What does it mean to center culture in community engagement? How do our cultural identities impact our relationships in community? How do we get closer to our own stories in order to move away from extractive relationships toward reciprocal relationships?

On November 1st, 2018, Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) hosted the final Engaged Learning Series of 2018 to explore: What’s Your Story? How Identity & Culture Impact Community Engagement.

Introductions at tables began with creating and sharing I Am Poems, many of which were left to share back with the group.

Panelists Bilal Alkatout, Roxanne Anderson, Vina Kay and Susan Phillips spent the second half of the session sharing how personal identities have influenced how they are engaged, and how they engage others in community. Listen to the video below to hear their I Am Poem introductions. 

Following introductions, NCEI program director Avi Viswanathan asked the panel three questions followed by audience-panel Q&A. Check out the videos below to hear their responses to each question.

Question 1: What does it mean to you to center culture in community engagement work? What identities are you drawing from?

Question 2: How have your cultural identities been impacted by or impacted others when engaging community – either negatively or positively?

Question 3: What advice would you give to this group to build authentic relationships centered in identity and culture?

Audience-Panel Q&A:

This Engaged Learning Series was a brief two and a half hours to begin the discussion about centering culture and identity in community engagement. Feedback from the group included a need to further explore cross-class perspectives and deeper discussion around the impact of white supremacy in community engagement. We hope to continue supporting each other at future Engaged Learning Series in these topics as well as other opportunities and challenges in community engagement.

Check back here to register for future convenings. We hope to see you then!

Nexus’ longtime partner and board member, Pakou Hang, executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), was recently featured in The New Food Economy:

Pakou Hang, 42, was born in Thailand, but she’s been an American for all but two weeks of her life. Hang, the child of Hmong refugees resettled in the United States and grew up in Wisconsin, where her parents supported the family by farming. Today, that history deeply informs Hang’s own work: She’s co-founder and executive director of the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), headquartered on a 155-acre research and incubator farm 15 miles south of St. Paul, Minnesota.

Facing persecution as U.S. allies in the Laotian Civil War and the Vietnam War, more than 100,000 Hmong refugees have relocated to the United States since the 1970s. They brought their agricultural prowess with them. In past decades, Hmong-American farmers helped to pioneer the contemporary local food movement in California and the Midwest, popularizing ingredients like Thai chili peppers and bok choy; today, Hmong farmers account for more than half of the produce sold in St. Paul’s farmers’ markets. Founded in 2011, HAFA helps to sustain that legacy by providing pilot plots, professional training, and a food hub—the key piece of processing and distribution infrastructure that makes doing business possible. 

Hang spoke about her upbringing, her childhood resistance to the farm life, and why she decided to come back home and make agriculture her calling and career.

Read the full story here.

We are so proud to call Pakou a partner, and are excited to see the continued growth and support for HAFA and Hmong farmers both locally and nationally! Cheers to you Pakou!!

Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) is proud to welcome Caitlin Schwartz, Sindy Morales Garcia and Venessa Fuentes to our NCEI Advisory Committee!

NCEI advances and strengthens communities through equity-based community engagement, both locally and nationally. The NCEI Advisory Committee is composed of local community engagement practitioners who guide and support the work of the Institute, helping to provide vision and strategy as well as to develop and co-lead trainings and workshops on community engagement with NCEI staff.

We’re honored to have the wisdom and experience of Caitlin, Sindy and Venessa to help ground and guide this work moving forward – please help us welcome them to the team!

Get to Know the New NCEI Advisory Committee Members


Caitlin Schwartz

Caitlin Schwartz has over 12 years of experience in community engagement, organizing, and grassroots leadership development, most recently working on Metro Transit’s Community Outreach & Engagement Team and serving as board member and development committee chair with the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. Her passion is in constituent leadership and ensuring that people are centered in the planning and decision-making that impact their lives. A first-generation college student, she received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of St. Thomas, studying Justice & Peace Studies and Sociology.

Sindy Morales Garcia

Driven by a commitment to equity and wholeness, Sindy works with Wilder’s Community Initiatives team to catalyze the cultural shifts needed to co-create transformational and sustainable change. Her work is informed by a rich tapestry of experiences in higher-education advocacy, community collaborations, and faith-based activism. As a facilitator, Sindy enjoys cultivating spaces of meaningful reflection and dialogue that enable participants to strategically advance new thinking and action in their lives and work.

