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Fort Dodge man hopes to build connections

FORT DODGE — In navigating their way through life, too many people try to fend for themselves.

This is according to Zachariah Nuzum, of Fort Dodge, a student support mentor for Athletics for Education and Success.

“Too many people are out there trying to fend for themselves,” he told the Fort Dodge Messenger. “And then they fail and get mad. But they never reached out to anybody.”

One of Nuzum’s goals is to reach people where they are and help them before they feel like they have failed.

To achieve that goal and others, Nuzum has started a nonprofit called Building Community.

“Any successful person you name never got there by themselves,” said Nuzum, who was propelled into the public spotlight after delivering a last-minute speech during a candlelight vigil in June. The vigil was held during a time when racial tensions were high after a Black man named George Floyd was killed while in police custody in Minneapolis. The theme of Nuzum’s speech was one of peace.

That speech became a turning point for Nuzum’s focus.

“What set it off was the protests,” he said. “And after I spoke, there was a lot of people asking me, ‘What’s next?’ ‘What are we supposed to do?’ ‘You really think things can change?’

In terms of Nuzum’s nonprofit, his plan is to create a network — one built with the idea of educating and supporting each other.

“I am going to be the dot,” said Nuzum, a native of Toledo, Ohio. “I am going to take that trust and put you in the right place where people can help you.”

To start, Nuzum has been collecting signatures and contact information from interested Fort Dodge residents and business owners.

He plans to communicate with those people on a monthly basis to keep them informed on what’s happening in Fort Dodge or if someone needs specific help.

“Before it gets to a point where things explode, we can respond,” Nuzum said. “Someone just moved here, we will be the first ones to embrace them and help them get a solid foundation. Because families move here and get caught up with the negative so quick and then they want to leave on the first bad experience, ignoring all the good things Fort Dodge has to offer.”

He added, “It’s an organization ready to respond, not react. If there is another shooting, we will protest, but it will be structured. In unison our voice will be heard.”

Nuzum plans to host future events and classes. Events may have guest speakers or a specific topic.

Future classes or sessions that may be offered under the umbrella of Building Community include: leadership classes, social capital, a mentorship program, employment and financial literacy.

Nuzum said he would like the organization to be “purposeful, powerful and positive.”

One of the main purposes is to make meaningful connections.

“The goal is getting to know each other,” he said. “Be comfortable being uncomfortable. We are neighbors whether you like it or not.”

Nuzum moved to Fort Dodge when he was 17. He had worked at Yacht Club Trailers in Humboldt. When the building caught fire in late July, he sought an opportunity at AFES. Through AFES, he provides mentorship within the Fort Dodge Community School District, primarily at Duncombe Elementary School.

Nuzum said his demeanor and outlook has been inspired in part by Martin Luther King Jr., the famous civil rights leader from the 1950s and 1960s.

“There’s no way you can tell me racism is as bad now as it was in the ’60s’,” Nuzum said. “MLK knew who he was. He was a Black man who had purpose at a time when it wasn’t popular to be a Black man. What did he want? Change.

“With racism all around, hate all around, he was focused. He knew this outside noise would not distract him or change his dream. We are trying to change the world and not ourselves. Figure out what you want out of life and everything else is nonexistent. Finding out who you are. That’s what a mentorship program is.”

Through his experiences, Nuzum has seen multiple people in the community with various struggles.

Nuzum said the nonprofit will be a judgment-free environment.

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