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Civic Nebraska to honor 10 with Strengthening Democracy Awards

Civic Nebraska to honor 10 with Strengthening Democracy Awards

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On Thursday, April 29, Civic Nebraska will honor 10 Nebraskans whose efforts ensure a more modern and robust democracy in the Cornhusker State.

The 2021 Strengthening Democracy Awards honorees include educators, advocates, students and everyday Nebraskans who demonstrate exceptional civic leadership and who embody Civic Nebraska’s vision of a collaborative, innovative society.

“It takes dedicated citizens of all ages working together to strengthen our state’s civic life, and we are fortunate in Nebraska to see regular examples of this,” said Adam Morfeld, Civic Nebraska’s executive director. “Often, these everyday acts go unnoticed. That is why Civic Nebraska brings attention to these civic advocates – to celebrate their consistent efforts to build and sustain our democracy.”

Local recipients of Civic Nebraska’s 2021 Strengthening Democracy Awards are:

• Outstanding Civic Health Partner: Janell Walther, for research excellence in the realm of public and civic engagement and policy. Walther, senior research manager at the University of Nebraska Public Policy Center, helped build a framework for the 2020 Nebraska Civic Health Index, a comprehensive look at the elements of Nebraska’s civic life. In 2021, Walther also played a key role in What Our Neighbors Said, an in-depth report from Collective Impact Lincoln that delves into issues and solutions in the city’s core neighborhoods.

• Outstanding Community Partner: The Bay (Rabble Mill), for its distinguished record of community building. The Bay (Rabble Mill) has engaged with young people across the state, from providing skateboarding classes and equipment to unique creative opportunities to building self-esteem and resilience. The Bay (Rabble Mill) is an essential community resource, most recently evidenced earlier this year when The Bay donated space and worked with Civic Nebraska to mobilize youth to package and distribute personal protective equipment to the public. The result was more than 1,000 free COVID-19 protection kits in the hands of local families.

 Outstanding Educator: Michelle Clifford, for using her civic voice to organize and advocate for student and teacher safety as school returned to in-person instruction amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. An instructor at Lincoln High School, Clifford advocated for her beliefs to the school board and other institutions amid vocal opposition. In doing so, she inspired and empowered others to speak up and stand out to ensure a safer, more inclusive educational environment so that students felt safe and included, and did not fall behind in their academic journeys.

• Outstanding Administration Award: Cory Epler, for his contributions to the educational standards of our state’s public schools, including guidance that Nebraska students should be able to learn about civic participation through questioning, communicating, evaluating and applying. As the state department of education’s chief academic officer, Epler has a major impact on the quality of our state’s public education system – a system that he works to strengthen every day.

• Outstanding Student Leaders: Civic Nebraska annually honors students in its Lincoln-based Community Learning Centers for civic leadership and excellence. This year’s Strengthening Democracy Award student honorees are Christopher Gonzales of Campbell Elementary School, Neira Brandt of Randolph Elementary School, Armone Dean of Lincoln Northeast High School and Anna Castro of Lincoln High School.

Honorees from outside the Lincoln area:

• Outstanding Youth Engagement Award: Erica Kobza of Fremont for her work on access issues involving food insecurity, clothing and transportation. 

• Defender of Democracy: Ja Keen Fox of Omaha for stepping forward in the fight for racial justice. 

Civic Nebraska will honor all winners during a virtual ceremony at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 29 on Zoom. RSVP via Eventbrite at

Eric Liu, the bestselling author and national thought leader on active citizenship in America, will deliver the celebration’s keynote address. Liu is co-founder and CEO of Seattle-based Citizen University, which builds a culture of powerful and responsible citizenship in the United States. Liu directs the Aspen Institute’s Citizenship and American Identity Program and is the author of several acclaimed books, including "Become America: Civic Sermons on Love, Responsibility and Democracy" (Sasquatch, 2019).

About Civic Nebraska

A nonpartisan organization, Civic Nebraska creates a more modern and robust democracy for all Nebraskans. It is dedicated to increasing K-12 civic engagement, fortifying statewide civic life and protecting voting rights. To learn more, visit


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