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Think Global, Act Local: Overcoming Adversity and Leading by Example

Shalom Alekhem!

I hope this article finds you enjoying Summer activities with your beloved ones!

I am truly excited to introduce you a person I look up to and who is making a lasting impact in many lives in the community:

Sir Jered Pigeon is the Director for the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and serves as the Campus Diversity Officer for Minnesota State University Moorhead (MSUM). He is also a MinnState system diversity officer leader across the state. In his roles, he serves in a collaborative advisory capacity to the campus administration, students, employees and the community at large. In addition, he leads staff that provide programming and services to students out of the American Indian Center, the Intercultural Center, the Rainbow Dragon Center and the Women’s Center.

Mr. Pigeon was born in Grand Forks, ND but has moved around the nation before coming to the Red River valley. He is first and foremost a family man of faith that centers his actions on his loved ones and those around him. With his life partner Tina, they live in Dilworth (MN) and impact the lives of their six children (ages 24-14) through intentional role modeling and parenting with love.

Mr. Pigeon is an active member of our community, as a local member of the Dilworth Lions and the Moorhead American Legion as a member of the Sons of the Legion. He is a pillar in the Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) community and is considered one of our region’s trusted DEI experts. His life experience being a biracial male has afforded him life experiences that prepare him for leading work in this arena.

Mr Pigeon’s educational path was non-traditional to say the least. He stopped high school after grade 9, returned and achieved a GED, then earned an Associate of Arts at Northland Community and Technical College. After completing his AA degree he enrolled at MSUM and received a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in Criminal Justice and Sociology. This propelled him to earn his Master’s Degree in Counseling and Higher Education in 2011 and is on track to complete a Doctorate of Education in spring 2025.

One of his life mantras: Education is an equalizer and once you get your degree, no one can take it away from you!

Next time you see him make sure to ask him why he loves the Red River valley!

Cheers!

– Cyusa

Where do you call home?

I call home the Red River Valley. I have lived in Dilworth, MN, since 2010. My life journey starts with birth in Grand Forks. My mother is from this region and my father was stationed at the Grand Forks Air Force Base when they met. At the age of three, my mom relocated with my step-father to Winchester, Tennessee, home of the beautiful Sawnee Mountains. This is where I was raised up to sixth grade. After grade six we moved to Finley, ND and then Argyle, MN, where my grandmother lived. Both were small cities, not more than 500 people and I was one of only a couple African American students in the schools. Following that, we relocated to Fergus Falls, MN and then Dilworth.

What has been your journey growth and what lessons have learned before coming to Fargo?

Identifying as an African American Male has afforded me many unique experiences in my life. One major lesson I learned from my step-father is that education is an equalizer and once you earn your degree no one can take it away from you. My mother taught me how to cook, how to clean and how to care for others. Another life lesson that I learned as a result of being raised primarily by a single mother is the role of fatherhood in a child’s life and what the lack of that can do to a child. The third life lesson that I learned is that the world is full of many different people that have various beliefs and you will have to interact with all people, it’s a small world. This was tremendously important at the times when I was the only person of color or one of a few in a specific region. This leads me to the fourth lesson which is that you can be what you aspire to be and you become what you think. Do not let others define you or shine your light!

How did you develop such a passion for the youth and how did you land in Academia?

My educational path was non-traditional to say the least. I dropped out of high school after the 9th grade, returned and achieved a GED, then earned an Associate of Arts at Northland Community and Technical College. After completed my AA degree, I enrolled at MSUM and received a Bachelor of Arts, double majoring in Criminal Justice and Sociology. This propelled me to earn my Master’s Degree in Counseling and Higher Education in 2011 and I am on track to complete a Doctorate of Education in spring 2025. Go Dragons!!

What are your favorite activities in Fargo during each season?

Fall brings the change of weather and the ramping up of school. This is the time that we gather as a family and go over the school supply list and begin our adventure hunt. Literally, as most of the supplies are selling out quickly. This is also my birthday month, so I enjoy the celebration over a large cookout annually.

Winter brings the time to get out there and immerse yourself in the heart of winter, the snow and the low temperatures. I love the seasons the region brings and embracing winter is a part of life in the Red River Valley.

This is the time when we get the sleds out to go down the snow hills. Living in Dilworth comes with having a community skating rink and as a result during the winter we skate and play hockey for fun.

Spring brings the melting of the snow and grass starting to show. During spring, we embrace the idea of spring cleanup and look forward to starting the seasons fresh. Spring, for me, means new life or the rebirth of life and seeing the snow melt is reassuring that summer is right around the corner.

Summer: Schools out for summer! This is the phrase that my children love to say. To them, they have their time that they get to reclaim. Summer is the months that we try to visit our extended family and take some time to get away. Having family in Florida, Nevada, and California makes it ideal to go. Another fun family tradition in summer that we do is to travel to county fairs as the carnivals come to town.

Why should the Tri-College system and the Fargo-Moorhead area at large care for its youth? What is the role of the youth in shaping the valley’s culture?

I am reminded of the African proverb that states, “it takes a village to raise a child,” and this rings so true as to why our colleges need to invest in our youth. The youth are our future and need specific attention and investments. Education is the pillar of success for our youth and by instilling a strong appetite for learning, we can increase their overall life. We are only as good as the children we are raising. Stronger partnerships with K-12 is needed to create a vision for students that may be the first in their family to attend higher education.

What are Clichés and misconceptions on the Millennials and Gen Z? How do you debunk them?

Some of the misconceptions of Millennials and Gen Z are that they feel entitled, or that they are not loyal or that they avoid personal communication. These are grounded in a lack of knowledge and a deficit mindset. The same way that race and gender was and is used to= create false narratives is exactly what these misconceptions are doing. In addition, they restrict people to access. The other thing is that we can’t paint people with broad brushes and lump all people into boxes. Life is unique, everyone deserves a fair shake and opportunity to receive grace.

Can you share some of the work you do to help build the personal brand of the youth in the area?

Recently, a local group of community leaders came together with the Science Museum of Minnesota and one of the topics was on building a personal brand. During this session we defined what a personal brand is and why it is important to have a strategy behind your brand. As we further went into the presentation, the community youth appreciated the fact that they can influence their narrative, or at least inform people’s opinions with facts. The group was comprised of community youth from diverse backgrounds. They reported that many people defined them by a statics or categorized them, often with negative undertones. Upon completing the training, participants were able to walk away with practical strategies on successful social media usage, leading with a purpose and developing life plan of action that adapts as they grow.

Discussion

Written by Alexandre Cyusa

Alexandre Cyusa came to the FM area in the fall of 2010 to attend Concordia College. Originally from Kigali, Rwanda, Cyusa has lived in Switzerland, Ethiopia, Guinea and France. His traveling experiences have helped him in making this world a smaller and simpler place to live in. He currently works for Folkways and is interested in community development and nurturing global citizenship.

What do you think?

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