When I was in 3rd grade, I had a friend named Phillip Brown. My birthday party was nearing, and it was common at the time to invite all the boys in the class to a party. And I did invite everyone, including Phillip, who was a particularly special friend. The party was at a roller skating rink. As I was opening presents, my father came up to me and whispered in my ear, “Jeffrey, is Phillip a black boy?” I said, “Yes.” Then I didn’t think about it anymore.
On the following Monday at school, I saw Phillip. I was somewhat hurt because he had not come to my birthday party. I asked him, “Phillip, why didn’t you come?” He said, “I did. They wouldn’t let me in.”
I was eight years old. The year was 1968. It turns out that my father had to go outside, talk to Phillip’s father, and awkwardly explain to him that this particular establishment was apparently a disturbing remnant of the old ways. Black children were not allowed in.
After business concludes each day in Congress, there is a dedicated period when representatives from each side of the political aisle take time to speak. Democrats can speak and then Republicans, or vice versa. Each side takes turns. One evening, Congressman Al Green, an African-American representative from Houston, was speaking about Black History Month. Congressman Green spoke extensively of both his difficult times as a young lawyer facing a segregated courthouse, and about important progress on civil rights that had been made in the country, adding that there was still the need for more understanding.
As I was preparing my thoughts for my own address next, listening closely as Congressman Green was wrapping up his speech, I kept thinking about Phillip. The thought occurred to me to ask if the Congressman would “yield”—a courteous way of seeking time to interject something. In this circumstance, it would be unusual, but I couldn’t let the thought go. I decided, "Yes, this is important,” and said, “Will the gentleman yield?” A bit startled at first, Congressman Green said, “I would be happy to yield to the gentleman.”
So, I thanked him for his words and told the story of Phillip Brown--but with one new detail: the reaction of my own children when I told them of this event from my childhood. You could see the anguish on their faces. My children were aghast that such a hurtful thing could happen. They said, “Daddy, you have to find Phillip.”
In the meanwhile, another representative from Texas named Ted Poe had come onto the floor of the House to get ready for his speech, and he began to listen. Congressman Poe then asked, “Will the gentleman yield?” And he began to talk about similar memories of the segregation at the courthouse, and his sentiments about the progress made. He said to me, “Jeff, you’ve got to find Phillip.”
I had occasion recently to go back to the little school that I attended (an all-white school in my time, except, as I recall, for the Brown family). I met the principal, who is an African-American woman. It is now a school for children with special talents in which most of the students are African-American. She was kind enough to take me on a little tour. Some things had been added like air conditioning, but much was the same. I walked into one of my old classrooms. Memories flooded over me. It even smelled the same! I asked the principal, “Will you look in the records? Will you help me find Phillip Brown?”
(Lincoln, NE) – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today issued the following statement on the tragedy in Charlotteville.
"As our nation continues to struggle with the terrible tragedy of Charlottesville, it offers us a chance to reflect on where we are as a country and where we go as a people.
"Nearby my office in Washington, there is a sign in a yard, which I see occasionally. For many months, it has caught my attention and now speaks to this moment. So, on Monday, I posted its words: "I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear" –- Martin Luther King, Jr.
"As we seek to gently knit our country back together, we must also remain vigilant, and unequivocal, in decrying hate. I condemn in the strongest possible terms the violence in #Charlottesville, particularly the vile, racist protests and murder perpetrated by the despicable KKK, Nazis, and other white nationalist groups. While the most heinous forms of speech and assembly are protected by the first amendment, these rights must always be balanced with obligations. Violence is never acceptable.
As we reflect on Dr. King’s words, perhaps it offers a moment for healing, not further division. A moment for contemplation, not further violence."
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Committee.
(Lincoln, NE) – Congressman Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) today issued the following statement on the Secretary of State’s declaration that ISIS is unequivocally responsible for “genocide” against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite Muslims:
“Today, in a very important statement, the State Department reaffirmed the horrific reality of ISIS genocide against Christians, Yazidis, and Shiite Muslims in Iraq and Syria. This designation is a critical reaffirmation of the dire circumstances faced by persecuted minority communities in the Middle East.
