Elena GaarderNexus 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.

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 ViswanathanUma 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 ThaoTerri 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…”

Read more here

Living Cities - Theresa Gardella

With sub-zero temperatures and an intense wind chill, a small group of community members heated up together on Thursday, February 12th at the Northeast Bank Community Room by digging into the spicy subject of…


2.12.15 Issue Series Attendees

And why, you may ask, is this topic so steamy? Because, as all four panelists agreed, budgets reflect values and are a significant tool to hold our elected officials accountable. There is especially nothing quite as attractive as seeing funding and resources allocated toward racial justice and more equitable outcomes for communities of color – and this is what our panel addressed head on at our fourth BCLI Issue Series on February 12th.

Check out the photo gallery here.

2.12.15 Issue Series Panel

Four powerful panelists were invited to share their experiences in the areas of transportation, city and state budgets – specifically addressing the following questions: If budgets articulate values, how are current budgets linked to racial equity? How can we use budgets to hold our elected officials accountable to values of equity?

Brett Buckner, President and CEO of BaseNetwork&Power, kick-started the panel by sharing his experience advocating for racial equity in the City of Minneapolis budget – a battle that sparked significant public backlash when the City Council voted to cut a huge piece of the racial-equity-funding-pie out of Mayor Betsy Hodges’ original proposed budget. Check out Buckner’s audio below:

Leah Gardner, the Minnesota Budget Project’s Outreach Coordinator at the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, spoke next on the even sexier topic of tax law. As Gardner said, the tax code was created to benefit and maintain the status quo, so we have to be active participants at the State Capital, and show up to advocate for a more progressive tax system. Check out Gardner’s audio below:

Lynnea Atlas-Ingebretson, Chair Emeritus of the Parks and Trails Legacy Advisory Committee, shared her experience ensuring the incorporation of racial equity in the development plans of Minnesota’s parks and trails to benefit families and communities of color. Click below to hear Atlas-Ingebretson’s full audio:

Jim Erkel, Director of Land Use and Transportation at the Minnesota Center for Environmental Advocacy, closed up the panel by sharing two powerful stories of when diving into the region’s finance and budget pool ended with reallocating transit resources to benefit low-income communities and communities of color, one of which has maintained the current fare system for transit riders.  Hear Erkel’s full stories in the link below:

The evening concluded with Q & A between the panelists and the audience. Listen to the full Q & A in the link below, or see the list of questions beneath the link to jump ahead to the time of each question:

  1. (0:21) How do we train and educate our activists to dig for that money [in the city, county or X budget]?
  2. (9:15) There are good paying jobs for organizers and community engagement employees in government – at what point should white candidates withdraw – or are ethnically diverse hires what we should always be looking and pushing for?
  3. (13:46) Has there been any proposals at the City Council to look at best practices outside of Minnesota to accomplish diversity and equity goals?
  4. (20:30) What’s the next step? What’s one action I can take after leaving this room? 

Building the Field

The Building the Field of Community Engagement collaborative has launched a new website!


The Building the Field of Community Engagement’s new website is meant to be a resource to community, where you can access key community engagement publications, presentations, tools and links, and learn more about the Building the Field initiative. You can also register to receive updates for upcoming Engaged Learning Series events.

Check out the website here: www.buildthefield.org


Community Engagement Model

Building the Field of Community Engagement is a collaborative initiative that includes six core organizations: Casa de Esperanza, Cultural Wellness Center, Hope Community, Lyndale Neighborhood Association, Native American Community Development Institute, and Nexus Community Partners.

Visit the website for more information, or feel free to contact Janice Barbee at janicegwb@yahoo.com or Theresa Gardella at tgardella@nexuscp.org. Or contact one of the Building the Field partners.

Over 40 community members braved the cold and snow on Thursday, January 8th, to gather at Phillips Community Center for our third BCLI Issue Series of the season.  Co-hosted with the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy (CEED), we brought together a panel of environmental justice and housing advocates to explore the question: How do the issues of affordable housing, environmental sustainability, and racial justice interlink?

