Building a healthy community

Dominika Kouassi is an exceptional Nebraska youth who is making a real difference. The 20 Under 20 Nebraska award winner is the first US-born child of Togolese immigrant parents, and she sees herself as part of a larger community. Deeply involved in her Marian High School community in both leadership and performing arts, Kouassi also gives back to her Omaha community through her Midlands African Chamber internship and by participating in Creighton University’s Summer Research Institute (SRI).

Edge: What part of the Creighton University’s Summer Research Institute experience stood out to you?

Kouassi: What stood out was seeing the health disparity of colon cancer in African Americans within the Omaha community. I knew colon cancer affected African Americans more than any other race, however, I never stopped to think about how that affects the community around me. Being able to be a part of spreading research-based awareness for this issue was very meaningful to me. I also enjoyed the volunteer work I did. During the SRI program, I volunteered with one of my mentors, La’Trese Rideout, at “A Mothers Love,” in which I helped fold baby clothes and organize diapers to give back to mothers in the Omaha community.

Edge: What do you enjoy about your internship with Midlands African Chamber? How does it connect with your creed, “representation matters?”

Kouassi: I get to listen to new perspectives. I go to a lot of networking events, which exposes me to new people and influencers in the community. I get to soak up a lot of information and advice I can take to my future. This connects to “representation matters” because I will use the valuable information I learn there to be a leader in my community and among my peers. I think the issue with my generation today is that we often wait for representation, however, something I learned beginning my freshman year is that sometimes you have to be the representation in places where it lacks.

Edge: As a child of Togolese immigrant parents, how does your family influence the way you view community?

Kouassi: My parents taught me that my community is my family. Many of my aunts and uncles (my mom and dad’s friends) immigrated to America around the same time. I grew up with their children and call them my cousins, even though they are really family friends. The Togolese immigrants built their lives from the ground up in America, and they all went through a common struggle. Seeing that as a kid and understanding that as a teenager has shaped my sense of community.  

Edge: Who inspires you?

Kouassi: My mother inspires me. Coming from a small village in Africa, she left her home to study in the United States. After years of hard work and study, she became a lawyer and practices law at her own law firm 402 Legal. On top of that, she is also the CEO and founder of the Midlands African Chamber. As a first generation American in my family, there is a lot of pressure on me to succeed. However, because of my mother, I know success is not unattainable. If she succeeded and continues to do so, then so can I. 

Edge: What activities do you participate in at Marian?

Kouassi: Show choir has been the driving force in becoming who I am today. It has allowed me to not only grow in my talents but also my self-confidence and how I carry myself in my daily life. I also have done every fall musical and spring play production since my sophomore year. On top of that, I have been in choir since freshman year, and this year I am in Honors Select Women’s Choir as the Soprano 2 section leader. Outside of the arts, I am involved in Marian Student Board, Campus Ministry, Health Occupations Students of America team, Science Olympiad team, and journalism. 

Edge: What do you enjoy doing in your downtime? 

Kouassi: In my downtime, I like to sleep. Most of my extracurriculars run into the late night or require early mornings, so when I do have free time, sleep is my number one priority. I also like to read, whether it’s required for class or a book I picked up on my own.

Edge: Where do you see yourself in the future?

Kouassi: I see myself studying medicine to become a pediatrician, but I’d also like to minor in public health administration and journalism. And if I had the time, I would like to make music or still participate in some choral activity.

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