Nexus’ President & CEO Repa Mekha Plenary Remarks from Rail-Volution Sept 21-24

Good morning everyone. I am Repa Mekha, President & CEO of Nexus Community Partners, a Community Building Intermediary committed to BUILDING MORE ENGAGED AND POWERFUL COMMUNITIES. I’d like to welcome you to the Twin Cities region.

I am excited, encouraged, and challenged by the work that our region has been engaged in, as well as the possibilities that sit within our reach for the future.

• This morning we’ve heard a lot of exciting things about the investments and developments that have been occurring in the region, so I won’t repeat it.

• An important thing for us to remember in the midst of this excitement is that major investments in the built environment, should translate into major benefits in for the human environment. It is where “outcomes” get lived out.

• This is especially important for our most economically and environmentally vulnerable populations.


There is an emerging understanding that the region can only achieve and sustain growth and prosperity by integrating all into the economy. That engagement and advancing equity is a long-term proposition, and is intricately tied to our regional economic competitiveness. By linking these three together (engagement, equity, and regional economic competitiveness) the region has brought various stakeholders, including underrepresented communities, around some shared vision, hope, and interests. During the last four years the Corridors of Opportunity (now PRO), mentioned earlier, has provided a basic framework, roadmap, and some structure to make progress in addressing disparities and advancing equitable investments in development in the region. Engaging underrepresented communities in planning, decision-making and implementation has been a hallmark of this work.

During this short period alone:

• Over 25 community-based organizations received funding and TA to increase their capacity, and engage communities around transit and transit planning processes, directly informing with over 40,000 people across the region, 12,000 engaged in meeting, and 250 taking on key leadership roles in their communities.

• Our Met Council adopt an Equitable Development definition, and Principles of Equitable Development, and worked jointly with CBO’s to develop a MC Public Engagement Plan to be applied across all departments

• We’ve had the involvement of CBO representatives participate in the development of job criteria and hiring process for public agency and government staff positions.

This makes it not easy, but easier, to begin spreading an equity agenda, as opposed to working in silos or on the fringes.

But, we are still young in this work, and slippage can occur easily.

Unfortunately, inspite of the progress that we have mentioned, we still have our challenges. Much like many other places, we have operated in a paradox that is unacceptable and unsustainable:

• A paradox that on the one hand has views our diversity as a social and economic burden, while at the same time we celebrate the fact that that same diversity revitalize economies in metro and greater MN,

• A paradox that positions our region as a progressive place to live and raise a family, while we have some of the highest disparities in the country,

• A paradox in which we’re viewed as a place of openness, while communities of color face some of the greatest barriers to access to opportunity structures.

So we need to constantly challenging the aphorism that “a rising tide lifts all boats”, because even when all boats rise, in the absence of appropriate policies, those that have been regulated to the shoreline opportunities, the most shallow waters, may very well remain restricted there, and never benefit from the wide array of options and opportunities that only exist towards the middle, in the deeper waters. Some boats even run the risk of being marooned to the beach if tides slightly shift.

To effectively achieve Equity, outcomes must be in the form of population outcomes, AND, systems and policy outcomes. We have to be intentional, strategic, purposeful, and courageous, about ensuring that all members are benefiting from the investments made.

So what are some key learnings and Building Blocks that’s made a difference:

1. Building Strong Community Engagement Capacity and Linking it to Systems:

a. Ensuring access to relevant and digestible information (raising awareness & educating their communities about TOD, and what it brings)

b. Ensuring have needed resources to be present and engaged in decision-making (and have the capacity to do proactive community engagement work on their own)

c. Strategically engage in two-directional relationship bridging between government/public sector staff & CBO’s (allowing people to connect as individuals, not entities, understanding each others interests and roles)

d. Engaging early, often, and throughout

e. Establishing community engagement infrastructure that can outlast projects and initiatives

2. Ensuring Representation at Decision-making Tables That Direct Policy & Practice:

a. Ensuring procedures and processes that incorporate underrepresented voices at decision-making tables, committees, and advisory councils

b. Allies that open doors and provide support

c. More examples of tying equitable principles and practices to funding criteria. This is where the rubber it’s the road.

3. Implementing Targeted strategies That Anchor Underrepresented Communities in Prosperity:

a. The region will invest billions of dollars in TOD, underrepresented communities have to more than consumers of services and products as an outcome = not just riders, not just shoppers.

b. Yes, this means access to jobs, education, training, and choice housing,

c. But it also means being entrepreneurs, homeowners, contract procurers, and public officials (underrepresented communities have to be intentionally integrated in to prosperity opportunities)

4. Creating a Public Landscape That Supports Regional Equity Conversations and Vision and Learning: (It’s important to intentionally create the environment that the work as to take place in).

a. Creating public dialogue that keeps equity front and center, and moves it from a zero sum proposition to win-win proposition (that in fact, Equity is the Superior Growth Model)

b. And that creates places, spaces and methods to acknowledge and address race issues, challenge our assumptions, and our practices in ways that propel us forward. Common language, frameworks, examples of equity at work

c. Engages in dialogue that helps us plan and ready for the changing demographics of the region

In our region we have made degrees of progress in all four of these areas Although there is much work that still needs to be done, there has been a strong foundation laid over the years from which much can still be accomplished moving forward to benefit and uplift historically underrepresented communities, and to ensure equity is embedded in public planning processes, decisions, and investments.

We are in a very critical moment in time, that we must seize and capitalize on. If we are going to be able to compete as a region nationally and internationally, Minnesota will have to change how it does business, how it educates, employs, supports, transports, and invests in underrepresented communities. Again, we have to think about engagement, equity, and regional economic competitiveness as integral part of the same puzzle. Consider four levels of engagement:

1. Engagement for Gaining participation: underrepresented communities have been participating in important discussions and decisions across the region

2. Engagement for Achieving Inclusion: many resident have joined decision-making commissions, committees and councils, beyond attending events where they express their views

3. Engagement for Ensuring Equitable Benefits: participation and inclusion in ensuring and shaping how underrepresented communities benefit from development outcomes: housing, jobs, green space, education & training

4. Engagement for Shared Prosperity: the existing and emerging economies include underrepresented communities as homeowners, business owners, and policy makers.

Our region needs the full range of voices at the table to understand issues, explore alternatives, and create a shared roadmap to addressing to our best opportunities and our most complex challenges of the future. We have courageous nonprofit, government, pubic, philanthropic, and for profit leaders that have stepped forward to lean fully in to this work But our increasingly diverse population must help lead into the next era of our growth, our future. Equitable outcomes are shared outcomes.

I hope you enjoy the conference, learn much, and in return give much. Thank you