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.

Fellows

Check out the graduation photo gallery here.

Repa MekhaNexus 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).

Check out this short video of the BCLI fellows’ year in review.

Sam GrantKeynote 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.

Fellow Panel

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.

RLM We Are the MainstreamThe 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 abrown@nexuscp.org, or the program director, Ms. Terri Thao, at tthao@nexuscp.org.

Staff and Fellows

“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

HIA ProcessThe 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.

HIA Issue Series

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)?

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.

REGISTER HERE!

 

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…

Budgets.

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.

IMG_3642

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!