1-8-15 Issue Series

Check out the photo gallery here, and listen to the audio of speakers below.

Shalini Gupta, Executive Director of CEED, kicked off the evening with an introduction to energy equity and the explanation of green zones. She highlighted key data including:

  • Low-income families, many of whom are from communities of color, pay  up to 17 percent of their income on utilities and energy due to electric heating and drafty homes, in addition to being cost burdened and paying 30 percent or more for housing.
  • Many of the funding opportunities and incentives for energy efficiency and green energy development are taken advantage of by homeowners rather than renters, further burdening low-income residents paying for high energy costs.

Check out Gupta’s PowerPoint here for more information, and listen to her audio below.

The panelists then jumped into an exploration of the energy issues within affordable housing, racial justice and a current green initiative, Minneapolis’ Clean Energy Partnership. Click below to listen to the full panel (skip ahead to each panelist: ThaoMee Xiong :02; CM Elizabeth Glidden 7:28; Kathy Wetzel-Mastel 16:44).

Panelists 1-8-15

ThaoMee Xiong, Policy Director of Minnesota Housing Partnership, shared her perspective as an organizer working with and within communities of color, and the current work that MHP is embarking upon doing research on best administrative practices and legislative policies that benefit communities of color in general and specifically in Greater Minnesota.

Council Member Elizabeth Glidden, Minneapolis Ward 8 City Council Member and also serves as the Council Vice President, discussed her work with the Clean Energy Partnership, a first-of-its-kind partnership with the City of Minneapolis, Xcel Energy and CenterPoint Energy “which will have the City and the utility companies collaborating in new ways to help Minneapolis achieve its clean energy goals.” CM Glidden shared that a community advisory board will be created to help guide the new Clean Energy Partnership, and invited the community to apply for these seats.

Kathy Wetzel-Mastel, Executive Director of PRG, Inc., spoke to her work as a housing developer in the Twin Cities area. Wetzel-Mastel highlighted the importance of responding to the needs of the community ensuring energy-efficiency in the development of affordable housing to guarantee ongoing affordability of units.

The evening concluded with Q & A between panelists and the audience. Listen to the full Q & A in the link below, or see the list of questions beneath the link.

  1. (:44) What does ‘diverse interests’ mean, and how will people of color be on decision-making boards rather than just advisory boards?
  2. (10:15) Can you create some kind of reporting system where utility bill payments can be trade-lines that can be reported as a way to improve credit scores for low-income renters paying such high utility bills?
  3. (13:23) How are all of you reaching out to others to share this [technical information and awareness of opportunities] knowledge in community? How can you ensure the Clean Energy Partnership advisory board will have people of color on it to help make decisions?
  4. (18:50) With resources coming in from federal, state and municipalities, are there going to be minority participation goals implemented to ensure equal distribution among communities of color?
Artwork by Ricardo Levins Morales

Artwork by Ricardo Levins Morales

Developing Leaders to Advance an Equity Agenda: Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute Announces its Second Cohort!

Nexus Community Partners is pleased to announce the second cohort of the 2014-2015 Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI). The 15 cohort members come from various communities in Minneapolis, St. Paul and the surrounding suburbs and bring a wealth of experience and knowledge working in community, non-profit and private sectors.

The BCLI will train and place these dynamic individuals onto publicly appointed boards and commissions in the Twin Cities. The fellows will have the capacity and community support to advance a regional equity agenda and serve as the next generation of leaders who are representative of, and accountable to, the region’s communities of color and other underrepresented populations. These fellows join a prestigious group of alumni, eight of whom serve on a current board or commission or at a high level policy position in government. Read more about our alumni here.