Originally from Quetzaltenango Guatemala, Sindy comes from a family of community organizers. Her family’s narrative of struggle, resilience, and strategic disruption led her to center her personal and educational journey on deepening her understanding of liberation, healing, and social justice. This includes a degree in Reconciliation Studies at Bethel University, community organizing and public policy at the Silberman School of Social Work, and liberation theology and social ethics at Union Theological Seminary.

Venessa Fuentes

Venessa is a local artist and advocate who, since 1997, has worked in Twin Cities arts, community development, and grantmaking nonprofits. Recently, she held positions at the Bush Foundation and Jerome Foundation – both in grantmaking and communications. Venessa is an alum of the inaugural cohort of the Ron McKinley Philanthropy Fellowship.

How do you effectively tell the story and impacts of authentic community engagement? How can we capture, evaluate and communicate the power of community engagement?

Join us for our next Engaged Learning Series to explore Storytelling & Evaluating Community Engagement with a dynamic panel of community leaders.

The session will begin with a facilitated panel with community engagement practitioners from Frogtown Neighborhood Association and another local organization (to be confirmed), who will share how storytelling has been a means of capturing the process and outcomes of authentic community engagement. Following Q&A, we’ll break into small group dialogue to explore challenges and questions regarding effective storytelling and evaluation of community engagement, and what opportunities you see in your own engagement practices to more authentically tell the story of engagement with community.

Date: Thursday, August 9, 2018
Time: 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Breakfast & Networking: 9-9:30am
Program: 9:30-11:30am

Location: International Institute of Minnesota
1694 Como Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55108

Click here for more info and to register!

Nexus’ Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) is Now Taking Applications for the 2018-2019 Cohort!

Nominations Packets due Friday, June 15th, 2018

Nexus Community Partners is proud to announce that we are now seeking nominations for our sixth cohort for the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute.

The BCLI is a 7-month cohort leadership program that supports, trains and helps places people of color and other underrepresented community members on city and county publicly appointed boards and commissions that influence and impact equity in the Twin Cities Metro Area in economic development, health, housing, transit and workforce development.

In the past five years, The Twin Cities BCLI has trained 69 alumni, half of which have gone on to serve on boards and commissions at all levels of the state (local, regional, and state). We are excited to be recruiting a new cohort of leaders dedicated to equity work in the region and hope you will help us spread the word to friends and networks who want to be a part of a network of leaders on boards and commissions! We are pleased to add two new geographies to our nominations packet this year: welcome aboard, Roseville and Woodbury!

Learn more about the Nominations Packet (Application) Here


Moving BEYOND A SEAT at the table TO A VOTE in the decision-making process.

“We need to be running our own folks for seats by building power that pursues true democracy… We need to be developing leaders to be bold at those decision-making tables and to never leave their community behind. This is how we tell our own story. This is a story that tells everybody they can belong, and this is how we build our movement.”  – Kandace Montgomery, BCLI ’14


Please join us for the following Info Sessions to learn more about the nominations process and the program!

Info Session One
Brooklyn Park
Thursday, May 10, 2018
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Brookdale Library, Creekside Room
2156, 6125 Shingle Creek Pkwy
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430

Info Session Two
Saint Paul
Wednesday, May 23, 2018
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
Rondo Library, Flex Room
461 Dale Street North
St. Paul, MN 55104

Info Session Three
Roseville
Thursday, May 31, 2018
5-6:30 PM
Ramsey County Library – Roseville, Community Room
2180 Hamline Avenue N.
Roseville, MN 55113

Info Session Four
Minneapolis
Wednesday, June 5, 2018
5:30 PM – 7:00 PM
North Regional Library, South Half Room
1315 Lowry Ave N
Minneapolis, MN 55411


Click here for more information about BCLI, or contact BCLI program staff:

Terri Thao
Program Director
tthao@nexuscp.org

Chai Lee
Program Coordinator
clee@nexuscp.org

Nexus Community Engagement Institute invites you to: 

Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement:
A 4-part Introduction to the Field of Community Engagement

REGISTER HERE

Dates: June 1, June 8, June 22, June 29
Time: 9:00 am – 12 Noon
Where: UROC Room 105, 2001 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis, MN 55411

Description: This workshop series is designed to deepen your knowledge, broaden your perspective, and sharpen your skills as you explore the potential for community engagement to create equitable, healthy, and sustainable communities. The sessions are for anyone who is interested in learning more about community engagement, or for those who wish to deepen their work with community.

