Bryna Cortes

Bryna Antonia Cortes (she/they) is a civic engagement and community organizer dedicated to the empowerment of immigrant, refugee, and historically underserved communities. Prior to joining NUF’s 2023 cohort, Cortes worked in Community Development as the Pacific Islander and Asian Community and Civic Engagement Coordinator at the Immigrant and Refugee Community Organization (IRCO). Cortes was the main lead for IRCO’s Diversity and Civic Leadership program, Engage, a 6-month cohort training with an intersectional and social justice lens to build up immigrant and refugee leaders. This position offered Cortes a plethora of experiences in creative and multifaceted projects, unique to emerging and existing community needs, including organizing a 6-part series for Disability Justice. Passionate about youth empowerment and the importance of building intergenerational connections, Cortes coordinated an Asian youth leadership council, and co-created a Pacific Islander youth leadership council, connecting youth to civic and cultural community leaders and opportunities. During the 2020 Census, Cortes managed a multilingual call center and outreach team that connected with over 1,250 households. Census outreach focused on empowering community to connect internally and education reached beyond the Census, into engagement on redistricting processes and data equity.  

Prior to IRCO, Cortes worked and lived in San Juan Comalapa, Guatemala as the Outreach Specialist for Long Way Home, a green building school responding to cycles of poverty and the waste crisis by building a local workforce and prioritizing an education-based model in international engagement. The importance of capacity building and holistic community engagement was significantly impressed on Cortes in their role as a Development Assistant at The International School, a K-5, language immersion school where they supported in management of a $3.3 million capital campaign. Experience in development and fundraising gave Cortes particular insight into how forms of power are gained and distributed, making them particularly interested in community based philanthropy. 

Cortes was a first generation college graduate majoring in Sociology and obtaining a certificate in Global Studies, with courses focused on Latin America, at Portland State University. Coupled with their time as a student fellow of the Institute for Sustainable Solutions, Cortes’ studies helped them bridge their understandings on cycles of trauma, intersectionality, and social determinants of health. This understanding would support their involvement as a volunteer coach for youth sports, and an educator in health/wellness programming, for gang intervention and prevention programs for youth of color; also driving their passion for racial and gender equity in sports as they served a two-year tenure on the Portland Ultimate board. 

Cortes continued to apply equity initiatives with an intersectional lens in participation as an Equity Plan Ad-Hoc workgroup member at IRCO, an organization with 450+ employees- with an immigrant, refugee, or staff of color majority-, supporting in complete evaluation of the organization informed by a professional equity audit.  

As a NUF fellow, Cortes looks forward to developing their knowledge of public policy to better serve Black, Indigenous, immigrant, refugee, low-income, and communities of color, particularly within a lens of environmental and racial justice.