by Devon Christianson, Board Member

The “future” is the very bread and butter of the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation (GGBCF). Recently GGBCF’s Community Engagement Program Officer, Rashad Cobb, shared with us his vision for a Community Foundation determined to invest in a better Green Bay community. “We have an opportunity to shape what a leader looks like in our community,” he said. “We’ve launched a task force on diverse and inclusive leadership. First, we have to help diverse individuals see themselves as leaders. Then we help agencies connect with those prospective leaders.” He explained that it doesn’t always work that way. “Right now, you have to be in the right circles before someone asks you to be on a board or committee – that’s what we need to change.”

Co-chairing the task force with Hector Rodriguez, PhD, Rashad embraces his role as a catalyst for community change. “I learned early on, from an all-boys private school and private college, that coming to the table professionally prepared is a critical part of people hearing what you have to say. That insight has never left me,” he said. “I choose my words intentionally and make sure people are not distracted by how I look or how I present.” There is so much that can be done in Brown County, he told us. “We can build our future together.” Diversity of thought and background is often found in the young populations in Brown County, and these individuals have not yet networked or found the right circles.

His job is to be a surveyor, a listener, and a communicator, Rashad explained. He reaches out to the agencies in the community doing the work. “They are the subject matter experts, and we need to hear the challenges and opportunities from them, the people most impacted by the programs we support.”

Rashad doesn’t presume he knows the answers. “I need to hear the tough stuff and point out where the growth can happen.” The past two years have challenged many non-profits, living through a pandemic while, at the same time, tensions mount in the area of equity and inclusion. Rashad has been listening and learning along with others. The opportunities the Greater Green Bay Community Foundation offers include mobilizing financial resources to promote action and committing time to bring people to the table to navigate positive change.

Brown County is rich with social capital – people who care deeply and want to see things change. “I get excited that we are still a blank canvas where we can imagine and create solutions for things,” Rashad said. “Not everything has been tried.” Seeing young people grow up and come into their own is important to Cobb. “I feel a great responsibility for youth to see how they can impact neighborhoods, agencies and government as they grown up.”

We can continue to provide education to people, Rashad explained. Here in our area, we don’t have much exposure to people who might be different from us. People do want this, but they’re looking for direction, not a full syllabus, he said. We need to be exposed to each other, and there is opportunity for this to happen. Cobb reflected on his own growth as a professional “I found I needed to be ‘next’ to things that are good, and then good things happened. Good networks can do great things for prospective leaders.”

Rashad Cobb is also providing enthusiastic leadership for a second new GGBCF initiative to connect people, challenges and opportunities: the Greater Green Bay Blueprint to Prevent and End Homelessness. Cobb has led the foundation into this space to facilitate input, assess the needs of the community, and prioritize areas where the greatest impact could occur. This blueprint can be a catalyst for change, signaling where we need to improve and what resources are needed to get us there.

“People are where I get my signals – listening to the right people – people I don’t know, people living the challenges, not just all folks in positions of power,” he explained. Cobb added that he is a student of the past. “We need to reflect on the mistakes of the past, focus on the data and stories that inform us, and reinvent strategies where we can avoid those same mistakes today.”

Rashad continued, “Now people are more educated on the state of conditions here, and that gives me hope for change.” He feels that one of our strengths as a community is that people really do want to help. Just ask and you will find so many people who are willing to come together and make an impact, he said.

And his role, personally? “I can show up, be involved, reach out, make my presence known as a person, not just as part of my work.” In his work and in his personal life, Rashad Cobb is committed to stepping into the space where change can happen. The only way to live your life, he said, is to be present.