Reflections from BCLI: Interview with Nichol Ellis-McGregor

First published September 2019. Words by: Nexus Community Partners and Nichelle Brunner

Nichol Ellis-McGregor is currently the MFIP Program Manager at Rise Inc., an organization that supports people with disabilities and other barriers. From 2015 – 2016, Nichol participated in Nexus’ Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) program. 

I had the pleasure of interviewing Nichol and we discussed her current and past work, BCLI’s influence on her personal and professional decisions, and what inspires her. 

In your current work, did you learn any skills in BCLI that were transferable to your full time work?

To influence or transform movements equitably, I have to make myself present at a table or committee or board. Even just navigating myself to get to that table, that relates to BCLI in that, I can’t make change without being at that table. I also learned that we can have differing opinions, but we need to listen to each other. Before that, I thought those folks, folks with different opinions than mine, were the enemy. I realized I needed to function less out of emotion, though I am passionate about the work, and just listen and do checks and balances to make the best decisions. 

What work have you done since that was inspired by your work in BCLI? 

I sat on the Suburban Metro Area Continuum of Care Advisory Committee, where I was basically the voice for those in suburban Anoka and Hennepin counties to get affordable housing. I went back to school. I’m currently at Northwestern for my Masters in Human Services. Generally, where I can make movement, I do. 

What is your favorite memory from BCLI? 

One of the first things that comes to mind is the affordable housing project. We were divided into two groups and created housing communities. My group got really into the glamourous aspects of housing developments, but when we presented, we realized it was out of budget and unaffordable. It was so funny because it made us realize just how hard it is to create affordable and livable housing communities. It was really a learning moment. 

Another memory is definitely graduation. I initially feared going to it because I didn’t think I was worthy because I wasn’t an activist, you know. I wasn’t out there, on the frontlines, protesting. I now consider myself an undercover transformationalist agent — I can make change within policy and the work I do. 

What is one thing you would tell someone who is thinking of applying to the BCLI? 

Your life will truly be changed and you’ll learn so much. You don’t realize how much you don’t know about our government and how much it affects you. If you really want your worldview opened up, this will be the program for you. You will open up and grow.

What inspires you?

Resiliency. It’s the person who gets things done, no matter the obstacles in their way. It’s not only the people we see on tv, but it’s the grandmother up the block. It’s my mom who is raising 6 grandkids after retirement. I am truly inspired by people who don’t give up.


For Nexus 15th anniversary, staff, community members, and program participants were interviewed to reflect on the impact of Nexus. For the “Reflections from BCLI” series, participants reflect on their experience in the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute.