Sometimes being popular can start to feel like a burden. Just ask Eunice Adjei-Bosompem, a St. Cloud-based community activist and sometime public face of the Central Minnesota city’s growing immigrant and refugee population.
Being visible made Adjei-Bosompem a perfect candidate to help add diversity to St. Cloud’s many boards and commissions. As word of her interest and experience in board service grew, the invitations began to role in. At first, Adjei-Bosompem, a proud advocate for people of color in her adopted hometown, was thrilled. She relished the opportunity to join the ranks of St. Cloud — and the state’s — movers and shakers, helping to influence policy and change. Before long she had joined the boards of Tri-County Action Program (Tri-CAP); Create CommUNITY, St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis’ diversity initiative; the St. Cloud Human Rights Commission; the St. Cloud State University Alumni Association; and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.
At some point, things got out of hand: Adjei-Bosompem’s inbox was bursting at the seams.
“It got to the point where it felt like I was being asked to be on a thousand boards,” she said with a laugh. “Eventually, I was like, ‘There are other leaders like me in this community. I’m not the only one.’ ”
But not every potential leader of color in St. Cloud has Adjei-Bosompem’s résumé. A small, warm, confident woman, she spent her childhood in Ghana, moving to London on her own when she was just 20 years old. On the recommendation of a friend, she came to St. Cloud in 2005 to attend St. Cloud State University, where she earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. A former program and grants manager for St. Cloud-based CentraCare Health, she founded her own firm, Adom Consulting, contracting with local school districts and employers to create cultural competency programs.
Adjei-Bosompem knows all too well that it can be hard to make a name for yourself in a new land. Many of St. Cloud’s population of color came to the city knowing little English and virtually nothing about what it takes to become a leader in the United States. With her excellent English skills, natural confidence and drive to succeed, Adjei-Bosompem arrived in Minnesota well ahead of many of her compatriots, but she still struggled to make her way.
“I don’t want to people to go through what I went through, because coming here was tough,” she said, recalling her first months in the state, where she was so overwhelmed that she only left her dorm room to eat and go to class.
Adjei-Bosompem has grown to be a completely different person since then, but she has made it her mission to ease the transition for others, to help them make a home — and an impact — in St. Cloud: “I want to help and empower other minorities to be at the decision-making table, to get their voices heard.”
A program is born
Adjei-Bosompem believes that one way new Americans can make a direct impact in their community is through board service. She knew that many members of St. Cloud’s immigrant and refugee population would make excellent candidates for these positions, but they needed training to get up to speed.
Adjei-Bosompem knew the kind of program she wanted to create: “I wanted this leadership program to be purely minority-based and it’s geared toward minorities, helping them with entrepreneurship, helping them to be on boards and commissions,” she said. She found an example — Strengthening Voices Initiative — a leadership program originally designed for people of color in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
With funds from the St. Cloud Community Foundation, Adjei-Bosompem took a trip to South Carolina to learn more. When she got home, she felt confident that with a few adjustments to meet the unique needs of St. Cloud, she could start a similar program.
Adjei-Bosompem named her program Jugaad Leadership Program. Jugaad is a Hindi word that means a flexible approach to problem solving using limited resources in an innovative way. She recruited her brother, Emmanuel Oppong, a mental health therapist and community engagement coordinator in St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis’ office, to help her recruit and train the program’s participants. He is a member of Jugaad’s advisory board.
“Jugaad Leadership Program was created to decrease the economic gap and increase professional capital,” Oppong said. “The economic gap in terms of race is a huge here. There was a need for a program to help bridge that. This program was created based on a need. We needed to have more representation in St. Cloud’s workforce, not just in the low-skill level jobs but also in management levels and on advisory boards.”
Kleis has been a supporter of Jugaad Leadership Program since the beginning. St. Cloud’s rapidly changing demographics have created some tensions in his city, and he believes that one of the best ways to ease those tensions is to encourage everyone to feel that they have a voice. When people feel that they’re forced to sit on the sidelines, frustration can mount.
“It’s critical that people are engaged or involved in their community,” Kleis said. “Communities don’t thrive unless you have people who are actively engaged in building the community, in making a difference.”
Encouraging engagement is particularly important for marginalized communities, Adjei-Bosompem believes.
“I think board service is important because boards make decisions that affect everyone,” she said. “As a person of color, I can see that there aren’t always people who look like me representing us in the decisions that are being made. It is going to have an impact on me if my voice is not being heard. When we have a seat at the table, we can actually educate the other people around us on issues that affect us.”
How to build a leader
Jugaad Leadership Program is now in its third year. Its participants represent a range of the many new cultures that now call St. Cloud home. Applicants are often recruited by Adjei-Bosompem, Oppong and other members of the program’s advisory board, or they hear about the opportunity in local media. Candidates must apply for a position.
