On Thursday, December 4th, nearly 40 community members gathered at Goodwill Easter Seals for our second BCLI Issue Series of the season. Together we explored how to promote equitable community development without displacing residents and gentrifying neighborhoods in the Twin Cities.

BCLI Issue Series

Building on the first Issue Series around organizing and engagement, we discussed the following two questions: How do neighborhoods define what equitable change looks like? How do communities of color benefit from development and prevent gentrification and displacement?

We started the evening with small group discussions around the definitions of gentrification and displacement, then moved into our panel of neighborhood leaders who shared strategies and stories of successful neighborhood-led change that included authentic engagement and representative decision making. Check out the audio links below to listen to each panelist and view the photo gallery here.

BCLI Issue Series Panelists

Caty Royce, the Director of Frogtown Neighborhood Association, kicked off the panel talking about building relationships and having honest conversations about neighborhood change with new and long time residents. Ms. Royce also spoke to the value of the Frogtown neighborhood being locally controlled, which led to the development of the Frogtown Farm and a small development company designed to Preserve Frogtown and build on the historical blue collar history of the neighborhood.

Shauen Pearce, the Executive Director of Harrison Neighborhood Association, shared her strategies for engaging residents around policy, as well as ways to ensure that the board of HNA reflects the community and therefore leads decision-making around neighborhood developments.

Staci Horwitz, Program Director of the City of Lakes Community Land Trust (CLCLT), expanded on equitable neighborhood change from the perspective of ensuring affordable homeownership for residents, using a community land trust model in the neighborhoods slated for change and development.

The evening concluded with audience questions to the panel. Listen to the full Q & A, or see the list of questions below.

  1. (00:38) How do you inform and raise awareness around policy issues so they are more engaged and informed in the policies affecting their neighborhoods?
  2. (09:15) How is a land trust structured and can people get involved?
  3. (14:10) How can we allow and encourage affordable housing developments more in the inner core of the city versus on the outskirts like North Minneapolis (where there is ample affordable housing, “where we are affordable housed out”), without displacing those who already live there?

Dec 2014: Equitable Neighborhood Change

Equitable Neighborhood Change

Click here to read more about the December Thursday Night Issue Series, and click the links below to hear the audio recordings of panelists.

View the photo gallery here.

Caty Royce

Shauen Pearce

Staci Horwitz

Audience & Panelist Q&A

Julia Freeman“Organizing is harder than brain surgery…
And the reason it’s harder than brain surgery is: e
veryone thinks they can organize. Believe it or not…they think ‘Oh, I can do that job.’ But nobody walks into the operating room and takes the scalpel out of a brain surgeon’s hand and says ‘Hey, move over. I got this.’ To be an organizer you actually have to get the tools and training to do the job.”

Julia Freeman

On Thursday, November 6th, the BCLI kicked off our first Issue Series of the season with nearly 50 community members gathered at Gandhi Mahal’s Community Room to explore the role of community organizing and community engagement in the equity movement. Specifically, we explored the following two questions, “What does effective community organizing and engagement look like? How do these two fields intersect and advance racial equity in the Twin Cities?”

Issue Series Attendees

The evening began with a group discussion of the differences and similarities of the two fields, before turning over to three panelists who shared their stories of success engaging and organizing for systems change. Check out the photo gallery here, and the links to the speakers’ audio below.

Issue Series Panelists

Julia Freeman, Senior Organizer for Racial Justice at Voices for Racial Justice (the former Organizing Apprenticeship Project), shared her experience working toward education equity, engaging those most impacted by racial disparities in education to co-create a rubric for measuring racial equity in schools:

Jay Bad Heart Bull, President and CEO of the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI), commented how the American Indian Community Blueprint demonstrated the process of engagement with the community around visioning for what American Indians wanted rather than just needed. This led to deep relationships and trust-building within and across communities, which created a large base to mobilize organizing for the Indigenous People’s Day campaign in Minneapolis:

Janice Barbee, Director of Healing Roots and Manager of Building the Field of Community Engagement at Nexus Community Partners, shared her experience working in community over the years in South Minneapolis and the various projects that the community has driven, created and sustained. One of these was the Backyard Initiative, an initiative driven by community members in partnership with Allina Health to create a healthier community in Minneapolis:

The session ended with powerful questions ranging from how to avoid burnout to suggestions for moving from a direct service organization to a social change organization. See below for the list of questions recorded and to listen to the full Q & A.*

1. How do we create shared ownership so communities remain engaged long-term?
2. (2:54) Does a network exist across organizations to build power and movement at systems levels?
3. (6:32) How do we transform direct service organizations into social change organizations?
4. (10:54) How do we avoid burnout?
5. (13:38) What tools or strategies do you use to engage and communicate with those most impacted by issues?
6. (16:43) How do you deal with institutional racism that forces us into silos?
7. (22:45) What advice do you have for people who are doing or want to do work in organizing or engagement?


