OUR TEAM

The Faces of the Future

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WALTER CORTINA, 19 YEARS OLD

President and Co-Founder.

At 13, Walter became homeless after his mother was deported to Mexico, after his father was incarcerated and then deported when Walter was 7. He supported himself and his family beginning at 14 as a food service and car wash worker. At 15, Walter founded and led Venture Academy’s student Changemakers team over 2018-19 and later interned for Minneapolis Foundation CEO R.T. Rybak and co-keynoted the 2020 Teacher-Powered Schools National Conference. A Minneapolis native, his best friend was shot in the head and killed at age 17 in 2020. Walter’s story launching Bridgemakers is documented in Sam Seidel’s new book Hip-Hop Genius 2.0: Remixing High School Education. He is a graduating senior at the High School for Recording Arts charter in St. Paul.

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COLE STEVENS, 20 YEARS OLD

Chief Impact Officer and Co-Founder.

Cole Stevens, 20, Chief Impact Officer and Co-Founder.  Cole is a Minneapolis native, entrepreneur and biracial son of two artists, which taught him to enjoy and be a bridge between different cultures. In high school, Cole struggled with addiction and mental health challenges. Similar struggles took the life of his best friend while Cole was working to lift his family out of debt. After losing his job after the pandemic hit, Cole and Walter co-led the successful campaign to change MN’s discriminatory law.

 

CORE TEAM

The driving force behind everything we do, these young leaders are at the forefront of bridging America's toughest gaps and breaking cycles of miseducation, poverty and violence through our programs.

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NATASHA LOYA, 21 YEARS OLD

Resource and Support Director, Changemakers Program Lead

An Afro-Latina and Minneapolis native, Natasha grew up in a physically and mentally abusive home after her mother’s death at age 8. Her experiences built empathy and creativity. Natasha led Ramsey County health conversations to encourage youth vaccination and a panel on technology investment for Black communities, leads Changemakers’ 2021-22 pilot work and is responsible for supporting/improving youth participants’ experience.

JOSE PEREZ, 21 YEARS OLD

Youth Ambassador, Board Treasurer-Secretary

Jose is an R&B Artist and a first generation POLSCI student at St. Paul College. Born in the East side of St.Paul, raised by a single mother of two, Jose sees himself as a product of his immigrant mother’s American dream. His vision for the Twin Cities is why he’s an advocate for human-centered transformation of our education and economic systems.

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ESTEBAN CASTILLO, 20 YEARS OLD

Entrepreneur Fellowship Director

Esteban Castillo is a 2020 High school graduate, social entrepreneur, organizer and artist. He is a first generation immigrant. His father was an illegal immigrant while my mother was adopted by wealthy white parents. His father was born in Mexico and my mother was born in Colombia. His parent's very different lives and backgrounds have allowed him to connect with all walks of life.

TALIA MORENO, 20 YEARS OLD

Production Director

Talia Moreno is a 20 year old creator with skills and experience in graphic design, video editing, and illustration. She’s spent the last year building her brand Wildocity which includes custom embroidery, screen printed shirts, stickers, plushies, and laser-engraved water bottles. Talia developed these skills through Somos MN, a Latinx youth screen printing collective but has built a profitable brand off of her own dedication to her craft. At Bridgemakers, Talia ensures our work is promoted through curated media to the community.

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LINCOLN BACAL, 20 YEARS OLD

Youth Ambassador

Lincoln is an 18 year-old Minneapolis organizer seeking to redesign American public education through the empowerment of young people. She believes that education is the key to building an equitable world full of powerful activists, artists, and entrepreneurs. Lincoln works to ensure young people are decision-makers for every issue that impacts them through initiatives such as the Unemployment campaign, a Voice for Choice campaign that prevented a charter moratorium, and working as a youth leader in If Not Now, a Jewish anti-Occupation organization.

 

COACHES

Mentoring the Next Generation of Leadership

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HABEN GHEBREGERGISH

Youth Coach, Teacher at HSRA

Haben Ghebregergish is a Bridgemakers part-time Leadership Coach and has co-coached Bridgemakers’ Minnesota Young Champions team in 2020. Haben has mentored and supported hundreds of disadvantaged youth as a teacher, tutor, and advisor over the past decade. She is currently a lead math facilitator at the High School For Recording Arts in St. Paul, and previously taught high school math and coached debate in Detroit. Haben is completing her Master of Arts in Education at Hamline University and earned her B.A. from the University of Chicago. An alumnus of Teach For America, she is a member of Education Evolving’s statewide Policy Council.

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JON BACAL

Youth Coach

Jon is an experienced mentor, youth leadership coach, school founder and leader, social entrepreneur, and policy advocate committed to supporting the leadership and voice of marginalized young people. He started and directed Venture Academy and Hiawatha, two innovative Minneapolis charter schools, along with the Minneapolis School District’s new schools office and SchoolStart, where he helped start 30 other schools. Jon also was the education advisor to the mayor of St. Paul and taught history to Czech students who helped lead the Velvet Revolution of 1989. A fourth-generation Minnesotan, he is a graduate of Hopkins High School and Georgetown University.

