We are excited to have Chalonne join the Nexus family! She joined Nexus in July 2017 as the Program Coordinator of the Evaluation Fellows Program (EFP), which is part of the Community Engagement Institute in partnership with the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute at the University of MN. The EFP is designed for community engagement practitioners, evaluators, and funders to collaboratively explore the overlap of community engagement and program evaluation. Chalonne works closely with the EFP Advisory Group, the director of Nexus’s Community Engagement Institute, and the director of the Minnesota Evaluation Studies Institute to develop and support programming and serve as a key resource for Fellows in the program. Please help us welcome Chalonne!
Check out how Nexus’ partner, the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), is getting creative this Thanksgiving by adding Hmong arts and culture to their community supported agricultural (CSA) share. Read the full MPR story here.
Listen to HAFA’s executive director and Nexus board member, Pakou Hang, talk about how community wealth building is grounded in cultural practices.
Traditional community development work focuses on the built environment. Nexus Community Partners believes that community development should also be mindful of the people who live in and interact with
the built environment every day. Nexus also believes that neighborhood- based development activities will only be successful in the long term if they are paired with strong community engagement efforts. To that end, Nexus supports community-based organizations in low-wealth neighborhoods to engage with and to reflect the vision and creativity of the people who live
and work there. Nexus also supports organizations that wish to integrate community engagement into their organizations and into their programming. Read more here; NEXUScase study 8 PAGE WEB
On October 13, 2015, Nexus Community Partners hosted a “Strengthening Economic Opportunities” convening on the East Side of St. Paul . The event included a presentation on Nexus’ recently released “Briefing on Promising Workforce and Job Creation Models” and a panel discussion featuring Ted Howard, The Democracy Collaborative, Pakou Hang, Hmong American Farmers Association, Karla Miller, Northwest Area Foundation and Thomas Adams, Better Futures Minnesota. The discussion focused on how using a Community Wealth Building Framework could help to address deeply rooted racial and economic disparities and create opportunities for local and equitable ownership and control of wealth. You can find the entire briefing here. Briefing on Promising Workforce and Job Creation Models
“Generations ago, one of my grandfathers was a tribal historian for my people, the Oglala Lakota of Pine Ridge, South Dakota. Amos Bad Heart Bull was a ledger artist who depicted many events that happened in the lives of my people and it is through those paintings that I have the ability to connect to my rich history. His artwork tells the story of how my people lived long ago with all the beauty and sadness that sweeping cultural change brings.
“Through it all, art has remained a catalyzing force for how my people communicate and is used to impart teachings whether through paintings, storytelling, or song. In fact, all three of those media play an integral part in our spirituality as well, which permeates every aspect of our traditional lifestyle. And we are not unique in this regard as all people have historically used art as a way to engage and build a sense of community and identity.”
Nexus Community Partners is proud to announce the graduation of the 2014-2015 Fellows of the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI)! On Thursday, April 9th at the International Institute of Minnesota, we honored our fourteen graduates for not only their completion of the BCLI, but also for their continued commitment and leadership in driving equity on policy-making bodies at the city and regional levels.
Nexus President and CEO Repa Mekha kicked off the evening by introducing and expanding on the graduation theme: “The task ahead of you is never as great as the power behind you,” (Ugandan proverb). After putting in seven months of work exploring equity issues and tools together, this cohort of fourteen has become a community, and it is from this community that collective vision, support and power will ensure their success as advocate commissioners. This message has fortified over these past seven months as a cohort, and now they begin their work individually, but never alone, on local boards and commissions – because sticks in a bundle are unbreakable (Kenyan proverb).
Keynote speaker Sam Grant, Systems Facilitator at Embody Deep Democracy, shared his words of wisdom with the graduates about the charge that awaits them as representatives of marginalized communities on local boards and commissions:
All of us as human beings have to be on a healing journey. First, you have to do the work on yourself. Second, you have to be a systems facilitator.
Being a systems facilitator is not about being the representative – it’s about shifting the paradigm. How can you as a facilitator of justice shift the space and culture of boards and commissions?
Representation can only account for a sliver of the truth – how can you be a source of truth? Always facilitate truth-sharing and truth-telling. Set up your board or commission on a story-listening session.
With these deep considerations in mind, three graduates stepped up to the microphone to share their experiences as BCLI fellows, and what it means to them in their systems work moving forward.
Jamez Staples shared his experience in the program building relationships, adding additional knowledge (even on subjects he was fairly familiar with) and his recent placement on the City of Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership’s Energy Vision Advisory Committee (EVAC).
I found out about the Energy Vision Advisory Committee through one of our [BCLI Issue Series]. The EVAC is an advisory committee that makes recommendations to the Clean Energy Partnership (CEP)…a White House recognized partnership between the City of Minneapolis and the investor-owned CenterPoint and Xcel focused around the issue of mitigating climate change.
I seek to wear both hats when at that table of a business person, but also as a concerned citizen. As a citizen that seeks economic justice, I seek to be that voice at the table that asks the hard questions like, how is solar going to affect those that cannot afford to go purchase solar? As a business person, will there be any minority contracting and employment inclusion for projects that utilize public dollars?
Yolonde Adams-Lee used a powerful analogy comparing the BCLI community and the equity work of its graduates to farmers and tillers of soil and land.
As an African American and Native American woman, the land is very important to us. If BCLI is the seed, the soil is the investment and commitment of our community. We fellows are the plow, and we are planting in uncommon ground at these boards and commissions.
The last thing my sister said to me was, “Don’t drop the baton.” We have the drive to not drop the baton – we were born for this.
Sharing about his recent interview for the Metropolitan Parks and Open Space Commission with the Metropolitan Council, Chamath Perera said:
One question put to me by a Met Council member was, I felt, particularly important. He asked what was required beyond the recommendations of the plan. I did not see that question coming. I paused for a moment, I did not know what to say, really, and then I felt this shift and sense of power within, as I said, “You need to appoint people of color to commissions such as this.” That subtle shift, that sense of power within, I think was a moment I made myself visible and found my equity voice. And you my BCLI community made it possible.
The graduates were gifted a Certificate of Achievement, as well as a signed copy of local activist and artist Ricardo Levins Morales’ work titled We are the Mainstream that included a June Jordan quote: “We will prevail because we have proven to the world and to ourselves that we are not ‘fringe elements’ or ‘special interest groups’ or so-called ‘minorities.’ Without us there is no legitimate majority. We are the mainstream.”
The BCLI has prepared these leaders to serve as the next generation of appointed officials who are representative of, and accountable to, the region’s communities of color and other underrepresented populations. Together these graduates join the inaugural twelve BCLI alumni as the strength of the equity movement continues to grow and shift, and the power behind each advocate commissioner expands beyond their individual representation to a truth-telling voice of the communities from which they are rooted.
THANK YOU to the entire BCLI community for the power and support you bring to these individuals and to the movement – and a special thank you to our funders, knowledge partners, training facilitators, guest speakers, Issue Series panelists, evaluators, nominators, fellows, alumni and selection committee members! Thank you all for your amazing work and commitment, and for helping with the continued development and implementation of this program! We couldn’t do this without you!
Keep an eye out for these upcoming 2015-2016 important dates! For more information about the BCLI, contact the program coordinator, Ms. Angie Brown, at email@example.com, or the program director, Ms. Terri Thao, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
“Significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing.”
Senator Paul Wellstone 1944-2002
Nexus offers our biggest and proudest congratulations to our very own Elena Gaarder who is a 2015 Bush Fellow! Her incredible hard work that is rooted firmly with people in the communities that she works will only blossom and grow.