“As ISIS is driven from its strongholds in Iraq and Syria, the United States, in partnership with the international community, has the opportunity to help Christians, Yazidis, and others return to their ancestral homelands, restoring the once-rich tapestry of ethnic and religious diversity that existed in the region. I look forward to continuing to work with the Administration on implementing policy options to establish zones of security for the beleaguered minority communities, many of whom face unsustainable conditions as refugees after surviving the ISIS attack. The restoration and revitalization of their historic communities is not only just but critical to the long-term stability of the Middle East.”
Fortenberry serves on the House Appropriations Subcommittee on State and Foreign Operations. Along with Congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D-CA), he is co-chair of the Religious Minorities of the Middle East Caucus. He represents America’s largest Yazidi community.
Nebraska and Iowa officials responded in recent days to events in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb. — “These people are utterly revolting — and have no understanding of America. This creedal nation explicitly rejects ‘blood & soil’ nationalism.”
Sen. Deb Fischer, R-Neb. — “The hatred, violence & racism displayed in Charlottesville, VA have no place in our society. We must show civility & respect to one another.”
Rep. Don Bacon, R-Neb. — “I am saddened for #Charlottesville & mad at bigots. No room for that in US. Let’s unite against all bigots & those who commit violence.”
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb. — “’I have decided to stick with love. Hate is too great a burden to bear.’ — Martin Luther King, Jr. #Charlottesville”
Rep. Adrian Smith., R-Neb. — “The hatred and violence in Charlottesville today is horrifying & does not represent the America we love. We must bring our country together.”
Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts, a Republican — “It was an ugly reminder that we cannot take for granted the founding principles of our county: that all men are created equal.’’
Rep. David Young, R-Iowa — “It is just after 2:00 am here in Israel where I am wrapping up my travels and meetings and will begin my journey home to Iowa tomorrow. From a land that has seen the pain and deep divisions hatred has caused throughout history I wanted to acknowledge and condemn the hate and pain we have seen this weekend at home. Political discourse is something we can pride ourselves on in America — but hate is disgusting and must be condemned to the core.”
Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa — “What ‘WhiteNatjonalist’ (sic) are doing in Charlottesville is homegrown terrorism that can’t be tolerated anymore that what Any extremist does.”
Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa — “I agree w\Lt. Col. Allen West’s Charlottesville article. American history is to be learned & understood not erased.”
Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa — “The violence in #Charlottesville that is fueled by racist hatred has no place in our society. We are one nation, under God, and indivisible. We cannot stand for this terrorism.”
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds, a Republican — “We must forcefully condemn ugly, vile, racist hate. My prayers are with the victims of these despicable acts. #Charlottesville”
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The last time Percy Pika saw his father, the smell was suffocating.
The prison had no air conditioning, no defense against the African heat. The cells had no toilets or water, but they did have dozens of men living and dying in each, sleeping on cardboard or on mats no thicker than a sponge.
The prison in Brazzaville, the capital of the Republic of Congo, was built during World War II to house maybe 150 men. Last year, according to reports, it held more than 800 — many of them said to be political prisoners of President Denis Sassou Nguesso.
But only one of them is a U.S. citizen, a former Nebraskan, a father and grandfather who worked the lines at Cook's Family Foods and Kawasaki in Lincoln, raising his big family on Y Street before returning to his homeland to become a farmer.
For nearly 500 days, 70-year-old Marcel Pika has been held in Brazzaville's central prison, plucked from his house by armed men in late March 2016, just after Sassou Nguesso's 2016 re-election.
His family is outraged by his detention and worried about his health; they say he has developed high blood pressure and cysts on his kidneys and lungs, and the prison provides little nourishment or medical care.
But they’ve been equally angry with the lack of tangible action by their own government in Washington to work for their father's release.
“We are Nebraskans today, and we’re proud to be Nebraskans,” Percy Pika said. “We want the U.S. government to act on behalf of our father. Whatever actions that need to be taken need to be taken.”
* * *
Marcel Pika was born in a farm village in the Congo, the first of his generation to attend college, and spent his career as an Army officer, retiring as a colonel.
In 1997, when Sassou Nguesso returned to office during a violent civil war — with help from the militia he called the Cobras — Marcel Pika and his family and others fled to the West African country of Benin.
They weren't safe there, either, Percy Pika said: There were reports Sassou Nguesso was targeting refugees who had been loyal to his opposition, returning them to his country to kill them.
The United Nations was willing to help, and it gave the officer's family a choice: Canada or the U.S.