Session Topics:

  • Session 1: What is Community Engagement? Why is it Important?
  • Session 2: Effective Tools for Community Engagement
  • Session 3: The Link between Community Engagement and Equity
  • Session 4: Integrate Community Engagement into your Organization’s Work and Culture

Learning Goals:

  • Understand the principles and values of community engagement and how it differs from other practices, such as outreach and the traditional social service model.
  • Learn how community engagement can make your work more effective.
  • Utilize community engagement tools for building relationships, leadership, and ownership.
  • Explore how community engagement leads to equity and how understanding equity is essential for effective community engagement.
  • Assess your organization’s readiness and capacity to incorporate community engagement as an approach in your work.

*NEW THIS YEAR: Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) Cultural Exploration Pre-Work Option: Culture, healingand relationships are central to authentic and sustainable community engagement. Thus, this year we are piloting offering the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI) as an optional pre-work add-on for participants who are interested in more deeply exploring culture and identity, as well as challenges and opportunities connecting across difference and commonality. Your confirmation email upon registration will have more information and next steps for opting into the IDI pre-work component, which will take place in May 2018 prior to the beginning of the workshop series.*

Fee: A few scholarships are available, no one will be turned away. Contact Angie for details (see below).

  • Individuals: $450 for all four sessions
  • **Groups of 3-5 from one organization: $400 per person for all four sessions**
  • *Individuals Plus IDI Pre-Work Option: additional $150 per person for IDI group session and individual feedback session in May 2018 – registration is separate and will come with your confirmation email from one of the above selections*

NOTEAttendance at all four sessions is required, as this is a cohort experience and each session builds upon previous sessions.

**Please do not register for more than 5 participants from one organization** -this is to ensure a mix of participants from various sectors and backgrounds for a rich, dynamic experience. Please contact us if you have any questions or concerns about this requirement.

Feedback from Previous “Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement” Participants:

  • “The series is a challenging, inspiring experience that anyone and everyone can learn and grow from.”
  • “I would recommend this workshop series….the conversations, connections, and knowledge learned will help them go from outreach to engagement; from equality to equitable approaches.”
  • “It’s very helpful both as an introduction to CE as well as providing more in-depth training for people already working in CE.”
  • “Prepare to be challenged and accept that what you’ve been doing needs a new perspective.”

REGISTER HERE

About Nexus Community Engagement Institute: Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) advances and strengthens communities through equity-based community engagement, both locally and nationally. NCEI is continuing the work of the Building the Field of Community Engagement collaborative (BTF).

Facilitators and Presenters: The presenters and facilitators are staff and partners of Nexus Community Partners and Nexus Community Engagement Institute.

Contact Angie Brown at abrown@nexuscp.org with questions or for more information about scholarships.

Artwork referenced in the blog: Nothing About Us by Twin Cities artist activist Ricardo Levins Morales

Ana Clymer of United Way of East Central Iowa (UWECI) was one of the participants in Nexus Community Engagement Institute’s (NCEI) Tapping the Potential of Community Engagement series in the fall of 2017 – a four-part introduction to the field of community engagement.

Ana and her colleague, Laura Columbus, drove four hours for each session, giving them ample time to discuss how they may incorporate more community engagement principles and practices into UWECI’s work:

How does community engagement lead to equity? One example includes the age-old proverb, “Give a man a fish, and he will eat for a day; teach a man to fish, and he will eat for a lifetime.” This may be true in some cases, but we need to ask, “Do people want to learn to fish?”, “Will teaching people to fish really solve the problem?”, and “Do people already know how to fish, and there’s another problem we can’t see?”

By asking these questions, we might learn people of the community won’t eat fish, or fish isn’t enough to sustain them, or the fish are not edible. If we don’t live there, we don’t know until we ask.

Check out Ana’s full blog here: “Community Engagement and Equity.”

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

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

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.