“When our partnership of more than 25 community organizations presented its “Vision and Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice” to Minneapolis City Council members and Mayor Betsy Hodges in January, we came in the spirit of partnership and collaboration. We know — because our communities are experiencing it — that the racial disparities in our city are destructive to our social and economic fabric. We came with the readiness and willingness for the hard work it was going to take to break down the barriers to success for all Minneapolis residents.” Read more.

We are now targeting seats in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Minneapolis, Hennepin County, Ramsey County and Saint Paul.

2013-2014 BCLI FellowsThe deadline for submissions is Friday, July 18th by 12 midnight CST
The BCLI fellowship runs from October 2014 – April 2015

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

Why Apply?

  • Join a network of racial equity and social justice advocates influencing policy decisions on local and regional commissions.
  • Gain integrated perspectives on key local and regional racial equity and social justice issues: economic development, health equity, affordable housing, transit, and workforce development.
  • Participate in a facilitated learning community of trainers, advocate commissioners and elected officials who share best practices, lessons learned, and key concepts.
  • Learn commission skills like Parliamentary Procedure, media messaging, and municipal budgeting.

Download the full 2014-2015 Nomination Packet here.


Please note a change in nominations this year: Each organization and each BCLI alum may nominate only one candidate each year (see Page 5 of the Nomination Packet for more information).

Come to an upcoming Information Session!

Please RSVP to Angie Brown at abrown@nexuscp.org – please indicate which info session you plan to attend. Light refreshments will be provided.

  • Thursday, May 29th 5:30-7pm at UROC: 2001 Plymouth Ave N, Minneapolis 55411
  • Thursday, June 5th 9-10:30am at Hope Community Inc., 3rd Floor Loft: 611 E. Franklin Ave, Minneapolis 55404
  • Tuesday, June 17th 5:30-7pm at CLUES, McKnight Room: 797 7th St. E., St. Paul 55106
  • Thursday, June 19th 6:30-8pm at Brookdale Library, Room AB: 6125 Shingle Creek Parkway, Brooklyn Center 55430

Questions? Contact us:

Ms. Angie Brown
Program Associate

Ms. Terri Thao
Program Director

About the BCLI

Nexus’ Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) is a 7-month leadership program that supports, trains and places people of color and other underrepresented community members on publicly appointed boards and commissions that influence and impact equity in the Twin Cities Metro Area. Click here for more information about the BCLI.

Nexus Community Partners is proud to announce the graduation of our inaugural fellows from the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI)! Over 40 friends, family members, knowledge partners and supporters joined the celebration on Thursday, April 10th at the Minneapolis American Indian Center. We honored our twelve graduates as they move beyond the seven-month training toward placement and decision-making on local boards and commissions. Meet the graduates and see what boards and commissions they are seated on or targeting here.

13-14 BCLI Fellows

From left to right: Ilhan Omar, Abdirahman Muse, Cathy Jones, Naida Medicine Crow,
Kandace Montgomery, Maleta (Queen) Kimmons, Marsha Cressy,
Roxxanne O’Brien, Sammie Ardito Rivera
Not pictured: Cynthia Campos, Maggie Lorenz, Mee Cheng

Elder LeMoine LaPointe, who participated in the BCLI Launch Event, opened the graduation with a blessing alongside his two sons, Wakinyan and Thorne LaPointe, and relative Mi-zi-way Mi-gi-zi Desjarlait.

The graduation program featured a slideshow of the various activities of this year’s program, including photos from our Saturday training sessions, the October Program Launch and from the BCLI Thursday Night Issue Series. The fellows then got a chance to share their stories of what this program meant for them personally and for the broader equity movement in the Twin Cities.

Fellow Panel

From left to right: Kandace Montgomery, Roxxanne O’Brien, Ilhan Omar, Sammie Ardito Rivera

“[I am] part of a group called Advancing Women’s Voices where we gather and we talk about leadership and power within the Somali community and what it means for women to have a voice…We decided to all nominate each other for this [BCLI] and I luckily got picked,” said Ilhan Omar, who was appointed Senior Policy Aide to Council Member Andrew Johnson after beginning the BCLI.

Roxxanne O’Brien spoke about her success on the Minneapolis Citizen’s Environmental Advisory Committee: “It was really frustrating the first few months…being one of the only black women on the board and trying to bring forth my values and experiences…[Until recently, when] we just finally had a unanimous vote to pass equity language to the City Council and the Mayor, which would [bring] some options for floods or emergency situations in our communities that would reach people in poor communities – would reach people of color.”

“I want to see more unity amongst people of color to rise together to get what we need…I was really excited about the possibility [in the BCLI] to work across culture with people working on different issues…I was seated on the Homegrown Minneapolis Food Council this January…I’m glad to be able to expand my work of health and wellness and my knowledge about food systems and gardening within my own community, and larger systems change for all our communities,” shared Sammie Ardito Rivera.

Kandace Montgomery acknowledged that advancing equity through boards and commissions is but one strategy for systemic change: “It doesn’t stop at the city level. There are five legislators of color at the capitol…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.”

Check out the video of the graduation here, and the photo gallery here.

Wellstone MemorialThe graduates were gifted a Certificate of Graduation, as well as a signed copy of local activist and artist Ricardo Levins Morales’ work titled Wellstone Memorial that included a quote from the senator: “Significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing.”

Nexus President & CEO Repa Mekha concluded the event with the following remarks: “This is not about individuals, but about the power that comes when people from across cultures that have shared vision about change in this world weave themselves together, learn together, and commit together; that’s much more powerful than what any individual can ever do.”

