Bousaina Ibrahim

For many South Sudanese immigrant families, Omaha has grown to be a home away from home. And for the youth that have grown up in the city, building community and honoring their roots has become their dedication. The ROSS Leaders organization is a testament to that.

The organization started in 2019, when founder Jacob Idra attended a boarding high school and was taken away from his community for the first time. Idra said being a minority in a learning space made him realize how important community was. From this experience, Idra felt inspired to create a community organization where young leaders could gather and provide opportunities for their generation.

“At the time, I had about 10 or 15 boys that I was coaching through basketball. There were different holes, like education, mentorship, and leadership that needed to be filled for them to be successful at the next level,” Idra said. “My hopes for making this organization were so we could stay together as a people, and expose these students to opportunities that could help them excel more than we had”.

At the foundation of the organization, Idra said there were three things he thought could bring the community together: education, wellness, and culture. The organization follows these components by providing the kids expansive learning opportunities, physical and mental wellness programs, and basketball programming. Idra said they want to make sure to keep the community close, and ensure their culture stays relevant and is celebrated.

“We do have a lot of trauma in our community. There hasn’t been a South Sudanesese generation that has lived in peace. So including those three things we thought could heal our community and bring us together and unite us,” Idra said.

Idra, along with other college students and mentors at the time, began collaborating to help mold future leaders in the South Sudanese community. Over time, the organization has rapidly grown across Nebraska, with chapters in both Lincoln and Omaha. Nyankoor Timothy is the Lincoln Chapter director, and ROSS also has a chapter in Manchester, New Hampshire run by Chapter Director Christina Bol.

At all sites, mentoring and entrepreneurship sessions are offered, an after-school club with career exploration and college prep, and tutoring as well. There is also an ongoing basketball program offered, which Idra said helps bring the kids together. Idra said there are also national events that combine the organization’s initiatives. In Omaha, a majority of their program takes place at their community partner’s site, Kaneko.

“We’re the South Sudanese community; so we have 20,000 people here in the state. That’s the largest population outside of South Sudan. We’ve been here since the late 80s and barely have something to show for it as a community. What we’re trying to do at ROSS is mold those future leaders who could create and establish a thriving South Sudanese community in the future, in Omaha”, said Idra.

ROSS Leaders hold the long-term goal of becoming transnational and creating a bridge between the South Sudanese community in Omaha and the South Sudanese community back in their homeland. Idra said he hopes they can learn from one another so they can continue to build their community in Omaha, other cities across the United States, and the children in South Sudan. Idra said he also dreams of a community center for South Sudanese people to gather, celebrate their culture, and grow and learn as a community.

ROSS Leaders is always looking for support from the wider Omaha community by attending their events, providing donations, or volunteering for their multiple initiatives. Visit rossleaders.com or follow them on instagram @rossleaders for more information on how to get involved.

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Pranjal Doorwar