“In her community-based work, Elena Gaarder finds herself returning over and over to the same questions: What mix of policies, investments, partners and initiatives truly would shift the balance so that disadvantaged neighborhoods become opportunity-rich communities? And importantly, what can she do differently to be a more effective leader? These questions will drive her Bush Fellowship’s focus on deepening her abilities to build successful alliances and partnerships and on increasing her knowledge of social enterprise and worker cooperative models that have proven to transform the economics of communities across the U.S.”
We are so proud and ecstatic to support her on this amazing new journey! Congratulations, Elena!
Click here to meet all of the 2015 Bush Fellows.
“Investing in relationships for authentic community engagement.
Go ahead, Google it. “Community engagement” is there, and it’s attached to everything from sports teams to businesses to libraries to universities. With all those associations out there, it can be difficult to identify “authentic community engagement” and to understand its power and potential for meaningful and sustainable change. Through my work with Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities, we’re trying to change that.
In 2012, we, along with five partners, launched Building the Field of Community Engagement (BTF), a collaborative initiative designed to raise the visibility and demonstrate the value of authentic community engagement. We are often asked:
“What real difference does community engagement make?”
“What are the impacts?”
“How do you know it when you see it?”
BTF is producing knowledge and tools to answer those questions and to help foundations and other stakeholders make better investment decisions and achieve greater neighborhood impact…”
“Organizing is harder than brain surgery…
And the reason it’s harder than brain surgery is: everyone thinks they can organize. Believe it or not…they think ‘Oh, I can do that job.’ But nobody walks into the operating room and takes the scalpel out of a brain surgeon’s hand and says ‘Hey, move over. I got this.’ To be an organizer you actually have to get the tools and training to do the job.”
On Thursday, November 6th, the BCLI kicked off our first Issue Series of the season with nearly 50 community members gathered at Gandhi Mahal’s Community Room to explore the role of community organizing and community engagement in the equity movement. Specifically, we explored the following two questions, “What does effective community organizing and engagement look like? How do these two fields intersect and advance racial equity in the Twin Cities?”
The evening began with a group discussion of the differences and similarities of the two fields, before turning over to three panelists who shared their stories of success engaging and organizing for systems change. Check out the photo gallery here, and the links to the speakers’ audio below.
Julia Freeman, Senior Organizer for Racial Justice at Voices for Racial Justice (the former Organizing Apprenticeship Project), shared her experience working toward education equity, engaging those most impacted by racial disparities in education to co-create a rubric for measuring racial equity in schools:
Jay Bad Heart Bull, President and CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), commented how the American Indian Community Blueprint demonstrated the process of engagement with the community around visioning for what American Indians wanted rather than just needed. This led to deep relationships and trust-building within and across communities, which created a large base to mobilize organizing for the Indigenous People’s Day campaign in Minneapolis:
Janice Barbee, Director of Healing Roots and Manager of Building the Field of Community Engagement at Nexus Community Partners, shared her experience working in community over the years in South Minneapolis and the various projects that the community has driven, created and sustained. One of these was the Backyard Initiative, an initiative driven by community members in partnership with Allina Health to create a healthier community in Minneapolis:
The session ended with powerful questions ranging from how to avoid burnout to suggestions for moving from a direct service organization to a social change organization. See below for the list of questions recorded and to listen to the full Q & A.*
1. How do we create shared ownership so communities remain engaged long-term?
2. (2:54) Does a network exist across organizations to build power and movement at systems levels?
3. (6:32) How do we transform direct service organizations into social change organizations?
4. (10:54) How do we avoid burnout?
5. (13:38) What tools or strategies do you use to engage and communicate with those most impacted by issues?
6. (16:43) How do you deal with institutional racism that forces us into silos?
7. (22:45) What advice do you have for people who are doing or want to do work in organizing or engagement?
*There was a question asked about how to deal with funders’ timelines when real engagement takes time; and unfortunately there was an error on the recorder during that portion of the Q & A. Our apologies!
Metropolitan Council Chair Susan Haigh, in her annual State of the Region address, challenged the Council and all its partners in the Twin Cities metro area to address the significant disparities in school achievement, employment and poverty between the region’s people of color and its white population. read more