ECC 2020 Reconnect: What Are Quynh-Mai, Andy and Raie Up To?

Emerging City Champions (ECC) is a fellowship program led by 8 80 Cities. ECC provides young civic innovators with leadership training and $5,000 in seed funding to launch transformative projects to enhance public space, urban mobility or civic engagement in their city.

This year’s fellowship has overcome more over the last six months than any other over the past six years. In early 2020, the UN recognized COVID-19 as a worldwide pandemic. This shift in how we organized and operated changed dramatically. By the time we virtually met our 20 young leaders from across the United States, we already knew this situation, the world’s situation would create a lifetime bond for all of us.

We are happy to share their achievements in their first six months of implementing their projects. Despite the challenges of the times we are living in, they have strived to continue pushing forward. This is a testament to their endurance. We are so proud of their accomplishments.

ECC is powered by 8 80 Cities and supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. Visit for more.

Woman Takeover
San José, CA

Quynh-Mai Nguyen is a social practice artist, community organizer, and Creative Director from Art Builds Community, a women-led public art consulting, planning, and policy firm based in San José, CA.

Her ECC project, Woman Takeover, is an online artist-in-residence (AIR) program within Womanhood, a art-centered recognition project that will explore ways to honor women across all intersectional identities to the region of San José, the Santa Clara County region, and beyond. The Woman Takeover AIR program will partner with art and community organizations and businesses across the County to host AIR programs that will commission artists of diverse disciplines to create recognition artwork to recognize historical women, groups, and places. Recognition art that is created through the Woman Takover AIR program will be presented in the online Womanhood Database, a permanent archive of women’s stories that can be used as a curriculum, for research, and as a resource for artists.

“The pandemic has drastically changed the ways in how we engage with one another. We no longer have an office where we can productively and efficiently work together. Also as public art consultants, we rely on meeting people where they are at with community engagement pop-ups and in-person feedback engagement sessions. Now everything is online and not everybody has access to the internet or a computer”, says Quynh-Mai while reflecting on the implementation of her project.

One of the challenges for this project has been moving the needle with reaching certain milestones, especially with getting started. Since this pilot project is a program within the bigger County initiative, it is challenging to communicate with the county and make this project a priority item because they have been spread out to support the County’s emergency operation efforts.

It’s been challenging to keep momentum and energy up. They continue to do the work but it doesn’t seem to be moving forward and it’s challenging to plan when there is the uncertainty of the pandemic.

Despite the difficulties, there have been successes:

    • Secured participation and support from a number of interested partners.
    • Many grant applications submitted.
    •  Soft-launched the overall program in March in celebration of Women’s Month.

Starting in March, the project has been holding a number of community engagement sessions and workshops tailored to artists, groups, arts and cultural organizations, and businesses across the County to solicit feedback on these questions:

    • What does recognition in art look like as we consider issues of gender equity and cultural representation?
    • Who should we recognize in public spaces?
    • What is public space?
    • How should we recognize women in our public spaces?
    • Where should we recognize them?

Quynh-Mai’s team will also hold mapping workshops to prepare for their Womanhood mapping campaign to ask for community members to help to identify and pin down existing recognition art and sites and new possible locations for recognition art and sites.

“I will be piloting the artist residency with creating visual portraits of regional women who have made major contributions to the region”, shares Nguyen.

To learn more about Woman Takeover, visit their website and social media channels: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

Andy  René Tran
SJ Storyboard
San José, CA

Andy resides in San José California. He considers himself a social anthropologist and art entrepreneur. His work spans joy innovation and creation in the Silicon Valley, a Moderator of +200k communities on Reddit during its infancy days – now spanning a decade, a toured musician, and a film-maker/photographer.

“The decline in Mental health is a hidden epidemic for Americans, especially during these times. I strongly believe in investing in outreach and initiatives that support shared joy and growth narratives. I think compassion is a powerful teaching tool. Stories have the ability to bridge and connect with isolated communities or individuals. 

Silicon Valley is home to some of the most diverse and innovative-thinking people. I believe if we worked together and are aware of how we can all contribute, truly profound and transformative things can happen for underserved communities and the youth. In this city, we’re Artists, Educators, and Entrepreneurs, what is a better time to be bold in our efforts?”

Since the Pandemic, Andy has been heavily invested in San José Storyboard, his ECC project, and The Storyboard Fund. 