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JUSTIN PINN

Youth Coach and Board Member

Justin Pinn serves as Director of Strategic Initiatives for Teach for America Miami-Dade. He is charged with inspiring and cultivating the leadership potential of TFA’s alumni towards critical leadership pathways that contribute to One Day in Miami-Dade. “Justin believes that his mission and calling in life is “to extend the ladder in which he climbs.” After obtaining his undergraduate degree from Georgetown University, Pinn, a first-generation college graduate, relocated to Miami, Florida as a Teach for America Corps Member, teaching secondary science at a local high school.  After teaching, Justin joined Breakthrough Miami as the Founding Director of two academies (STEM and Success). Breakthrough Miami serves over 1,350 scholars (fifth to twelfth grade) and his responsibility included introducing robotics, engineering, and coding to middle school students and college readiness and preparation for all of Breakthrough Miami's scholars. Justin serves as the Chairman of the City of Miami Community Advisory Board, which oversees a U.S. Department of Justice settlement agreement with the Miami Police Department. The initiative was developed due to the use of excessive force on and killings of largely unarmed black men during the years of 2008 to 2011. Mr. Pinn is also a board member of the following South Florida organizations: Engage Miami (Board Chair), Miami EdTech, The Nyah Project, and a founding board member for Cristo Rey Miami High School, which opened in fall of 2020.

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ERIN RAAB

Youth Coach

Erin Lynn Raab, Ph.D., is passionate about creating a more just, loving, world through a schooling system organized for human flourishing, democracy, and shared liberation.  An experienced coach and educator, she brings 20 years’ experience in nonprofit leadership and rich expertise in empowering pedagogy and education systems transformation. She is currently the Chief Strategy & Impact Officer at Choice-filled Lives Network, an organization that works to co-create a world in which every child, family, and community can live a choice-filled life. She is also the Co-Founder of REENVISIONED, a national movement of educators, policymakers, and nonprofit leaders working to collectively re-envision and redefine the purpose of school. Dr. Raab earned her Ph.D. from Stanford University’s Graduate School of Education.  She received her Master’s in Development Studies, cum laude, from the University of KwaZulu- Natal on a Rotary Ambassadorial Fellowship, and her BSBA from the Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis. You can find Erin asking and discussing beautiful questions on Medium and Twitter.

 

BOARD OF DIRECTORS

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DARIO OTERO

Board Chair

Dario’s vision for Youth Lens 360 came from his own experience as a child lost in a blind spot within the educational system. Youth Lens 360 is a content creation and facilitation company empowering youth as storytellers. Dario started Youth Lens 360 to work with youth ages 14 to 25 to create content, film live events and facilitate community conversations. Many students dive deep into storytelling skills they’ve never been exposed to before, exploring video production, voiceover work and facilitation. The experience allows teens and young adults to earn pay, hands on experience and entrepreneurial development. Youth Lens 360 clients include the Minnesota Department of Education, the Bush Foundation, Greater MSP and TechStars. As Youth Lens 360 grows to tell stories for businesses, schools, governmental agencies and policy makers, it has touched more than 5,000 Twin Cities students and counting.

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JUWARIA JAMA

Vice Chair

Juwaria Jama is an 18yr old youth organizer from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Juwaria grew up in North Minneapolis for the majority of their life and witnessed how air pollution and environmental inequities hurt the Heritage Park neighborhood. In Juwaria’s freshman year of high school they got involved in various youth climate justice movements and became the State Lead of the Minnesota Youth for Climate Justice in April of 2019. As apart of the largest youth climate organization in the state, Juwaria has helped mobilize over 10,000+ people to strike at the State Capitol for the Global September Climate Strike in 2019. Aside from climate justice organizing, Juwaria is the congressional district 5 chair of the Minnesota Youth Council, serves on the Youth Board for Youth Undoing Institutional Racism, youth Board member on the Coordinating Committee for Mn 350 and most recently a youth ambassador and Vice Chair of the board at Bridgemakers. When Juwaria is not organizing, you can find them spending time writing and performing spoken word poetry.

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BOB WEDL

Board Member

Bob Wedl served as Minnesota’s Commissioner of Education from 1996-1999 in the administration of Governor Arne Carlson and led the development of learning standards, a state accountability system, revising Minnesota’s desegregation policy and expanding the chartered schools sector.  Bob has a long history in Minnesota with redesign and innovation in education. As deputy commissioner in the administration of Governor Rudy Perpich, he coordinated the Governor’s plan for open enrollment, post-secondary enrollment options (PSEO) and area learning centers. Bob also served as the first director of the nationally renowned MN Reading Corps.  As the founding director of Innovative Quality Schools, he oversaw the development and growth of new school models. His work as a partner with Education Evolving continued his innovative spirit as did serving as an adjunct professor at three universities. He currently serves on multiple boards, including People for Post-secondary Enrollment Options (PPSEO) and is also a co-facilitator of the 30-member MN “Superintendents Innovation Discussion Group.”

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JOSE PEREZ

Treasurer-Secretary

(Bio Above)

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APRIL RIORDAN

Board Member

April Riordan is a connector, an innovator, and a futures thinker who enjoys imagining new futures, designing solutions, and tackling complex problems with curiosity, creativity and hope. A nonprofit leader with nearly 25 years of experience in youth development and mentoring, housing, community development and social justice, April is currently an independent consultant with a wide-range of mission-driven organizations providing support for strategy, program design and evaluation, and social justice training and facilitation, while also pursuing a Master’s in Organizational Leadership from St. Catherine’s University.