The group meets for one daylong Saturday session a month for seven months. Class topics range from résumé-building and interview skills to financial basics, public safety and politics, education and board-meeting skills.
“We have a session about boards and commissions,” Adjei-Bosompem explained. “They learn answers to questions like, ‘What are boards? What is a quorum?’ We have an actual ‘mock-board’ meeting, so that they can learn things like, ‘What is a chair? What is a vice-chair? What is a motion? How do I make a motion?’ ”
At the program’s end, participants take place in a graduation ceremony. “We let people in the community know that these people have graduated so that they can serve on your boards and commissions,” Adjei-Bosompem said.
This approach works.
“About 90 percent of our graduates have been placed on boards,” Adjei-Bosompem said, proudly. “We have one graduate on the Police Citizen’s Review Board, one on the library board, another on the Women’s Fund board. We have them placed on various boards and commissions all over St. Cloud.”
Earlier this year, the Jugaad Leadership Program board decided to create a mentorship program to further solidify its graduates’ place in the community.
“The students that went through the program were asking for more,” Adjei-Bosompem said. “They’d say, ‘We don’t think we spent enough time with the leaders we met during our sessions. We’d like more time with them.’” Graduates were paired with St. Cloud leaders who’d volunteered to provide further support.
Jonathan Wong, a 2017 Jugaad Leadership Program graduate, works as a communication specialist for the Minnesota Department of Human Rights St. Cloud regional office. The connections that the program offered helped him feel he could make inroads in the community, a place that even after two years sometimes still seemed foreign and hard to navigate.
“The access and opportunity and networking in Jugaad Leadership Program provided me with a lot,” Wong said. “Every session we met with important people. We met with the police chief, the president of the United Way. Those meetings gave me a different perspective on how things work here. The people were very helpful, very accessible if you have questions.” Wong’s mentor is Patti Gartland, president of the Greater St. Cloud Development Corporation.
Wong is an ex officio board member of Light the Legacy, a community organization dedicated to improving end-of-life care for local residents. His service on the board feels significant; he wants to help broaden the mission to help everyone in St. Cloud have a meaningful end of life.
“When people come from different backgrounds, they think a different way,” Wong said. “When only the same culture sits at the table, they might miss something. They wonder why they always attract the same audience. A person of color joining a board can open up the cultural conversation and make a positive difference for everyone.”
The world-traveling Adjei-Bosompem knows that she has options, that she doesn’t have to stay in St. Cloud, but for some reason she’s decided to settle there, at least for now.
“I call this place home,” she said. “I don‘t even know if I went back to my original country if it would feel like home anymore. I always say home is where the heart is, and my heart is here.” She said she relishes the challenge of helping the residents of her new home come together and create a diverse, thriving community.
Jugaad board member Sangeeta Jha is a humanities professor at St. Cloud Technical and Community College. She’s lived in St. Cloud since 2001, and has seen the city transform before her eyes.
“When I first got here, I would go to the store and I would be the only person looking different,” said Jha, who is originally from India. “Everyone else was the same. Within a year, though I would see there were lots of other people of color. The population here has really diversified.”
She’s impressed with Adjei-Bosompem’s sincere commitment to the community, to her work to make sure that its new residents will have representation in key organizations.
“Eunice is a woman of substance,” Jha said. “She works very hard and wants to give back to the St. Cloud community. Many times we only think about ourselves: ‘Me, me, me.’ Eunice tries to incorporate other people’s ideas into everything she does. She values the connections she has made here in the community. It is very thrilling to see her succeed.”
Mayor Kleis is impressed by Adjei-Bosompem’s networking skills.
“Sometimes I introduce Eunice as somebody who’s involved in everything,” he said. “She’s everywhere, at every meeting. She has a tremendous ability to connect with people. She can connect with anyone, no matter what their background is. That’s a skill you have to be born with, and it has really helped her succeed. ”
‘When everyone is represented, we all do better’
Adjei-Bosompem believes that putting herself out there and making connections is key. The more people know each other, the more they interact, the better the outlook will be for all of St. Cloud.
“When everyone is represented, we all do better,” she said. “When we get to know each other, we will see we all want the same thing, which is to live in harmony, to build our community.”
As its name implies, Jugaad Leadership Program takes an innovative, use-the-resources-at-hand approach to community building.
“I think change is good, but not everybody likes it,” Adjei-Bosompem said. “When confronted with change, some people step up. They embrace it. But others don’t. I like change. It’s helping our community, and I’m trying to show others how it will make us stronger and better.”
MinnPost’s coverage of New Americans in Greater Minnesota is made possible by the Blandin Foundation, with additional support from the Marbrook Foundation, the West Central Initiative Foundation, the Southwest Initiative Foundation, the Solidarity MN collaborative, and the Southern Minnesota Initiative Foundation.