• 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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  • Nielsen Studios Inc

American Faces No. 67

What does hope, healing, and the face of determination look like? It looks like Abigail Nielsen my American Faces #67 subject. She appeared earlier in my series during the onset of the Covid lockdown. She appears again now not because she is my daughter, but because she has endured one of the hardest trials of her young twenty-something life. She has endured divorce and dismay in 2021. Oh, but that is just the beginning of the story! It just gets better. I have watched her navigate this unwanted path with a determination that often leaves me, as her dad, breathless. She has taken so many steps forward with grace when there are tears in her eyes and the unknown is all she sees in front of her. Abigail finds peace these days in that unknown, her family, her calico cat Gertrude, and in a reborn and growing trust in her Savior. Sanctuary is also found in the apartment she has etched out in the loft of my studio as of late July, 2021. The apartment is genuinely her and quaintly appointed to reflect her clean, simple decorating style. The excruciating changes in her life rekindled a passion for adventure and an excitement to reclaim those joy-inducing loves that life had forced to be put on hold. There are so many smiles of even joy on her face. She carries a love for her fellow human that is palpable as you look into her eyes. Her heart may have weathered a battering and gained some battle scars, but that doesn’t stop her from caring for others who navigate a similar path. If you asked her, she would tell you her capacity to love, empathize and encourage has only increased.

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Letting go of what lies behind is never easy, but pressing on without malice for the one who hurt her has brought her incomparable freedom. Maybe it is how she embraces the unknown that truly is remarkable. Abigail and my son Isaac will be embarking on a multiple month adventure to the south and west, navigating lands in a 2011 Honda Pilot and sleeping in the comforts of an A-liner camper. They call themselves the Daring Dawdlers.

This journey will help her say goodbye to 2021 and all it handed her and say hello to 2022, the year of the Grand Unknown.

There were three phrases I said to Abigail when divorce was thrust upon her. I believe we all need to believe these:

You are Loved. You are cherished. You are worthy to be loved.

My hope is that as you read about Abigail’s journey you see a woman defined not by divorce, but as one who emerged from heartbreak with grace, joy, continuously-increasing faith, and an unshakeable identity in Christ.

Here are a few links to check out:

Hope Reclaimed

The Daring Dawdlers:

Website: The Daring Dawdlers

IG @daring_dawdlers


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