Organizing At The Intersection Of Culture And Generational Courage

Nnedi Stephens; Image: Reno Gazette Journal


“... when we are comfortable and inattentive, we run the risk of committing grave injustices absentmindedly.” - Chinua Achebe

These powerful words, as well as their author, strike home for me as the eldest of Nigerian immigrants and as a candidate for public office. My core mission and my vision for change as a community organizer, public servant, unionized campaign staffer and now progressive hiring specialist has centered on doing everything I can to make the levers of power more accessible to communities that have been traditionally marginalized.

My name is Nnedi Stephens and I am running a campaign for State Senate District 13 that embodies the core values of accessibility, inclusion and transparency.

This district encompasses the section of the Reno/Sparks metro area one block west of the University of Nevada, Reno down toward the Plumas/Moana area, eastward to the section of Sparks that borders Hidden Valley and upwards toward McCarran Blvd. We are facing devastating challenges that are making it harder to live and raise families here. Median rent and home prices are skyrocketing. The pandemic has exacerbated pre-existing issues such as the health care provider and teacher shortages, as well as the lack of access to affordable mental health care — especially for those in crisis.

These are tough issues to properly address because so much of their root causes are systemic. Low wages and long hours for teachers and educational faculty, the stigmatization of seeking treatment for mental illness, and the structural wealth inequality we see between Black, Indigenous, People of Color and their white counterparts are keeping our communities from reaching their truest potential. I am running to bring new energy to Carson City and help build the coalitions of stakeholders needed to tackle these problems head on. The beginning words I shared from Chinua Achebe are a call to action to ensure that none of us are complacent in the face of our neighbor’s suffering, even when it means jumping outside one’s comfort zone to help one another.

Chinua Achebe is often referred to as the “Father of Modern African Literature” for being one of the first African novelists to gain international recognition for sharing the story of Africa’s brutal colonization through the lens of those who suffered it. He talked about the importance of telling your own story and sharing an accurate retelling of history, contrary to the anti-“CRT” crusaders who want to segregate our textbooks and isolate students who look like me from learning about the history made by courageous people who represent and fought for their rights. These words remind me of my Nigerian godfather who worked so hard to build a local small business and a legacy for his children and godchildren rooted in the rich culture and traditions of Igbo culture.

Every time I saw him, he was always sure to remind me never to forget where I come from and to work hard so that the generation after me may prosper. It has been hard to work through the grief of losing him last month while running a campaign, but his example shows me that the work I put in today serves as a foundation for those who will come after me tomorrow.

The immigrant experience is varied based on ethnicity, nationality, belief system (or lack thereof) and so many more identities that shape the way in which we interact and interpret the world around us.

One common thread you will find, however, is courage.

The courage to relocate to a different country and a different culture.

The courage to work as hard as possible to give your kids the best start at life possible.

I will end by sharing a Igbo proverb that reads:

“Our elders say that the sun will shine on those who stand before it shines on those who kneel under them.”

I am running as the candidate willing to stand up for what is right and to create a better world for generations to come.

I humbly ask for your vote in this June 14 primary to be the next State Senator from District 13.

Born and raised in Reno to hard-working Nigerian immigrants, Nnedi Stephens is a graduate of Wooster High School and the University of Nevada, Reno with a Bachelor of Science in chemical engineering (biomedical emphasis) and a Bachelor of Arts in Spanish.

They are the 2nd vice president of the Young Democrats of America (YDA) and have made history in various different organizations as an openly LGBTQ+ Nigerian-American. As vice president of search for Meso Solutions, Nnedi works directly with organizations across the country to ensure equitable and inclusive hiring practices for executive level positions. They are running for the Nevada State Senate as a Democrat in Senate District 13. Their website is Connect with Nnedi on TikTok, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook.