Participants discussing coops in small groups

Written by Nichelle Brunner


Walking into Room 105 of the Urban Outreach-Engagement and Research Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis, the room setup is perfect for group discussion, planning and work around cooperatives. The large room is filled with tables draped in colorful table cloths, and on the front walls, the co-op values and principles are centered.

In the room, there are over 20 community members, business owners and partner organizations who have come ready to engage and to learn about cooperatives and their role in our cultural history.

This was the first of a 2-part Co-op Learning Series hosted by Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities. Repa Mekha, President and CEO of Nexus, opened the meeting by introducing the Nexus staff and Nexus’ commitment to a strong, equitable and just community in which all members are afforded multiple access points to generate and sustain wealth.

During the almost 3 hour long meeting, Nexus introduced the room to the definition of a cooperative, the importance of  culturally-based economic development, and the idea of using cooperatives to build democratic communities.

Storytelling, power, and cooperative movements

Following the introduction, LaDonna Redmond, Seward Community Coop’s Diversity and Community Engagement Manager, approached the mic stand.

With a commanding and energetic presence, LaDonna set the foundation of her presentation by defining exactly what a coop is.

Grounding structure of coops

“One, a coop is a legal structure. That means it’s a business. Two, it also has a social justice lens. These two things tend to overlap in a coop structure.”

Once the foundation was set, LaDonna presented the history of coops and the importance of power and oppression in storytelling.

“I will start with telling the story of the Rochdale Pioneers. They say the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 created the contemporary coop movement, meaning that they codified, or wrote down, the principles [of coops] as they understood them. So they show you a picture of 10 white men in England, where one of the dudes had the baddest mushroom haircut I’ve ever seen in my life,” LaDonna said, as the room erupted in laughter.

“But what they don’t tell you is the Rochdale Pioneers organized themselves to take control of their economic destiny. That doesn’t come across when you see the photo of these 10 white men. Me, a Black woman, when I saw this I thought, ‘This is only for white people.’ So when we talk about the narrative of coops, we have to talk about power and who has the power to tell these stories.”

For the next 30 minutes, LaDonna challenged the “white’s only” cooperative narrative by highlighting the stories and histories of Blacks in the United States.

“In 1787, 60 years before the Rochdale Pioneers, Africans formed cooperatives for their freedom in the U.S. The Black Panthers 10 Point Platform has the same values as our local coops. When someone asks me what is a coop and cooperation, I say it’s the Underground Railroad. It’s all the pieces and principles coming together.”

Back to the basics

Participants reflecting on the coop timeline development activity

For the final part of the meeting, guests were asked to get in pairs and participate in a gallery walk. On the walls of the room were pictures and descriptions of various coops, such as New York City’s Colors Cooperative, Oakland’s Mandela Marketplace, Pine Ridge Reservation’s Owíŋža Quilters Cooperative and Minneapolis’ Village Trust Financial Cooperative. As they circled the room, the pairs reflected on common themes and coop principles.

At the end of the gallery walk, guests shared their final thoughts and what resonated with them regarding cooperatives. One participant commented on one thing that is missing from nonprofit and federal programs.

“When we transition programs to nonprofits and to the federal government, community is lost in this transition. Coops can bring that back,” said one participant.

Everyone stressed the importance of getting back to the basics, as was summed up by one of the final thoughts of the evening.

“Capitalism and white supremacy are in place so we don’t practice what is at our basic core. If you take away those things, cooperation is human nature. It makes sense because it’s who we are.”


If you have any questions regarding the Cooperative Learning Series, feel free to reach out the Nkuli Shongwe, the Community Wealth Building Coordinator- nshongwe@nexuscp.org

On Thursday, April 5, 2018, the Nexus Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) graduated 14 fellows from its fifth cohort to a room filled with over 75 friends, family members, nominators, alumni and supporters.

Graduation was hosted in the Paulson Hall at The Swedish American Institute in Minneapolis. Nexus President/CEO Repa Mekha welcomed the group and  summarized the last few cohort’s themes and how they wove into one another on the topic of grounded, deep work in community and relationship building as well as working in systems . The BCLI was honored to be graced by the wisdom and presence of Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, who was the keynote speaker. Commissioner Carter gave a rousing and inspirational testimony about her lengthy road of service in community, expounding on the need for fresh, young and talented minds of color who have the will to serve others and the courage to grab a seat at the table. She reminded everyone of the need to be humble, to remember your roots, and always be grounded in speaking for those who are not at the table as yourself. Above all, her message of hope, retaining and channeling your passion for organizing and courage was a reminder that we have a long way to go to put more equity champions like BCLI alumni on many more important seats which impact the issues that affect our communities every day. As she said beautifully, “we should not stop at being the first person to do this or the first woman to do that, but that it is never enough to be just one, to have just the first, and we need to help and support each other to build pipelines of leaders to come after us and to push into the work of community and public policy change.”

Commissioner Carter’s words were followed up with comments from two graduating cohort members, Jasmond “Jay” Rathell and Yingya Vang. Jay spoke first, and he highlighted the impact of BCLI being a safe space where people of color (POC) leaders could really learn and dig deep into policy issues together. He found inspiration in the esprit de corps which the BCLI fellowship provided, and announced that he was intending to take his leadership to the next level, and would run for city council in his City of Robbinsdale. Yingya spoke to the importance of strengthening a network of peers and colleagues dedicated to the ongoing work of racial equity, and how motivational it was to be a part of movement to put equity champions at the decision-making tables.

After the speakers, the 14 graduates were acknowledged in the official commencement ceremony and given certificates and stipends for their participation. As in similar years, graduates were gifted with a poster from local artists/organizer/elder Ricardo Levins Morales who spoke at the October 2017 launch of the program.

This current cohort hails mostly from the East Metro, with seven St. Paul residents and a few from eastern suburbs. Fellows came with diverse backgrounds and from across sectors. They ranged in age from 23 to 58, averaging age 35. This year’s fellows had interests in seats at all levels of government from local and regional to state, examples include city budget boards to county health services and state-wide ethnic leadership councils.

The BCLI at Nexus is proud to graduate 14 more alumni into its network of leaders, making a total of 69 Twin Cities BCLI alumni, over half of whom have served at or currently serve in appointed boards and commissions at all levels of government in Minnesota. Stay tuned for more information as the BCLI works to recruit its next and sixth cohort this May.


Click here to learn more about Nexus’ Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute.

This program has been adapted from the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute originally created by Urban Habitat in Oakland, California.

In a recent Next City article titled “City Halls Now Hiring for Community Wealth Building,” Reggie Gordon lifted up community wealth building as a strategy that cities across the country are beginning to invest in.

Reggie Gordon is the director of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, the first of its kind in the nation. As he says, minorities all too often suffer from high unemployment or are pushed into low quality, service-sector jobs that don’t give them the opportunity that they need.

“The first step is to call it out,” says Gordon. “This isn’t fictional. Sixty years ago, there was intentionality around redlining and segregation that led to concentrated poverty. And here we are in 2018 receiving the byproduct of those intentional decisions … It’s up to us to be just as intentional about solving these problems.”

Check out how Community Wealth Building is gaining momentum around the country!

Join us to celebrate the North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship 2017-18 Graduating Cohort!

Come help us honor this year’s graduating North Star fellows: Amoke Kubat, Carl Crawford, Harrison Bullard, Lashunda Roberts, Lavasha Smith, Nicque Mabrey, Selah Michele and Sheronda Orridge and their efforts in establishing Black led Cooperative initiatives. Fellows’ initiatives vary from housing, worker owned, healing networks, hair care and hair product cooperatives.

Join us to learn more about their work and how you can be in cooperation with them. A keynote address will be made by Collie Graddick, our local north and south cooperative leader.

RSVP by April 18th here!

Metro Transit staff photo credit: Bill Klotz

In the summer of 2016, Nexus along with other Community Engagement Team members (CURA and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability) supported 11 community-based organizations in engaging their communities to find out what bus stop improvements are important to them. The Better Bus Stops engagement process concluded in the spring of last year. Recently, Metro Transit announced changes to their policies that resulted from the engagement process:

“After receiving community feedback and reviewing wait time data we recently revised those guidelines. Under the new guidelines, shelters will be considered at any site where there are more than 30 boardings a day, with a priority on sites that have more than 100 daily boardings.

The guidelines also place a higher priority on locations that serve people with disabilities, older adults and those who are less likely to own a vehicle. Transfer points and boarding locations near healthcare or social service centers will also get greater consideration.

The new criteria are a clear demonstration of how equity, defined as equal access to opportunity for all, is guiding our work.”

Read the full story on Metro Transit’s blog

Learn more about Business Conversions from Nexus’ partner, Project Equity

For Nexus Community Partners, business conversions to worker ownership is part of its community wealth building initiative that seeks to promote local and broad-based ownership and encourage economic practices rooted in cultural communities.

This work received a shout out in the Nonprofit Quarterly’s “Nonprofits Shift Baby Boomer Businesses to Worker Ownership in Bid for Community Sustainability.”

“If you’re a boomer business owner planning for succession, you can’t afford to overlook the employee ownership option,” writes Lori Shepherd in Entrepreneur.

At NPQ, we have written about the growing prominence of employee ownership, but mostly from the perspective of the value of preserving businesses and jobs in the community. Still, these community benefits will only be realized if business owners agree to sell to their employees. So, what would drive a business owner to do so?

While the ability to defer capital gains tax is a factor, it turns out there are also powerful market incentives. A wave of retirements (2.4 million, Shepherd estimates) has long been expected in the decade or so to come, and as Shepherd points out, “In a crowded marketplace, transferring full ownership to the workers may represent [retiring owners’] best chance to sell their businesses at fair market value.”

Full article here

Reposted from the Neighborhood Funders Group member blog posted by Shannon Lin, January 22, 2018:

The Story of the Blue Line Coalition: How Philanthropy Can Promote Equity through Community Engagement

 

“When NFG members Nexus Community Partners and The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota heard that there was a light rail extension planned to connect Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, they knew there was an opportunity to leverage their resources to support community power in the process. 

Many of the neighborhoods that the light rail extension would pass through are home to a population of majority people of color and immigrants who would likely be left out of the conversation if traditional planning processes were followed. As Patrick Troska, Executive Director of the Phillips Family Foundation said, ‘If the community wasn’t engaged in this decision from the very start, then the outcomes the community needed wouldn’t have been accomplished.’

Nexus and Phillips are organizations committed to living out the values of community engagement and working alongside community leaders and organizations. They believe that every community member, especially those who have been historically oppressed or ignored, should have access to opportunities to influence decision-making that affects their lives. Using their resources to fund and support community engagement was critical to ensuring all of the community could benefit from this large public infrastructure investment.”

Read the full blog here

2015 HAFA CSA shares at Nexus

Nexus’ partner, the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), just announced that their 2018 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Memberships are now open!

“We are excited to announce that our  2018 CSA signups are open!  We are out of the field, busy planning for the coming season and learning more about soil health and all the new food safety rules.  We will be starting the first CSA crops in early March and have so much to do before then!  In the meantime, your CSA membership will help us buy the seeds and greenhouse supplies, to get these plants growing.  Sign up for your HAFA CSA HERE.

Learn more about how you can support Hmong farmers in Minnesota – and eat deliciously fresh produce this summer!

To answer this question, we turn to the story of the Blue Line Coalition:

With the landscape of our cities ever-changing, the Metro Blue Line light rail extension is planned to connect North Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, running through neighborhoods with a majority population of people of color and immigrants. Major infrastructural investments like the light rail extension will impact our communities for decades to come, with economic impacts in the billions.

There is a long and damaging history in this country of transit planning and development negatively impacting communities of color, especially historically African American communities.  We need look no further than the Rondo Community  in St. Paul, decimated by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1950’s and 60’s when highway planners failed to engage and listen to the concerns of the community. To ensure that this damaging pattern was not repeated, several community organizations came together in 2012 to form the Blue Line Coalition to advocate for community engagement in the planning process of the Blue Line light rail extension.

Today, Blue Line Coalition members have seen their impact on the policies and structure of the light rail plans, and in building community capacity. The Blue Line Coalition has created a couple of videos that demonstrate the power of community engagement as a key strategy to advance equity in our communities.

Check out the below video for a message to our partners in philanthropy about resourcing community engagement.

Watch the below video for a perspective from BLC member organizations on their experience organizing community.

“At Nexus we think it’s very important for people to take vacations to get away, spend time with family or to concentrate on things outside of work. However, you shouldn’t have to vacate your job or the work experience in order to relax and experience a sense of wellness.  We believe that wellness should be integrated into the work environment and that people should be able to engage in wellness in addition to any vacation they take.”- Repa Mekha, President & CEO, Nexus Community Partners.

A little over a year ago, Nexus Community Partners’ President and CEO, Repa Mekha, took a three-month sabbatical. He spent this time traveling, learning, and reflecting on his ten years of leadership at Nexus. The time away was invaluable for Repa and the organization, and both were stronger when he returned. While on sabbatical, Repa reflected on the importance of wellness, and how too often our organizational structures and cultures discourage staff from taking care of themselves. “I think we often think that not being able to keep on pushing means there is something less about us when in reality, we’re just human and we can only drive for so long without our minds, our bodies, and our spirits needing rest”. Upon his return, Repa and staff began articulating what it would look like if we integrated personal and collective wellness into our work – what would it look like if we made an organizational commitment to the nourishment of our whole selves.

Nexus’ Wellness Program is a collective experience that promotes valuing individuals and the work they engage in. We believe this should be the way forward for the nonprofit and philanthropic sectors. Valuing the wellness of your staff; valuing the whole person, changes the way they approach the work and the way they show up.  It allows those who wish to dedicate their life to social justice, to do so and to do so in such a way that doesn’t sacrifice their minds, bodies, and spirits.

Nexus staff enjoying a wellness cruise on the St. Croix River.

Nexus’ Wellness Program is unique in its approach, being both flexible and responsive to the personal wellness practices of the staff. Nexus’ Wellness Program is a human based approach that reinforces the importance of self-care. Since wellness practices look different for everyone, Nexus staff decide the activities that are suitable to their mental, physical and/or spiritual needs and interests. Nexus’ Wellness Program includes a $250 wellness stipend every six months and two paid wellness hours per week which are blocked off on calendars and used for activities defined by individual staff. In addition, Nexus staff participates in a collective wellness activity such as group meditation instruction, a boat cruise, a trip to the Como Conservatory, and a self-defense class led by a Nexus staff member. The group time provides a space for Nexus staff to engage and experience each other while strengthening relationships.

We believe that our wellness practices are necessary. As an organization led by people of color and working in communities of color, we know the toll this work can take on our minds, bodies, and spirits. At Nexus, we welcome the whole person into the work and believe that our passion and dedication to the work should be valued. We believe a person can step away from their work to take care of them self and their work is better for it when they return. Allocating financial resources for wellness reinforces the value we place on the mental, physical, and spiritual wellness of the staff.

Unfortunately, too many nonprofits overwork their staff and send the message that taking time off, taking care of oneself and/or your family, means you’re not fully committed to the work. Foundations, too, can create and/or perpetuate this culture by refusing to pay adequate overhead, asking for “efficiencies” in staffing, and looking for long-term change in short-term grant cycles. The result? Burnout – a loss of dedicated, passionate and compassionate individuals who are no longer able to contribute their skills and expertise to the work.

Repa’s sabbatical was an important time for the organization and a wonderful opportunity for us to reflect on how we are sustaining ourselves in this work. We encourage other organizations to think deeply about how they’re taking care of themselves while working to advance social justice throughout our communities.

To learn more about Nexus’ Wellness Program, contact Theresa Gardella  at tgardella@nexuscp.org or Felicia Ring at fring@nexuscp.org.