who resemble you is a daunting and overwhelming feat.

Let me create a clearer picture for you:

The five largest ethnic groups are White (84.5%), Black (6.2%), American Indian (2.1%), Asian (2.5%) and multi-racial (3.2%), according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Now, take a look at our school district. Enrollment in the year 2020-21 is more than 23,900 students in total for K-12. Of those students, roughly 40% come from diverse backgrounds, according to school district data.

Less than 5% are American Indian, an average of roughly 12% of students are Black, and another average of roughly 12% are Hispanic, with an average of 5.6% who multi-racial and an average of 3.3% who Asian, district data show.

There are 90 languages spoken among students, with Spanish the most prominent. 

This diversity will become more prevalent as years pass.

Sioux Falls has the opportunity to be re-energized and reshaped by these groups. Historically in these communities, it feels like nobody cares and we’re all we have.

It is time for the investment to be made.

If we really want to be a “One Sioux Falls,” we have to be honest about what’s going on in the underserved populations and the gaps that we know are obviously there. Not just talking about it, but sitting together as a whole and coming up with solutions. 

These deposits will pay for itself long term within our community. The lack of knowledge and exposure to what’s happening outside of these communities is ultimately holding them back from opportunity because of ignorance of what’s going on or what resources are available. There are pockets of diversity all around the city with little intersectionality. 

Making amends with the past and realizing our own ignorance could lead to more involvement from these demographics by having representation and someone they can ultimately trust because of shared understanding.

These are our next leaders, this is an untapped pool of potential waiting to be utilized for the greater good of our community.

It’s crucial to provide them the tools to succeed, so there isn’t a lag in leadership from their predecessors. 

And that investment can start with initiatives already in place.

A major key in developing this next generational leaders is “The Bridging the Gap Fund” by the Sioux Falls Area Community Foundation in partnership with Think3D Solutions.

This fund was established to help inspire, build and develop emerging leaders among the city’s diverse populations. Realizing that there’s a void that needs to be filled is already a step in the right direction. Just last year in October they received a large donation of $150,000 from First Bank & Trust geared toward:

  • Training and mentoring to help build and develop leaders from diverse backgrounds.
  • Providing resources for employers and employees to help create more pathways for inclusion in the workplace.
  • Building community, fostering connections and creating awareness through art, media and storytelling.  

Creating funds and resources to develop these leaders will only have a great return on interest for our community.. Not only will it create a different viewpoint, but will also foster meaningful dialogue that addresses biases and overlooked issues that may only affect certain populations. 

Another organization that is doing this much needed work of developing young leaders, is the Leaders of Tomorrow program run by Think3D. The group runs a 12-week program designed to take current and aspiring leaders and equip them to level up their personal growth and professional skills.

This program’s mission is to create 500 leaders by the year 2025.

It’s no secret that there’s a thirst, hunger and want for young leaders, especially from diverse backgrounds.

Immigrant leaders with the proper backing, proper skills, resources and tools can help develop strategies with changemakers that will bring knowledge and education to the general public. This allows the public to get an inside source that’ll show who immigrants and refugees are and the benefits of having them in roles of leadership. 

Developing and molding leadership skills among immigrant and refugee communities is more important now than ever.

Sul Dibba, is a first-year Admissions Counselor at Augustana University, born in The Gambia and raised in East Sioux Falls as an immigrant refugee. Sul graduated from Augustana University in 2017 with a BA in Business/Communication Studies. He is the Co-Founder of Our Growth Project; A non-profit focused on education, art and entertainment to find the greatness within the youth of Sioux Falls.

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