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!
Nexus is very excited to announce that our fellow colleague, Angie Brown, couldn’t stay away for long, and has rejoined the Nexus family! Angie was hired in August as a Program Manager, and will be working on advancing and strengthening communities’ equity-based community engagement as part of the Community Engagement Institute. Please help us welcome Angie back!
- August 17, 2017
- By: Lynette LaFontaine
- In: Community Engagement
Earlier this year, Nexus Community Partners launched a new initiative called the Community Engagement Institute, focused on building an equitable and just society by teaching and encouraging the practice of equity-based community engagement. The Institute’s vision is that all community members, especially those who have been historically oppressed and ignored, are engaged in and have authorship of their lives and future. Building on years of community engagement learning, practice, and funding experience, the Institute will be a local and national resource for expanding and deepening the practice of community engagement.
What is community engagement?
Communities, at their foundation, are about relationships. Communities form not only when people live near one another, but also when people spend time with one another, connect around common values, and create opportunities for one another. Communities are also complex, and some communities suffer from greater complexities than others. Racism, historical trauma, generational poverty, and chronic disinvestment slow progress in many communities. These challenges cannot be overcome quickly or easily. But when neighbors, organizations, and institutions develop deep and trusting relationships, these challenges can be diminished over time.
Authentic community engagement requires developing relationships within the community that are focused on long-term results rather than short-term gains. The practice is both about the power of individuals and about working together to create a healthy community. Perhaps most importantly, community engagement is a life-long commitment to a set of values that place equity and inclusion at the center. This means that people who live in low-wealth communities and communities of color should be integrally involved in decisions about their lives and their neighborhoods.
How did the Community Engagement Institute originate?
Nexus has a long-term commitment to authentic community engagement. Yet, despite our consistent advocacy for this work, we know that people struggle to understand how it differs from civic engagement, outreach, or organizing, and they struggle to define the impacts of community engagement. To address this, in 2012, Nexus brought together the knowledge and expertise of six multi-cultural community engagement organizations to create the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative (BTF). BTF captured new knowledge about the field, assessed its impact on transforming communities, and strengthened the case for integrating this work into other fields.
How is the Community Engagement Institute different?
The Community Engagement Institute is an evolution of the Building the Field of Community Engagement initiative, and is a direct response to the growing demand for community engagement tools, knowledge and best practices from community-based organizations, government agencies, foundations, and institutions.
The Institute is designed to be a learning, practice, and leadership center for individuals, organizations, and institutions from across the country to learn about authentic community engagement. We are working with an advisory board of cross-sector experts to test new strategies that will support both local and national stakeholders in improving their community engagement practice. Some strategies include:
- Introduction to community engagement workshop: We created a four-part introductory workshop series called Tapping the Potential that teaches participants the foundations of authentic community engagement.
- Community of practice: We will look for more ways to develop a “community of practice” for community engagement practitioners. We know that people involved in changing systems and mindsets to facilitate community engagement need spaces to share strategies, and to dig deep into the challenges they face with others in the field. We’re building ways for community engagement practitioners to talk about opportunities for moving this work forward, along with difficulties in evaluation, navigating power, lack of support for their work within their organizations, and systemic barriers to change.
- Consultation: We are developing consultation models to support organizations going deeper in their on-the-ground community engagement practice. We are developing tailored curricula and programs that will help institutions shift their culture, policies and practices.
The work will evolve over time as we learn. We remain open to innovation and centered in the goals of equity and inclusion as we grow. Our commitment is to honor, build upon, and grow what has come before and what is yet to come in partnership with on-the-ground community engagement practitioners.
To learn more, please visit http://nexuscp.org/cei.
“Boards and commissions are important bodies for impacting communities at the regional and local levels. They are instrumental in shaping key policy decisions, as well as designing and providing input on administration of city services. A unique partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Nexus Community Partners works to improve racial equity in board and commission membership, which in turn influences major policy decisions toward more equitable outcomes.
