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Positively, no negativity: Nick Hernandez


 

Positively, no negativity: Nick Hernandez

©by Leo Adam Biga

Appearing in the July 5, 2018 issue of El Perico (el-perico.com)

Some call it bliss. Others, serenity. For Nick Hernandez of Lincoln, Nebraska, the study and practice of positive psychology is both way of life and career.

The 41-year-old couldn’t have imagined this two decades ago. Back then, the Olathe, Kansas native was a married post-graduate student who looked at people and life critically. Now he’s co-founder and evangelist for an organization called Posiivity Matters, He hosts Community Matters on KZUM 89.3 FM, conducts coaching-team building workshops, makes presentations and organizes activities – all around the notion that individuals and communities thrive when engaged in nurturing activities.

He’s convened regional and citywide summits (Happiness Lincoln) and contributed to events (Cameron Effect and Seeds of Kindness) on the subject.

Before finding his niche, he got divorced and entered recovery for a problem drinking habit. The seeds of his “community-building” were planted earlier through Hispanic leadership opportunity and Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership programs he completed in Kansas City, Missouri.

He earned a bachelor’s degree from liberal arts Benedictine College in Atchison, Kansas and did graduate studies in economics at the University of Texas at Austin.

When he lost his job as an economist with the Texas Department of Labor, he found a matching job with the Nebraska Department of Labor in 2002. When his unit took the Gallup organization’s Strengths Finder test, he learned a new way of thinking and being. “It was a very meaningful experience,” he said. “I then  discovered there is a field called positive psychology.” In reading up on it, he became convinced he found the holistic pathway he’d been missing.

“It was a shift in mindset. I had a real critical mindset that wasn’t focused on strengths before. It opened up new territory for how how I saw myself and others.”

Newly aware he was by nature and nurture a convener, a leader, an affirmer and an appreciator, he embraced “hooking up with good in ourselves” and became “an encourager for others to grow into potential you see in them that they may not be aware of.”

“I found it really fulfilling to be in that role for others.”

Meanwhile, he sounded out experts who further encouraged his interest in the philosophy and science of positive psychology, well-being and human flourishing.

“That deepened my sense that maybe I’m onto something here.”

He then broadened his reach of influence.

“I started getting involved more in the community.”Nick

Nick Hernandez

 

Upon completing the Great Neighborhoods program offered by Neighbor Works Lincoln, he said, “I found myself feeling a sense of purpose to see if it could be put into action at the neighborhood association level.”

In 2007 he restarted the dormant Havelock Neighborhood Association and revived its fall festival.

“It was quite an enriching experience to create an occasion for people from different places in the neighborhood to get together. I enjoy coming up with activities that make mindfulness fun and accessible.”

He helped lead kindness campaigns in Lincoln that inspired participation by adults and youth.

“Kindness hopefully has a double effect. The stories we tell ourselves when we volunteer or do random acts of kindness are self-affirming. We think, ‘I’m the kind of person that practices generosity, kindness and compassion.’ That alters the story of who we are in our identity.’

Hernandez’s journey has been far more than academic.

“It was spurred by my own experiences in recovery and then getting involved in service work. What I found eventually was a profound sense of fulfillment by volunteering to take a recovery meeting into the Lancaster County adult detention center.

“That’s where I really felt I started taking this idea of practicing generosity as a way of life and really committed myself to doing it in a systematic way.”

His recovery has paralleled his well-being quest.

“Once I got into recovery I realized I felt a deep sense of loneliness. I know there were people around me who loved and cared for me, but for some reason I wasn’t letting it connect. Through being in recovery and getting in service, I finally felt that sense of connectedness.”

Since humans are genetically wired to be on high alert, he said, we must consciously choose positive thoughts. He’s convinced our basic desire and need for well-being is achieved “when we’re able to share our sense of self, our core ideas with others in a positive relationship, whether friendship or romantic, who really care about us growing into that.”

“That’s the direction I’m trying to take this habit of kindness and generosity. I am exploring if this can be something fostered through small group conversation grounded in the philosophy and science of well-being.”

He’s long organized discussion groups promoting positive psychology research and the benefits of practicing mindfulness. His 2015 Happiness Lincoln summit at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln featured scholars on the 15th anniversary of America’s first national positive psychology conference held in Lincoln, a community that ranks high in well-being measures.

His Community Matters radio show facilitates discussions with well-being experts from around world, including a recent guest he Skyped-in from Israel.

On May 20 he organized a community conversation on collaboration at Lincoln’s Constellation Studios with fiber artist Karen Kunc, a philosophy professor and a public health advocate.

His speaking, coaching, team building doesn’t pay all the bills, thus he makes money other ways, including teaching social dance – swing, salsa, tango, ballroom.

“That’s personally an extremely fun, positive psychology intervention – cognitive, social, physical well-being all in one.”

He’s now actively pursuing work in the human resources field.

Follow him on Facebook and YouTube. His show broadcasts Mondays from 11:30 a.m. to Noon and streams at http://kzum.org.

Read more of Leo Adam Biga’s work at leoadambiga.com.