The decision was simple. Marcel Pika had a daughter in Lincoln whose husband was studying biology at the University of Nebraska.
He and his wife and their seven other children arrived in September 1999, helped in their resettlement by Catholic Social Services. They spoke little English, and this was a strange new world for them, but here they were safe, and here they were starting over.
That first day, they all gathered in the house that had been rented for them near 29th and Vine.
“We just started looking out the windows. We started laughing,” Percy Pika said. “We held hands that day. We prayed, thanking God for the opportunities.”
Marcel Pika and his wife, Josephine, wasted little time finding work. In the Congo, the army officer and his family had servants and drivers, but now he was clocking in at a packing plant. They lived in a series of rentals — on Adams, on L Street — saving their money, their older children working and contributing, too.
“It was a dream come true for us,” said Freddy Pika, a son. “For once, we started to look at a future of peace.”
They walked around the city at first, to Super Saver and Kmart. They rode bikes to school, and the bus during winter. They saved enough to buy cars. They saved enough to buy a house.
They became U.S. citizens. And they became part of their new community.
“He was one of the best neighbors I ever had,” said Bob Davis, who moved next to the Pikas in 2002. “He was a man of integrity. He was honest. He was always willing to help a guy out.”
Davis admired the family’s structure — how the boys worked hard, avoided troublemakers and deferred to their older siblings. Davis would help them conquer small home repair jobs; the Pikas would ask him over to dinner.
They remained close, even after Davis moved a few years later. He’s attended most of the Pika children’s weddings.
“All of his sons, if you look at his sons, that’s one of the ways you can judge a guy,” Davis said.
The Pika children learned English, graduated from Lincoln East, attended Southeast Community College and then earned degrees from four-year universities. They are managers and nurses and administrators and business owners.
“Lincoln is our home,” Percy Pika said. “Lincoln adopted us.”
But Marcel Pika was missing something, and he found part of it in the Sandhills. Percy Pika had married a woman whose grandmother lived in Broken Bow, and he drove his father west one weekend.
They visited a farm and a ranch, his father taking notes and making sketches. “For my dad, he felt like home, being around farms. That was his dream. He wanted to end up retiring and doing that.”
He wanted to own his own farm in his own homeland. And in 2007, eight years after moving to Lincoln and two years after becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen, Marcel Pika returned to the Congo, buying 46 acres with his wife to grow vegetables and raise pigs and chickens, his sons said.
They had been assured it was safe to return. And it was, until Sassou Nguesso's latest re-election bid.
Marcel Pika was napping when the men came. He wasn't even wearing a shirt.
* * *
Picture the worst prison Hollywood can conjure, with killings and torture and trash and human waste, a place where you have to be careful where you step, and that's what his father's prison is like, Percy Pika said.
His father must fill a water bucket in the morning and find a place to bathe. It's not enough.
“Every time I go see my dad, I smell like it. My dad, he smells like it.”
Percy Pika and his family had been living in the Republic of Congo but returned to the safety of Lincoln after his father's detention.
He and his siblings have since spent thousands of dollars supporting their parents, they say. Their father has diabetes, so they hire a maid to cook his diet-specific meals and a driver to deliver them to the prison. They pay for his medication. They pay their mother's living expenses.
They've also spent the past year and a half lobbying for their father's release.
Marcel Pika is under investigation for supporting Sassou Nguesso's opposition, his sons say. They've heard he and others are accused of organizing a strike to protest the election results.
But they call it a witch hunt by a president holding a grudge.
“It’s simply a matter of you vote against a dictatorship and he throws you in prison,” said Audrey Pika, the youngest son. “There is nothing. Their case is empty.”
So are their efforts to get their father released. They've repeatedly asked politicians for help — requesting meetings with lawmakers, an audience with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, a statement from President Donald Trump — but have little to show for it.
“Based on all the responses we've gotten, there's nothing concrete,” Freddy Pika said.
They've heard plenty of words.
The State Department provided the Journal Star with a statement this week, saying it's following the case closely, it's concerned about Marcel Pika's detention and it's calling on the Congolese government to “respect due process and human rights.” Its consular team in Brazzaville is visiting Marcel Pika in prison and providing assistance, it added.
“The U.S. Embassy has repeatedly raised concerns about Mr. Pika's case, including his health, at the highest levels in the Republic of Congo.”