“The City of Minneapolis has over 50 volunteer-based boards, commissions and advisory committees, whose input and advice constitutes a major component of the City’s community engagement work. Approximately 600 volunteers serve on these boards and commissions. As such, the City has seen board and commission service as an important leverage point for advancing racial equity. Currently, people of color represent 25 percent of the population, but only 16% of the membership of boards and commissions. It is projected that by 2040, people of color will be 40 percent of the population. The City of Minneapolis recognizes that in order to be effective in their work and to truly represent the interests of all of the city residents, membership of the City’s boards and commissions must reflect the diversity of the community.” Read the full article here.
Nexus Community Partners is now accepting applications for the 2015-2016 Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI)!
The BCLI is now targeting boards and commissions in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Saint Paul and Metropolitan Council committees. Click here to see all target seats.
Learn about equity issues and strategies in the areas of economic development, health, affordable housing, transit and workforce development.
Learn necessary skills to be an advocate commissioner such as Robert’s Rules of Order and interpreting municipal budgets.
Fine-tune your art of politics with applied learning activities in areas such as creating allies and negotiation and persuasion.
Build relationships with other equity advocates in the areas of labor, government, nonprofits and business.
All Nomination Packets are due Friday, June 26th by 12 midnight CST.
The fellowship runs from October 2015 – April 2016.
- Wednesday, May 13, 2015: 5:30-7pm
- Rondo Library Multipurpose Room: 461 Dale St. N., St Paul
- Wednesday, May 20, 2015: 9-10:30am
- Hope Community, Inc.: 611 E. Franklin Ave, Minneapolis
- Thursday, May 28, 2015: 5:30-7pm
- North Regional Library (North Half Room): 1315 Lowry Ave N., Minneapolis
- Wednesday, June 10, 2015: 5:30-7pm
- Brooklyn Park Library (Brooklyn Park Community Room):8600 Zane Ave N., Brooklyn Park
About the BCLI
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) is a 7-month leadership program that supports, trains and places people of color and other underrepresented community members on publicly appointed boards and commissions that influence and impact equity in economic development, health, housing, transit and workforce development.
Contact one of the BCLI staff: Terri Thao, Program Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org; Angie Brown, Program Coordinator, at email@example.com.
“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 firstname.lastname@example.org, or the program director, Ms. Terri Thao, at email@example.com.
“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
The National Research Council defines a Health Impact Assessment (HIA) as “a systematic process that uses an array of data sources and analytic methods, and considers input from stakeholders to determine the potential effects of a proposed policy, plan, program, or project on the health of a population and the distribution of those effects within the population. HIA provides recommendations on monitoring and managing those effects.”
So the question remains: is this new research method really going to benefit the communities that they are intended to benefit? And how is this process different than the myriad research already done to low-wealth communities and communities of color that has not yet systemically addressed the health disparities in Minnesota?
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) wrapped up our 2014-15 BCLI Issue Series by exploring these questions together with 40 community members and four guest speakers. Speakers shared about the process of HIAs, how they believe they can be used as tools to ensure equitable outcomes both in community and at the policy level, and discussed the process and outcomes of the various HIAs in which they are involved.
Check out the photo gallery here, and listen to the audio of the speakers below.
Larry Hiscock, Program Officer of Transitway Engagement at Nexus Community Partners, began the evening with an introduction to health impact assessments – specifically as a means to address historical and institutionalized racism by assessing health impacts and outcomes in partnership with communities most impacted by community development projects. This HIA process has the potential to ensure that members of the community are also members of the decision-making tables where the research is crafted, collected, analyzed and acted upon. Check out Hiscock’s PowerPoint here for more information, and listen to his audio below.
The panelists then began their exploration and sharing of the three HIA projects they are involved in – including Hennepin County’s Bottineau Transitway HIA, the Council on Crime and Justice’s Minnesota Expungement Policy Expansion HIA, and the Minnesota Department of Health’s Green Zones HIA. Click the links below to listen to each panelist.