San José Storyboard builds a social hub infrastructure towards digital storytelling and immersive experiences in public spaces. Their Digital Storyboards or “Large Storefront Glass Windows converted into 4k projection canvases” provide public storytelling spaces at key street locations in downtown San Jose. “We build it and allow radically kind and bold community leaders and organizations to do their thing, to share their genuine stories and to create a bridge with the community. There’s magic everywhere. I’ve seen it and I’m sure you all have seen it as well. It’s unconditional love, passion, and giving towards others. I’m quite fortunate to have met individuals and organizations who exude that in their efforts.

To date, we have helped contribute to the storytelling efforts of San José Jazz – Jazz Aid Fund, San José State University’s Wall of Song Project, The Culture Night Market for underserved communities, and many family-owned businesses that struggled throughout this time— my dear friends at Culinary Corner Kitchen, Chef Hung and his Family”.

The biggest challenge this far was being emotionally stable while juggling vastly different roles. Being a son and caretaker for his mom, keeping a company afloat as the creative and business director, being there for his friends as they go through traumatic experiences, and also discovering himself as a person. “I realize at heart, I’m still just a kid navigating life. It’s all very emotionally draining and I found myself to be a lot more neurotic and volatile -distrust, paranoia, and short-term thinking were prevalent- it seeped into many areas of my other life. I think it’s human nature… I thought I was all zen but apparently not so much”.

“Ultimately, I found peace throughout the madness— the insanity wasn’t going anywhere, I just needed to manage it and navigate the waters better. Failing fast, learning faster, and moving forward were essential during the last 12 months. Being at peace with whatever outcome and letting painful things go (meditation and mindfulness helped)”, tells Andy.

He couldn’t afford to sit there and to do nothing. “The negativity was just going to eat me alive, while others were suffering. I needed to be better for the sake of others and myself. There was a stoic paradigm shift. I just winged it for 12 months”.

The Successes in Andy’s words

Storyboard at San Jose Jazz

Creating a Storyboard Hub and Video Wall at San Jose Jazz. They are OG’s who just know what they’re doing- their youth programs and festivals are an inspiration. Music is truly transformative, thought-provoking, and has the ability to bring people together. I’m absolutely humbled and grateful to learn and collaborate with these amazing individuals. One of the earliest and joyful memories downtown was at their jazz festival a few years before the pandemic— it was a beautiful sight to behold, entire streets filled with music and good times. That was the San Jose I remembered and stayed for.


Storyboard at Culinary Corner Bistro

Was our first pilot location. Lots of great memories were had. When the streets were absolutely empty and dead, I remember just showing Michael Jackson’s Black or White Video and Prince during the BLM protests just to get people to cheer up. Did it make sense? Probably not, but it was great. Firefighters would pull up and cop cars would ride up to vibe with the boards. Often times I thought I was going to get arrested— but it comes to show, what energy you put out there,  returns or connects back. Over time we showed a lot of what went on downtown— from local musicians to local businesses who put their hearts out on the screen. To be seen and heard is a gift we wanted to give to everyone.

It’s hard to write this, as my friends… Chef Hung and Family had to close the kitchen and business permanently. I’m thankful to have met such great people accomplishing such great feats to keep their kitchen running and providing for their families through a pandemic.

One of the last films we showed was Noah and the Arkitek and their release before the pandemic “SOUL FIRE”. Those final nights as the song played late into the evening, just encapsulated a lot of what was went through for a lot of people.

Noah and the Arkiteks

Storyboard at Culture Night Market

Over 20 underserved Vendors and 400 visitors per day. We’re thrilled to support a young innovator in Brandon of EMLN Podcast. We strongly believe in building connections and shared opportunities with underserved communities, especially our youth.

Wall of Song with SJSU

I think the message they are creating is phenomenally positive and a great thing for women in sports or in anything really! I’m proud to be an Alumni of a school that supports young students in their efforts to make their own place in the world.

In the next five months, Andy will further build upon the Storyboard Fund, which raises funds to support different stories and projects in San Jose. They are emphasizing projects in Music, Cinema, Art, and local entrepreneurship towards social good or underserved communities, and will be building out immersive digital environments, which will include interactive sets, data science art, augmented reality, and 3d projection mapping.