Nexus is proud to introduce this unique and powerful cohort and look forward to their futures as advocate commissioners and board members:

(Name, Nominating Organization)

Antrinita Wright, Neighborhood Leadership Program (NLP), Amherst H. Wilder Foundation
Carla Kohler, Comunidades Latinas Unidas En Servicio (CLUES)
Chamath Perera, Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA)
David Martinez, Wells Fargo Community Development Department
David Milton, Mastery Charter Schools / Harvest Education Network
Donna Evans, BCLI Alum
Emilia Gonzalez Avalos, Navigate MN
Falmata Bedasso, Oromo Community of MN
Jamez Staples, Community Elder
Leila Paye-Baker, Department of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity (HREEO), City of Saint Paul
Nasser Mussa, Oromo Community of MN
Sonya Lewis, AFSCME 3800
Suyapa Miranda, BCLI Alum
Tescil Mason-Kimmons, BCLI Alum
Yolonde Adams-Lee, MN Department of Human Services

Fellows were selected through a competitive nomination, interview and selection process led by a committee of six community members and BCLI alumni. The final cohort reflects a balance in race, gender identity, geography, issue area, experience and target boards and commissions. Read more about the fellows here.

We invite partners and community members to join us for the BCLI Launch Event on Thursday, October 9th from 5:30-8pm at the Dakota Lodge at the Division of Indian Work, 1001 E. Lake Street, Minneapolis, MN 55407. You’ll have a chance to meet our fellows and hear from a panel of long time local social justice leaders on the historical context and significance of people of color and other underrepresented communities joining boards and commissions. Panelists include State Representative Rena Moran, District 65A, and BCLI Alum Roxxanne O’Brien, Inaugural BCLI Cohort. Additional panelists to be announced.

RSVP for the 2014-15 BCLI Launch Event Here

For more information about the BCLI, the Launch Event, or ways to become involved, please contact the program associate, Ms. Angie Brown, at abrown@nexuscp.org, or program director, Ms. Terri Thao at tthao@nexuscp.org.


Nexus is excited to welcome our new Community Engagement Associate, Giselle Efon. Giselle is an AmeriCorp VISTA member joining us for a one year term beginning August 7, 2014. She will be providing support to a network of culturally and place-based community organizations along the Blue Line Extension Light Rail Corridor working to align shared community visions and equity goals on a local and regional level. Giselle moved to the United States from Cameroon, West Africa in 2007 and she recently graduated from the University of Minnesota with a B.S. in Family Social Sciences. Welcome Giselle!

Owners of the architectural firm 4RM+ULA, located in Lowertown Saint Paul, believe the METRO Green Line has revived University Avenue and Saint Paul.

“There is something awesome about feeling that you are connected again,” said the firm’s founder, James Garrett Jr.

Architects James Garrett Junior (left) and Nathan Johnson designed the METRO Green Line stations. Their firm, 4RM+ULA, is located in Lowertown Saint Paul.

Architects James Garrett Junior (left) and Nathan Johnson designed the METRO Green Line stations. Their firm, 4RM+ULA, is located in Lowertown Saint Paul.

Garrett, who grew up on Saint Paul’s East Side and then in the Rondo neighborhood, remembers when Saint Paul seemed vacant. “When I went to school in Saint Paul, University Avenue was pretty much given up for dead,” said Garrett. “The METRO Green Line project added a whole bunch of energy to the area.”

The local architect said that one of his favorite things about the project was watching the construction.

“I couldn’t get enough of driving up and down University Avenue and seeing the construction,” said Garrett. “After having worked on it for several years and actually seeing the structures go up, just driving down University and seeing steel framework going up made me realize this is real and this is really happening.”

Green Line station design was ‘fun and challenging’

Garrett and his partner at 4RM+ULA, Nathan Johnson, designed the stations along the Green Line.  They started working with Metro Transit in 2007 – their first transit project.

“The whole project was fun and challenging,” said Johnson. Johnson said they visited each station along the Green line and spent quality time with each station’s artists.

“It was really interesting meeting the artists and seeing how they approached representation of their station/platform,” said Johnson. Read more…

“When our partnership of more than 25 community organizations presented its “Vision and Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice” to Minneapolis City Council members and Mayor Betsy Hodges in January, we came in the spirit of partnership and collaboration. We know — because our communities are experiencing it — that the racial disparities in our city are destructive to our social and economic fabric. We came with the readiness and willingness for the hard work it was going to take to break down the barriers to success for all Minneapolis residents.” Read more.