Karen Nikolai, Manager of Healthy Community Planning for Hennepin County, shared her work with the Bottineau Transitway Engagement HIA, highlighting the importance of community engagement in the Bottineau Light Rail Transit (LRT) development that will expand LRT through communities with high rates of poverty and members who are highly transit-dependent. By engaging the communities’ stakeholders through the HIA process, the station area planning for the LRT is being shaped by the needs and vision of the community – which offers real potential to improve health for communities living near the transit stations. Check out Nikolai’s audio below:
Ebony Ruhland, Research Partner with the Council on Crime and Justice (CCJ), spoke to the CCJ’s Minnesota Expungement Policy Expansion HIA – an HIA designed to examine the health impacts caused by the criminal justice system. In particular, this HIA will determine whether a legislative proposal to allow certain criminal records for first-time offenders in juvenile delinquency, theft, and nonviolent drug cases to be expunged, will lead to healthier outcomes for communities disproportionately charged with these offenses. Although in the beginning phases of an HIA process, Ruhland highlighted the uniqueness of this HIA in its plan to include both policy-makers as well as ex- and current offenders who would be impacted by this legislation. Listen to Ebony’s full audio below:
Dr. Cecilia Martinez, Director of Research Programs at the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), shared about the HIA process she is a part of with the Minnesota Department of Health around Green Zones in Minneapolis. This HIA is in progress to evaluate the potential impact of Green Zones as a solution in Minneapolis to be “a community-led approach to transforming communities that have been overburdened with environmental hazards and limited economic opportunities”. Check out Dr. Martinez’ audio below:
The evening concluded with Q & A between panelists and the audience, surfacing some of the reservations that the community had as being a source of yet more research, as well as wanting to see the results of HIAs lead to policy shifts that will create greater health equity in the region. Click below to listen to the Q & A portion of the event.
The audience did not speak into a microphone, but the questions asked during the Q&A are summarized underneath the audio link below. Skip ahead to the time in front of the question to hear the response for each question.
(:49) How can HIAs break down silos? We don’t need more data! How are HIAs useful?
(9:28) How do you see policy makers using HIAs to inform policy and moving racial equity forward?
(14:02) Why do we still have the same policies in place when we have all this data collected that shows such racial disparities?
(20:45) What would be your happy ending – best outcome because of doing these HIAs?
(23:22) Can you aggregate the data to push for policy changes? How do you attribute economic impacts to the HIA?
(28:55) How do we build benchmarks into the data and the grassroots efforts that help circumvent regression?
(32:27) What specific data or info do we need to collect to make policy change around environmental justice (pollution, etc)?
Join Us for Our Upcoming Webinar:
Building A National Network of Regional Leaders: Replicating the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute
Tuesday March 3, 2015| 11-12pm PST | 1-2 CST (Corrected Time)
Presenters: Uma Viswanathan, Urban Habitat and Terri Thao, Nexus Community
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) is a six-month fellowship that trains and places advocates from low-income communities of color onto local and regional boards and commissions through the Bay Area. Preparing mid-career leaders to leverage and enhance their knowledge, skills, and networks to enter political life, the BCLI is not just an individual leadership development program. It is a strategy to change the face of politics, creating a network of diverse and representative leaders who move racially and economically just policies at all levels of government.
During this webinar, BCLI directors Uma Viswanathan (Urban Habitat) and Terri Thao (Nexus Community Partners) will provide an overview of this innovative program and share their discoveries about the replication process as partners from different regions and organizations. Participants will be engaged in dialogue about potential future replications, including individual leader, organizational, and regional readiness for this type of program.
About Our Presenters
Uma Viswanathan, Director of Leadership Development, Urban Habitat
Uma Viswanathan is a leadership development professional with nine years of experience in national and global strategy and innovation, program and curriculum design and management. As Director of Leadership Development for Urban Habitat, she designs and implements leadership and educational initiatives to further Urban Habitat’s mission of bringing race and class to the forefront of policy decisions in the Bay. Uma directs the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI), In addition to directing the program’s design, curriculum content, recruitment and alumni engagement strategies, she is supporting its replication across the country.
Terri Thao, Program Director, Nexus Community Partners
Nexus Community Partners is a community building intermediary working to build more engaged and powerful communities across the Twin Cities region. At Nexus, Terri runs the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) which trains and places participants on publicly appointed boards or commissions with the goal to advance equity in the Twin Cities region. Terri is an active community volunteer, serving on the boards of the Asian Economic Development Association, the City of St. Paul’s Planning Commission, CommonBond Communities and the F.R. Bigelow Foundation.
“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…”