Last week, Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts issued his own statement, calling for Marcel Pika's immediate release to U.S. authorities. “I have urged members of our federal delegation and officials at the U.S. Department of State to continue to do everything in their power to secure the safe release of Mr. Pika,” the governor said.
In June, a New Jersey congressman spoke in support of Marcel Pika: “The principle of due process demands that Congo-Brazzaville should have released Marcel Pika long ago, but the government continues to ignore their own laws and continue his imprisonment without charging him or bringing him to trial,” Chris Smith said.
Marcel Pika's sons did get a face-to-face meeting with Sen. Deb Fischer, but they haven't heard anything from Sen. Ben Sasse, and his Washington office didn't return a call seeking comment.
This week, they heard hope from Rep. Jeff Fortenberry's office: His chief of staff met Wednesday with Congolese Ambassador Serge Mombouli, who pledged to visit with his country's president and justice minister about the case.
“We have undertaken active engagement with the Congolese government, appealing to them to quickly free Mr. Pika, particularly given his condition,” Fortenberry said in a statement. “We are attempting to bring him home safely to Lincoln, where he can reunite with his family, who are active members of our community.”
Fortenberry originally contacted the ambassador in June and plans to stay focused on the case, a staffer said.
And so will his family. They don't understand why the U.S. government hasn't pushed harder, and earlier, for the release of one of its citizens.
They point to the State Department's own 2016 Human Rights Report for the Republic of Congo, which includes allegations of government-coordinated killings, torture, rape, arbitrary arrests of political prisoners and harsh detention conditions.
Percy and Audrey Pika traveled to Washington in July, and they're planning another trip next week.
Since his imprisonment, Marcel Pika has missed a son’s wedding and college graduation, the births of four grandchildren, the burial of one.
They worry he will be next, Percy Pika said.
“We fear we’ll end up losing our dad.”
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As I began college, I attended a large assembly of new students. I remember the speaker at the time saying, “look to your right, and look to your left. Each of those persons will not be here in four years.” In other words, two of the three people who were starting would not finish. I assume at the time it was supposed to be a motivating factor, and, for me, it was. But, those words also point to a problem about what college is, whether it has been oversold, and what other good options exist outside the college experience. It’s time to ask the question: Is College Worth It?
Let’s look at both sides of the question. As studies document, in the long term, college education creates the conditions for higher levels of attainment (measured by earnings). According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, holders of four-year bachelor degrees earn over $1 million more in their lifetimes than do high school graduates. Moreover, college, when fully engaged, provides a great gift: the opportunity to gain knowledge about higher things and probe deeper meanings—including the wisdom of the ages, the nobility of the arts, and the reservoir of scientific understanding—in order to better oneself and the world. All of this is good. Clearly, college has the potential to enhance the human experience and effectively position a person for advancement.
Now, let’s look at another answer to the question. College is not the be-all and end-all of human existence, as some would have you believe. In fact, it is now a place where many students become frustrated, waste time, waste money, and confront an ideological environment that can be hostile. A place of enormous promise, but, increasingly, a place where its exorbitant and soaring cost might not justify the potential earning benefits of particular degrees. A place where isolation and loneliness can be real. Where pressures mount amid human unraveling.
On the price equation, underwriting the cost of education through student loans has placed enormous debts on recent graduates, some of whom have limited means to pay those debts back. At $1.3 trillion, student loan debt is now the second highest category of consumer debt, surpassing auto loan and credit card debt. The average student from the class of 2016 owes around $37,000 in loans. Over two million borrowers have student loan debt above $100,000. The student loan default rate sits at 11.2 percent. This is why I often caution young students to not exceed a standard car loan in terms of indebtedness.
Today, positive changes in vocational education, along with innovative partnerships with paid apprentice programs, are creating extraordinary options for young people. With a trade focus beginning in high school (combined with community college), in-demand trades like welding, machine operation, and electromechanical tech can earn a person $30,000-$50,000 right out of school. A dedicated person can quickly evolve to be a master craftsman, making $60,000-$80,000 a year. The top craftsmen make over $100,000 a year. All right here in Nebraska.
In its ideal form, education, not just college, should be about wonder. That means, at its core, advanced education should engender an authentic commitment to the whole person, and a daily renewal and alignment of the will, the mind, and the imagination to that which humbly serves all of humanity.