Storyboard Sessions: Public Music, Art and Storytelling / Early Pandemic Teasers:

Kiva – Music 

Sally – Ballet / Modern

Leila – Artist

Follow Andy’s progress on the project’s website, and on Instagram 



Andy’s note of gratitude

Much gratitude to the fellow champions and mentors at 8 80 Cities and Knight Foundation. The amount of love and care you all put into your work is inspirational. I don’t feel as alone.

To my dear friends Patron and Tony, without their sacrifices and relentless efforts and visions to push the arts and entrepreneurship in San Jose, we would not have gotten to this point today. They were always hurting but never gave up on their friends. They took the punches for the team.


Raie Gassesse
Making Power Moves: Young Women’s Political Leadership Training Program
SAit Paul, MN

Raie Gessesse is a fierce leader with 7+ years of experience in organizing her community to build power for young women and especially young women of color. At only 18 years old, Raie was appointed by former Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton to serve as a Cabinet Member on the nation’s first-ever Young Women’s Cabinet. This has given Raie the opportunity to elevate the voices of hundreds of young women across the state and has impacted laws and policy along all levels of governance. Raie has helped lead and support campaigns to expand career opportunities for women of color, increase the representation of teachers of color across the state, and has written and introduce a bill to establish paid internship opportunities for young women in government, business, philanthropy, and non-profit. In 2019, she was awarded the national Truman Scholarship for her commitment to public service and graduated with highest honors and Phi Beta Kappa the following year.

Currently, Raie is the Midwest Program Manager for IGNITE National, one of the country’s largest young women’s political organizations dedicated to building a movement of young women who are ready and eager to be the next generation of political leaders. In her role, she has expanded IGNITE’s presence across the region, expanded the Midwest’s political professional network, and trained hundreds of young women on becoming civically engaged.

Raie’s ECC project Making Power Moves: Young Women’s Political Leadership Training Program is a project that will convene 15-20 young women over an 8-week period in an immersive cohort-based fellowship. Within a condensed 2-3 hour session held each week, Raie’s goal is to build strong relationships between members and will feature training that revolves around political literacy in addition to various degrees of personal development training that will help activate public leadership. Raie’s project is aimed at sharpening the knowledge of young women within the areas of politics and government while preparing them with skill sets needed to leverage their personal experiences for elected office. The fellowship experience will seamlessly blend training sessions that build on the personal narratives, personal brands, and leadership skills of these women in order to elevate their collective ability to shape their political environments. This will be a transformative opportunity to equip young women in activating their political power and help organize towards a long-lasting systemic change in Saint Paul.

Over the past six months, COVID-19 has greatly adjusted Raie’s execution of her project. In its inception, Raie originally planned to have the fellowship over a 6-month period. However, upon reflection, she realized that the program would be more effective if it was on a condensed timeline in order to allow for the most amount of people to participate in the engagement process. Raie has also found 2020 to be an extremely difficult year and one of the hardest years she has ever experienced. Managing the project, being adaptive, and trying to create an engaging/interactive program despite the conditions that everyone is still collectively under has been a difficult adjustment for her. She has also noted that its been very common for her group to take part in a meeting only to have a debrief and destress session around the events happening in the world. Nevertheless, Raie and her group have used their dismay & anger to continue to fuel a desire for greater representation of young women in public leadership.

Struggles aside, Raie has been able to overcome her obstacles. She has already managed to convene a group of 5 young women and has engaged them through a series of events, programs, and networking opportunities. In February, the group hosted their first-ever Young Women’s Day at the Capitol which brought in 11 state lawmakers to talk about important issues relating to young women. Raie has also received a grant from the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota as a WFMN Innovator that will allow her to expand the reach of her programming and engagement over the course of the year. She has also been selected as a 2021 New Leaders Council Twin Cities fellow which is one of the nation’s premier training programs for progressive leaders. As part of her end-of-year capstone project, she has proposed to transform her ECC project into a non-profit or consulting agency with a goal to draft a business plan by the end of the year.

Over the next 5 months, Raie will be working hard to accomplish her goals. Starting in mid-March, she will officially be launching her 8-week program with the goal of having 15 young women participate in her program over the course of the fellowship. She will also be inviting elected officials from Saint Paul and other important figures in the public service sector to talk about the importance of civic leadership. Finally, Raie will continue to engage and mentor the young women she convened with earlier in the year with continued support in leadership & political training.

Follow Raie on Instagram @raie_gg

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