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Sculptor Benjamin Victor gives shape to Ponca Chief Standing Bear’s enduring voice

May 1, 2018 1 comment

Sculptor Benjamin Victor gives shape to Ponca Chief Standing Bear’s enduring voice

 

©Story by Leo Adam Biga

©Photography by Sarah Lemke

Appearing in the May’June 2018 issue of Omaha Magazine (http://omahamagazine.com)

 

In creating the larger-than-life likeness of Chief Standing Bear for the Nebraska state capitol’s Centennial Mall, sculptor Benjamin Victor felt communion with the late Native American icon. Victor was “captivated” by the principled ways of the Ponca leader, whose eloquent advocacy for his people led to a historic federal court ruling at Fort Omaha that declared the nation’s indigenous peoples to be legally “human” for the first time on May 12, 1879.

“He was a true servant-leader,” Victor says of his subject. “The things he wanted were very basic, inalienable human rights everyone should be afforded. He carried himself with dignity even through demeaning treatment. He had a higher moral code of ethics during a time when the laws were not moral. He had the courage to stand up for right through many injustices.”

Based in Idaho, the Boise State University professor and resident artist felt connected to Standing Bear through every stage of his artistic process—from preparatory research into the famous Nebraskan, through molding his clay form, to casting the Ponca leader in bronze.

“His story and spirit definitely were speaking to me,” Victor says. “As an artist, you try to get that voice through your artwork to speak to viewers who see it. I felt humbled to be working on it. In the sculpture itself, I tried to keep the spirit of Standing Bear alive as much as I tried for an accurate portrait. An accurate portrait is important, but to me a spiritual portrait is just as important. I hope it really inspires other people to study his life. If my work does that, then it’s a success.”

The Nebraska Commission on Indian Affairs and Donald Miller Campbell Family Foundation commissioned the 11-foot-tall sculpture, unveiled Oct. 15, 2017. Then, over the winter, a pair of Nebraska state senators (including Sen. Burke Harr of Omaha) introduced a bill to replace the state’s two sculptures—of J. Sterling Morton and William Jennings Bryan—in the U.S. Capitol’s National Statuary Hall with those of Willa Cather and Standing Bear. A donor, Donald Miller Campbell, pledged funds for a copy to be made of Victor’s Standing Bear work.

“To have him as a towering icon in the U.S. Capitol would be important. His story should be on the national scale. He should be known in every school,” Victor says.

The artist already has two works in the Hall. One is of Northern Paiute activist Sarah Winnemucca on behalf of the state of Nevada. Anything Native holds profound meaning for Victor, as his late step-grandfather was a member of the Juaneño—a coastal California tribe engulfed by Spanish missions.
“It’s always a big deal to me whenever I do a Native American piece that it’s done right and with purpose. I always think of my grandpa when I do them. He liked the images I created of Native Americans with a strong stance and with dignity. That really meant a lot to him. If he’s looking down, he’s really proud of this one.”

Victor’s second sculpture in the U.S. Capitol represents Iowa—Norman Borlaug, the father of modern agriculture’s “Green Revolution.”

Working from photos, Victor “modified” Standing Bear’s pose “to capture a hint of motion,” as if the chief were moving forward slightly. In an attempt to “capture every detail,” he created folds and the look of heaviness in the blanket draped about his subject. Ornamental details included intricate beadwork, a bear claw necklace, and peace medals. Victor symbolized the chief’s dual roles as warrior and ambassador by having him holding an ax-peace pipe.

The bronze is positioned in front of a wall carved with the eloquent words of Standing Bear on trial (as translated by Omaha Native Susette “Bright Eyes” LaFlesche): “That hand is not the color of yours, but if I pierce it, I shall feel pain. If you pierce your hand, you also feel pain. The blood that will flow from mine will be the same color as yours. I am a man. The same God made us both.”

The project selection committee for the state capitol’s Centennial Mall learned about Victor from George Neubert (director of the Flatwater Folk Art Museum in Brownville, Nebraska), who befriended the artist when he did a commission for Peru State College, where his bronze of a hulking football player adorns the Oak Bowl.

Although Victor originally hails from California, he developed deep roots in the Great Plains while attending Northern State University in Aberdeen, South Dakota, where he discovered his love of sculpture.

“When I picked up clay the first time in college, the medium just clicked for me,” he says. “I felt like the concepts I was trying to get across were very readily expressed in sculpture. I really like the physicality of sculpture, how you move the clay with your hands and manipulate it. I like everything about it. I also work in marble—so I do the subtractive process of carving, the additive process of clay work, and the replacement process of bronze.”

He was still in school when he landed his first big commission—for the Aberdeen airport.

“I had a family to support,” he says. “I worked at the YMCA part-time, took odd jobs, and went to school full time. I was on food stamps and rental assistance. We had nothing. To get the commission was really amazing because you can struggle your whole life as an artist and never get a commission like that.”

Soon thereafter came the Winnemucca project. Demand for his work has never ceased.

“I never thought I’d get the opportunity to make it on my own in my dream field and career,” he says. “It’s a true American success story. I still don’t take it for granted. Every day I get to do this, I feel very blessed. And then to do something inspiring like Standing Bear. What a dream commission to commemorate him and everything he stood for.”

Upon graduating, Victor was a Northern State teacher and resident artist before Boise State courted him.

“They gave me a beautiful studio space and gallery. It’s been a great home,” he says, adding that he maintains close ties with his former colleagues in South Dakota. “I’ve got so many friends there that are just like family.”

Back at his Boise studio, his studio life intersects with students, patrons, and his three children. Meanwhile, he continues to always keep his ears open to the spirits of his subjects.

Visit benjaminvictor.com for more information.

This article was printed in the May/June 2018 edition of Omaha Magazine.

 

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