So, to answer the question--“Is College Worth It?” It depends. For some, the revived and noble idea of becoming an American craftsman, or working in other service fields, is a great pathway that comes with the reward of knowing how to make things. For others, a four-year college is an appropriate investment in intellectual and self formation. Over time, I obtained three degrees. As my family often teased me, “Jeffrey would study for a blood test.”Read More
Sen. Ben Sasse, Sen. Deb Fischer and Rep. Jeff Fortenberry focused on the economy, trade and North Korea at a Federal Legislative Summit at the Strategic Air Command museum Wednesday morning.
Sasse and Fischer both serve on the Armed Services Committee, and both say the US needs to be firm against North Korea. Fischer is happy about the recently imposed UN Security Council sanctions against North Korea. She also said the US needs to maintain its own missile defense system.
"All options have to be on the table, and the North Korean regime needs to realize that all options are on the table. Again, diplomacy is the best way to handle any situation. That has to be our first step," Fischer said.
"North Korea is not the most important long-term threat, but they very arguably are the most important near-term threat. There is a lot to worry about because there's no good move for us to make right now," Sasse said.
After a disappointing quarter for the state, Sasse says trade deals are crucial to getting Nebraska's agriculture industry back on track.
"We need more trade market. This state thrives on agricultural exports, and not just agriculture-specific communities, but the rest of the Nebraska economy," Sasse said.
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry has his own ideas of how to spur job growth and upward mobility.
"There is a problem with stagnant wages and downward mobility in our society. The key to reviving our economy is to return to entrepreneurial momentum and small business," Fortenberry said.
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Stories of Nebraska City, the Arbor Lodge and the conservation efforts of the Arbor Day Foundation will reach school age children and other residents of the UK this week as Suella Fernandes returns home to London after a week-long visit to Washington, D.C., and a weekend visit to Nebraska City as well as the capitol building and the University of Nebraska in Lincoln.
Fernandes, a conservative Member of Parliament in the UK was a guest of Nebraska congressional representative Jeff Fortenberry, at a special breakfast event attended by a group of Nebraska City community leaders, including Mayor Bryan Bequette, as well as Nebraska State Senator Robert Clements of the second district.
The assemblage enjoyed a sun-drenched outdoor breakfast on Saturday morning, shared stories and discussed topics of common interest between residents here and the citizens represented by Fernandes.
Fortenberry introduced Fernandes and said that her visit is part of a United States State Department program that brought a number of members of British Parliament to various locations around the country to develop deeper relationships.
The congressman said he was anxious to show off Nebraska and Nebraska City in particular.
“This area here is one of our historic treasures,” Fortenberry said. “Nebraska City and the Lied Lodge and Arbor Day Foundation really do capture innovation and ideas and forward thinking about how we are going to steward nature’s resources into the future.“
Fortenberry noted that Fernandes was elected to British Parliament in 2015 and re-elected in 2017.
Fernandes opened her talk with a tone of appreciation.
“It’s a real pleasure, honor and delight to be here this morning—to be breakfasting and admiring your beautiful country and wildlife,” said Fernandes. “And it’s a real reminder of the beauty of America.
“My weekend in Nebraska is a real treat,” she said. “I think I have the best destination.“
Fernandes said she felt that the hospitality she received was first rate and noted Nebraska’s potential, its interesting factors and features, its history and economy and the contribution that people here make to America’s greatness in the world.
Fernandes also thanked Fortenberry and his team for the opportunity to visit here and said she has been impressed by the work she has seen from the nation’s leaders in Washington, D.C., as they grapple with complicated issues.
“There are no easy answers,” she said.
But Fernandes also noted that she feels Nebraska is represented in these discussions by a unique politician. During her time in the states, Fernandes said she has heard repeatedly about Fortenberry’s status as a man of integrity, principal and dedication.
“Those are qualities that you don’t find very often in politicians,” she said. “I have been really inspired by my time with Jeff and his team.“
Following her opening remarks, Fernandes talked about issues that the people of the United States and the people of the UK have in common, with those being budgetary issues and national debt, immigration, health care and free trade.
Fernandes said the members of British Parliament, like the Senators and Representatives of the United States Congress, are grappling with the issue of national debt and added that she will be watching the congressional debate about the debt ceiling with great interest.
In terms of immigration, Fernandes said that an influx of skilled workers can be beneficial to a country, but said that she feels that rapid immigration can cause complications including the defragmentation of cultural norms and social values.