*There was a question asked about how to deal with funders’ timelines when real engagement takes time; and unfortunately there was an error on the recorder during that portion of the Q & A. Our apologies!

Nov 2014: Organizing and Engagement

Organizing and Engagement

Click here to read more about the November Thursday Night Issue Series, and click the links below to hear the audio recordings of our panelists.

View the photo gallery here.

Julia Freeman

Jay Bad Heart Bull

Janice Barbee

Audience – Panel Q&A

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

Nexus Community Partners recently released “Assess Your Work: Essentials of Community Engagement” as part of its Building the Field of Community Engagement Initiative. The document answers the questions, “What is authentic community engagement and how does an organization know if it’s doing community engagement?” The document also provides a tool to help organizations, institutions and individuals answer those questions for themselves.



FellowsOn Thursday, October 9th, over 90 people gathered at the Dakota Lodge at the Division of Indian Work to celebrate power in community and to welcome the new Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) fellows into the BCLI family. These 15 fellows will be the next group of advocate commissioners advancing racial equity and social justice through locally appointed boards and commissions. Meet the fellows here.

The theme of the night was centered on the Kenyan proverb, “Sticks in a Bundle are Unbreakable;” the idea that we are more powerful collectively than we are as individuals. A panel of two social justice leaders, State Representative Rena Moran and BCLI Alum Roxxanne O’Brien, shared their experiences advocating and advancing equity, while staying grounded in the community. Check out the event’s photo gallery here.

Five key themes emerged from the panelists as messages to the fellows and broader community:


  1. Being “in so deep, you can’t get out” – as a reminder to people who do community work that they do not have a choice because it affects them as individuals and their entire community; therefore, we share the collective responsibility to push for equity.
  2. People come to the work where they are; no more, no less. People come to these decision-making tables with only their experiences and it is our job to educate them on differences of opinion, strategies and impacts on underrepresented communities.
  3. Relationships, relationships, relationships. If we are not in the community, how will we know the pulse of our community? Being from underrepresented communities means we come to the work with these relationships and feel that pulse – therefore it is vital that we maintain those relationships to stay rooted and to uplift our communities together once we are on decision-making bodies.
  4. One-on-ones are a powerful tool. The reality is that in Minnesota, we have very few leaders of color at the capital, in elected office, and on boards and commissions. In order to change policies and incorporate equity into systems and institutions, we must find common ground with current leaders to reach some agreements – and one-on-one conversations are very effective at sharing and learning about each other’s stories, values and vision.
  5. We must break out of the matrix. Racial equity and social justice work can be exhausting – especially when caring for families, working one or multiple jobs, and also being expected to show up for rallies, meetings, events and/or one-on-ones. But in order to break the chain of systemic racism, we must show up and break out of the business-as-usual mode of operation. Look at what we can accomplish together in action – together we are unbreakable when we all realize our power and move collectively.

From the community members, to fellows, to alum, to the panelists and the organizers in the room – Nexus is looking forward to what we will accomplish together this year and to advancing racial equity and social justice in the Twin Cities region in the years to come.

We hope to see many of you at our upcoming Issue Series, which are open community events where we highlight the work of partners in the equity movement. Our first Issue Series will be on Organizing and Engagement on November 6, 2014, from 5:30-8pm at Gandhi Mahal in Minneapolis. Sign up to receive e-invitations three weeks prior to each event at www.nexuscp.org. Or contact the program associate, Angie Brown, for more information at abrown@nexuscp.org.

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.


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!

Owners of the architectural firm 4RM+ULA, located in Lowertown Saint Paul, believe the METRO Green Line has revived University Avenue and Saint Paul.

“There is something awesome about feeling that you are connected again,” said the firm’s founder, James Garrett Jr.

Architects James Garrett Junior (left) and Nathan Johnson designed the METRO Green Line stations. Their firm, 4RM+ULA, is located in Lowertown Saint Paul.

Architects James Garrett Junior (left) and Nathan Johnson designed the METRO Green Line stations. Their firm, 4RM+ULA, is located in Lowertown Saint Paul.

Garrett, who grew up on Saint Paul’s East Side and then in the Rondo neighborhood, remembers when Saint Paul seemed vacant. “When I went to school in Saint Paul, University Avenue was pretty much given up for dead,” said Garrett. “The METRO Green Line project added a whole bunch of energy to the area.”

The local architect said that one of his favorite things about the project was watching the construction.

“I couldn’t get enough of driving up and down University Avenue and seeing the construction,” said Garrett. “After having worked on it for several years and actually seeing the structures go up, just driving down University and seeing steel framework going up made me realize this is real and this is really happening.”

Green Line station design was ‘fun and challenging’

Garrett and his partner at 4RM+ULA, Nathan Johnson, designed the stations along the Green Line.  They started working with Metro Transit in 2007 – their first transit project.

“The whole project was fun and challenging,” said Johnson. Johnson said they visited each station along the Green line and spent quality time with each station’s artists.

“It was really interesting meeting the artists and seeing how they approached representation of their station/platform,” said Johnson. Read more…