Different Paths, Similar Destinations: Nosa Ali & Brenda Vasquez

Brenda Vasquez and Nosa Ali will be panelists on the National Journal's "The Next America: Population 2043" town hall meeting at Drake University on Wednesday, October 22.

Brenda Vasquez and Nosa Ali will be panelists on the National Journal’s “The Next America: Population 2043” town hall meeting at Drake University on Wednesday, October 22.

Like many Des Moines students, Nosa Ali and Brenda Vasquez have taken very different paths to arrive at a very similar place.

For Nosa, she along with her parents and seven siblings arrived in the United State a little more than a decade ago, from Sudan by way of Egypt. Brenda’s parents emigrated to the U.S. from El Salvador nearly two decades ago, where they have raised her and her five siblings.

While their family journeys began thousands of miles apart, both Nosa and Brenda have arrived at a similar destination. They both attended Greenwood and Callanan, and are now students at Roosevelt High School – Nosa a sophomore and Brenda a senior – as well as take classes at Central Campus and Central Academy. Both are not only good students but also involved in several school and community activities.

And on Wednesday morning, both will be sharing the stage at the National Journal’s Next America: Population 2043 town hall meeting at Drake University.

The National Journal, a DC-based magazine covering policy and politics in Washington and beyond, is doing a series on issues relating to the nation’s changing demographics. Des Moines is “ground zero” for part of the series, looking at how the population is changing in our community and what it means, including for education and our schools. As a part of this series, the magazine is holding a Town Hall meeting in Des Moines on October 22. Des Moines Public Schools and United Way of Central Iowa are serving as community supporters of this event.

Nosa and her family fled Sudan in hopes of a better life and to seek political asylum. First going to Egypt, they came to the U.S. early in 2004, thanks to support form Lutheran Services of Iowa, when her father needed surgery. Six months later, Nosa and her brothers and sister enrolled in school.

Nosa is quick to acknowledge the support she received, including her very first teacher: Ann Lueck.

“My kindergarten teacher Mrs. Lueck, who I can never thank enough, is the reason why I have found endless amounts of opportunities and success in my life,” says Nosa. “She not only helped me overcome my language barrier but she believed I had great potential to succeed and guided me when I needed help.”

In addition to her studies, Nosa is active in a variety of activities go in and out of school. She played the violin, read a poem at the 2010 World Food Prize, and was the student council president in 5th grade. Today she is a member of Roosevelt’s top-ranked debate team, the Student Advisory Committee, Student Council, CORE for Advancement, Science Fair Competitions, and Science Bound. Outside of school, she is a member of a philanthropy group called uVoice and will soon be president of the Des Moines Youth Advisory Board.

Brenda comes from a family of El Salvadorians who emigrated to the U.S. over 20 years ago.  She was born here in Des Moines, and enjoys being part of a large family with five other siblings.

Being active in school and the community is important to Brenda, too. She is active in PROUD (People. Respecting. Our. Unique. Differences.) a student leadership group at Roosevelt; is a member of the National Council on Youth Leadership; is a part of the Rider Crew, which helps orientate freshmen to high school; and belongs to Movement 515,  a creative writing community where students and teachers come together to combine the skill of writing and performance.

Kristopher Rollins, the school district’s Urban Arts Coordinator who teaches Brenda in his Urban Leadership class, notes that Brenda’s family and their experience is very important to her. In a unit the class just complete about immigration, Brenda’s final project was a timeline of her mother’s journey to the U.S.

“She’s a fierce young lady,” adds Rollins. That’s a good thing.

For both students, their future plans include education beyond Des Moines Public Schools.

Brenda hopes to attend Pepperdine University in California. And education is likely to continue to be a big part of the rest of her life.

“Ultimately, my goal and passion is to become a high school English teacher in order to reform U.S. public education and empower students,” says Brenda.

Nosa is also looking ahead to college. She is involved with Science Bound, a pre-college program that offers full ride scholarships to Iowa State University for a select group of students demonstrating academic excellence and interest in STEM careers.

As Nosa notes: “I have always felt that it was my responsibility to receive the best education, so I can set in examples for others. I want to show the world that race, culture, religion, gender, or class, do not determine whether you can make your dream a reality. It is dedication and the quality of education.”

Brenda and Nosa and their families may have taken very different paths to Des Moines, but in their differences are many similarities, from a commitment to education to a dedication to their community. On Wednesday, at the National Journal’s Town Hall meeting, they will have one more thing in common: sharing a stage to tell their story.

Click here for more information about the National Journal’s “The Next America: Population 2043” town hall meeting.

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