Both the U.S. and UK are in the midst of debates regarding complications presented by immigration.
On health care, Fernandes said British Parliamentarians are attempting to balance the needs of their citizens with an eye toward budgeting concerns and an acknowledgment of the complex issues at hand.
The United States Congress recently debated health care with Senators voting to kill a health care bill.
As to free trade, Fernandes said she was one who voted for the Brexit, UK’s withdrawal from the European Union. Fernandes said she voted for the Brexit because she felt the UK would have better options for free trade agreements going forward, and, one year after the Brexit, she said she is optimistic about the future and looks forward to the possibility of a trade deal between the U.S. and the UK.
Congressman Fortenberry and Fernandes both agreed on Saturday that free trade agreements lead, not only to prosperity, but also to peace.
In concluding her remarks, Fernandes said she looks forward to working with America in the future.
“I love America and that’s why I trained to be a New York attorney,” Fernandes said, adding that she admires the core values of the United States, which she sees as aspiration, a pioneer spirit, an attitude of enterprise, work ethic and friendliness. “I believe that you are a beacon in the world for good.“
Following the comments by Fernandes, State Senator Clements gave a talk and noted that the state of Nebraska, much like the U.S. as a whole and the UK as well, has been facing budget issues.
Clements said agriculture commodity prices in Nebraska are low and, as a corollary, so are tax revenues. Clements said the state legislature faced the choice of having to raise taxes or cut the budget.
By working with Governor Pete Ricketts, Clements said the appropriate cuts were made and reserves saved during more robust economic periods were drawn upon so that higher taxes could be avoided.
Keeping with the tone of budget issues, Mayor Bequette jokingly said he would welcome Fernandes to join the city’s budget discussions and noted that the budget of Nebraska City would be mere budgetary dust when compared to those with which Fernandes deals.
In getting back to a more serious tone, Mayor Bequette said the best and greatest assets of Nebraska City are its residents. No matter what comes up in Nebraska City, the mayor said someone always seems to find a solution.
“I’ve learned that, at the right time, it seems the right person comes along in this town to get the job done,” he said.
The mayor told Fernandes that the city’s biggest issues were to preserve a vibrant rural life while attracting new businesses, finding workers for those enterprises and then providing good housing for those workers.
Bequette concluded his talk by noting that he was proud of having served alongside British forces on two occasions as a member of the United States Army.
Bequette gave a gift to Fernandes, that being a copy of Images of America, Nebraska City, a book written by Nebraska City’s Tammy Partsch. Senator Clements gave a gift to Fernandes as well, that being a medallion from the Nebraska State Capitol commemorating Nebraska’s 150th birthday.
Following breakfast, the group took a tour of Arbor Lodge and enjoyed a wine tasting and tour at Arbor Day Farm. Fernandes said she knew of two headmasters at schools in her constituency that were very interested in horticulture and who would be keen to learn more about Arbor Day Farm.
Following the conclusion of their tour in Nebraska City, Congressman Fortenberry and Fernandes were to continue their Nebraska travels in Lincoln.
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To mark the anniversary of the genocide, members of the Yazidi community gathered in a Lincoln church to remember the tragic events that took place in Iraq and to reaffirm their Yazidi identity.
The event was organized by Nibras Khudaida, a senior at Lincoln North Star High School. Her family moved to the United States in 2015 from Northern Iraq after ISIS invaded in 2014.
Khudaida said her family initially chose to live in Texas, but moved to Nebraska after hearing about Lincoln’s growing Yazidi population.
Lincoln is believed to be home to the largest Yazidi population in the U.S.
“People in Lincoln are getting united,” Khudaida said. “People in Lincoln are really helping each other under this circumstance.”
The unity Khudaida described could be seen as the church filled with those coming to remember the genocide that took place three years ago.
Yazidis have long been a persecuted group. Khudaida said it is important for the Yazidi community to come together and not allow the attacks by ISIS to be forgotten.
“Most of the people who were sitting down yesterday, they know what it means to be there,” Khudaida said. “They remember what happened to them and it’s really important to not forget it.”
Congressman Jeff Fortenberry also attended the service, saying he was happy the Yazidi community had found a home in Lincoln.
Fortenberry also expressed his concerns for the future of the Middle East, and continuing violence and persecution based on religion.
