• Nielsen Studios Inc

American Faces #70

It's often said that we are a product of our surroundings. I know someone who blows that theory to pieces. Enter Johan Gjenvick American Faces No. 70. Before he was 18 he moved 20+ times within the state of Minnesota due to a difficult home life brought on by alcohol and a fractured family dynamic. Later in his teen years, his older sister took him in and did her best to provide the young man as much stability as she could.

Sitting next to Johan now, you might find it hard to believe what he went through in those early years. To see him now, a dashing smile, an honest demeanor and an incredible heart to help others. Those kinds of traits don’t just develop by accident. Those traits were planted and nurtured by people who poured themselves into Johan – some when he was young, but others as he matured into the man and father he is today.

This man doesn’t let his past define him. He chooses to provide a stable home and a solid marriage, and strives to be an involved dad to four awesome kids. He also pours himself into the lives of others in his business life as a financial advisor and mentor whenever he can.

I am amazed by people like Johan who aren’t defined by their past but define what the future of their lives are by being the change that is needed in their family story.

I like to close each American Faces story with a challenge. I’ll end this one with this: Go be a mentor, or a friend. Give a smile and an encouraging word to someone who needs it.

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  • Nielsen Studios Inc

American Faces #69

The infectious smile and engaging enthusiasm of my American Faces #69 subject, Keith Anderson, is what caught my eye. But that is not the end of the story, nor is it actually the beginning. I first saw this incredible drummer bring songs to life with his vibrant personality and ridiculous drumming skills at a concert of my friend, Joel Hanson.

A little background on Joel: he is the worship leader at Church of the Open Door in Maple Grove, MN. In his former life Joel was the front man for a Christian rock band that had chart-topping hits in the early 90’s. So enough on Joel.

Let me get to the real story. Keith’s is the story of a man who has had friends like Joel walk alongside him as his life was being rebuilt. Success and strife often walk hand in hand, and that is what Keith went through. He was behind the making of Risen Drums, which was a custom drum maker here in Minnesota. Risen Drums created sets for Christian bands like Needtobreathe, Toby Mac, Audio Adrenaline, as well as mainstream music artists Sara Bareilles and Kelly Clarkson.

Keith’s rise in the drum making business was fast. But behind the scenes of that rapid rise Keith faced trials he was not prepared for. The fast growth was hard on him personally. He was battered by the storms in his life that came in the wake of Risen Drums’ rapid growth, so he sold the company. Keith leaned towards me when he shared how much it meant to have Joel and others walk through these storms with him. They didn’t walk away when it got tough. In fact, they pushed through the storm to help Keith find restoration, healing and perspective.

This is really the lesson to Keith’s story: We are made better by others, and our stories are never over. Keith’s story isn’t over. He’s a man whose heart is turned towards his family, cherished by friends and as he puts it, “I have the best seat in the house” when he brings music to life through the insane gift he has for drumming. You can see this man is where he belongs. Keith’s infectious enthusiasm has only grown in strength and sincerity through hardship. Keith, you truly are a gift to this world.

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  • Nielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 68

American Faces #68 might well be the epitome of what the American Faces series is about. Peter Oyebanji is a Nigerian-born Minnesotan and a student at Iowa State University studying Mechanical Engineering. He came to Minnesota over a decade ago by way of Cameroon where he, his sister and his mother began their journey towards the American dream. His father sent them off with hopes for a new life while he remained home in Nigeria where he still faithfully serves in the country’s Air Force. What this family has sacrificed to build a life here in the States is awe-inspiring. Especially when I think about the relative simplicity of living my entire life in one geographic region.

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While working as a model for me on a recent photoshoot for Zubaz (art directed by Randy Hatanpa, overseen by Jill O’ Flannagan, with make-up/wardrobe styling by Tracey Tischler), Peter became a quick friend to all on set and humbly shared a bit of his life with us. While I might have thought his Nigerian roots would have led him to a warmer climate, Peter has fully embraced being a Minnesotan, and is an all-around amazing guy. He said before embarking on his collegiate journey, he was a high school wrestler, in the National Honor Society, the Key Club (community volunteering) and part of a group called Pack of Friends that shares life with people with special needs.

As I look back through this series, each one of my subjects really redefines the American experience to me. I consider my story about Peter, and it makes me realize that while race, place and a whole host of other things can create division, when we strip all that stuff away and look at our common humanity, we find a deep connection with one another. We are humanity. Peter, you are what American Faces is all about!

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