“If we cannot figure out a way for the ancient faith communities to possibly live in peace once again in the Middle East, I worry that the Middle East has no hope at all,” Fortenberry said.
Fortenberry discussed the possibility of creating safe zones so that those who are forced to flee the region may return one day.
However, Khudaida said that she has no intention of returning to Iraq. Iraq, for her, is filled with memories of days filled without safety or human rights.
“There’s no humanity in there anymore,” Khudaida said. “I don’t like to live in a place where there is no humanity.”
Khudaida says she wants to stay in the United States, where she feels she she can live without having to worry about being mistreated because of their religion.
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Recent events involving the state’s congressional delegation have been woefully short on Nebraska nice.
Rep. Jeff Fortenberry’s town halls in Lincoln were overshadowed by angry protests, interruptions shouted from the crowd and at least one large-scale walkout. Earlier this summer, a sign with a vulgarity was placed in his yard. Within the last three weeks, both of Nebraska’s United States senators reported finding fake blood smeared on the doors of their Lincoln offices.
Civil discourse isn’t dead, but it seems to be in increasingly limited supply in the U.S. Nebraska, which prides itself on Midwestern hospitality and kindness, appears to be suffering from the same shortage of polite, productive conversation to move the state and country forward.
Disagreeing with the stances, actions and votes of elected officials isn’t wrong. In this very space, we do it, too. That’s one of the perks of American democracy; dissenting speech and actions are protected in the Constitution despite not being guaranteed to far too many global citizens.
But with this great power comes the great responsibility of expressing deeply held opinions in a diplomatic manner.
Extreme partisanship is stubbornness, but it’s being worn as a badge of honor. Outrageous stunts, incendiary claims and outright lies get attention. In such an era, being kind to political opponents can be difficult.
To regain the civility we desire, we must return to our roots, remembering that all of us stand beneath the same flags first and foremost. Regardless of whether one claims to be a Republican or Democrat, conservative or liberal or any other political identifier, every single one of us is an American and a Nebraskan – both points of pride that trump political affiliation.
When that’s established, it’s easier to work toward a common goal – despite a multitude of paths by which it can be achieved. Accordingly, plenty of people lean on civil means to express opinions to their elected officials. Need some suggestions?
Call or email their offices. Testify before local and state governments. Write a letter to the editor. Organize or participate in a peaceful protest or rally. Campaign for a candidate. Run for office yourself. Above all, exercise your right to vote.
These are just a few ways to create change in government. The rants, threats and vandalism seen recently in Nebraska accomplish nothing but increasing the difficulty of working together in pursuit of a shared result – which is the only way to effectively govern at any level.
Public participation remains a vital component in every step of the political process. But the most effective way to convey a message is through civil means, something Nebraskans must remember – and practice – to stay productive and above the fray in this charged political environment.
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1514 Longworth HOB
Washington, DC 20515
Jeff Fortenberry was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 2004 to serve Nebraska’s First Congressional District. His work in Congress is rooted in the belief that the strength of our nation depends on the strength of our families and communities. Jeff is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, which appropriates United States government expenditures. He serves on three subcommittees with importance for Nebraska: Agriculture, Energy and Water, and Military Construction and Veterans Affairs.
Jeff previously served on the House Foreign Affairs Committee where he placed particular focus on human rights concerns, Middle Eastern affairs, and nuclear weapons non-proliferation. He also represented Nebraska on the Agriculture Committee, where his work on two Farm Bills advanced opportunities for young and beginning farmers and promoted agricultural entrepreneurship.
Prior to serving in Congress, Jeff worked as a publishing industry executive in Lincoln, where he also served on the Lincoln City Council from 1997-2001. Jeff also has significant personal experience in small business, and early in his career he worked as a policy analyst for the United States Senate Subcommittee on Intergovernmental Relations. Jeff earned a bachelor’s degree in economics and two master’s degrees, one in public policy. He and his wife Celeste live in Lincoln and have five daughters.
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Amidst all the debate in the country, important to note that House passed bill to give service members their biggest pay raise in 8 years.
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It's concerning that in the last 12 months, suicide was leading cause of death for active duty airmen. For help: 1-800-273-8255
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Congratulations to Offutt's Master Sergeant Joshua Malyemezian upon receiving Air Force Outstanding Airman of the Year Award. @Offutt_AFB