The BCLI has prepared these leaders to serve as the next generation of appointed officials who are representative of, and accountable to, the region’s communities of color and other underrepresented populations – creating real demands and real change for our children, our community and the Twin Cities region.

BCLI staff would like to say a special THANK YOU to all of our funders, knowledge partners, training facilitators, guest speakers, Issue Series panelists, evaluators, nominators, fellows, selection committee members, and all of the BCLI community and family – thank you for all of your amazing work, and for helping with the development and implementation of this program! We couldn’t do this without you!

Keep an eye out for these upcoming 2014-2015 important dates! For more information about the BCLI, contact the program associate, Ms. Angie Brown, at abrown@nexuscp.org, or the program director, Ms. Terri Thao, at tthao@nexuscp.org.


From left to right: Ilhan Omar, Abdirahman Muse, Roxxanne O’Brien, Cathy Jones, Angie Brown, Kandace Montgomery, Repa Mekha, Maleta (Queen) Kimmons, Sammie Ardito Rivera, Marsha Cressy, Terri Thao
Not pictured: Cynthia Campos, Maggie Lorenz, Mee Cheng, Naida Medicine Crow

“Significant social change comes from the bottom up, from an aroused opinion that forces our ruling institutions to do the right thing.” Senator Paul Wellstone 1944-2002

The 2013-2014 Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) Issue Series came to a close with our final Issue Series on Thursday, March 6, 2014. Over 30 community members gathered at the Rondo Library in Saint Paul to discuss Health Equity in the Twin Cities with our panelists Antonia Wilcoxon, Director of Community Relations at the Minnesota Department of Human Services (DHS) and Joo Hee Pomplun, Organizer of the Health Equity Working Committee (HEWC).

View the photo gallery here.

3.6 Health Equity Panel

We kicked off the event with the questions “What does ‘health’ mean to you?” and “What does ‘health equity’ mean to you?” After discussing in small groups, our panelists elaborated on their work in health equity and how it is connected to racial equity in their work and how their work is poised to capitalize on the assets of communities of color in the broader equity movement.

Ms. Wilcoxon shared that “We cannot make these decisions or arrive at some findings here in the absence of the very people that we are talking about because they are not here at the table to speak for themselves.”

Ms. Pomplun shared: “One thing that I’ve always really questioned is the State and however many agencies and institutions keep asking: ‘How do we solve these racial disparities; how do we solve these problems?’ But then they go back into their institutions and … think about it, and do their own little think-tank in their institutions. But the answer is in the community… There is so much readiness, so much passion, so much desire to be out there leading policy, making policy, making the changes that we want to see happen that will benefit our communities to create and advance the equity that is needed and necessary…”

The ensuing discussion centered around involvement of communities of color not only in advisory roles to local government – like the Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council that Ms. Wilcoxon facilitates – but also as the decision-makers and policy shapers, as Ms. Pomplun shared with her work helping draft a bill to amend a health related tax that would impact communities of color and LGBTQ communities.

The panelists closed by sharing some recommendations on how each of us can incorporate health equity into our own work, as well as ways to become an active member in local decision-making processes around health and health equity.

Check out the full audio recording of our panelists (41:56):

For more information about the BCLI, check out our website and join our listserv to get updates on upcoming events.

We look forward to seeing everyone this November for the beginning of our 2014-2015 BCLI Issue Series!


Antonia Wilcoxon
Director of Community Relations
Department of Human Services (DHS)

“That generated a process in which we created – I say we, but it was really the collective of both state employees which were in a smaller number than the cultural communities – a series of recommendations for the agency [DHS] to undertake… [including] that our agency did not hire the people who look like the people we served, so the agency changed its affirmative action goals to develop some goals for minority hire. Another concern was the fact that as an agency we knew very little about the community we serve, so they really recommended some anti-racism training which the senior leadership went through and they learned how much we excluded the community that we serve, and made some actions to make sure that we include more individuals affected by the disparities in the planning and development of the policies. The Cultural and Ethnic Communities Leadership Council was created and passed into law this past legislative session with the purpose of advising the commissioner of human services on disparities reduction.”

JooHeePomplunJoo Hee Pomplun
Health Equity Working Committee (HEWC)

“It’s so fantastic to have Antonia at DHS, because she is just such a champion and internal person to connect with to understand how the culture works, who to talk to, and just to help us navigate and message what we see as the barriers to the disparity reduction happening at DHS.

“[As part of a leadership institute I’m a part of for leaders of color and LGBTQ leaders in policy] we offered… a complimentary bill to this tax [a tax that largely affects communities of color and LGBTQ communities] and we wanted to bring some equity to that tax that would bring some of those resources back into our communities that would bring some benefits and reduce the impact of that tax… None of us ever did a bill before…but Senator Hayden was really fantastic and helped us walk through it and Senator Dibble as well…There is power. There is desire. There is passion. It’s just a matter of us taking those opportunities to do it.”

2014-2015 Issue Series : March 6, 2014

Health Equity in the Twin Cities

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

View the photo gallery here.

Antonia Wilcoxon and Joo Hee Pomplun

“Community Engagement Matters: Stories of Success”

Mark your calendar! Wednesday, March 26th from 9:00am to 11:00am at First Lutheran Church, 463 Maria Avenue, St. Paul, MN (community building)

Join the momentum generated at the Knight/Nexus Forum on Community Engagement by participating in the first of a series of conversations on critical issues related to community engagement. Hosted by Nexus and our Build the Field partners – Casa de Esperanza, Cultural Wellness Center, Hope Community, Lyndale Neighborhood Association, and Native American Community Development Institute. These gatherings will continue throughout 2014, so stay tuned.

Please register by emailing Janice Barbee at janicegwb@yahoo.com

Hope to see you there!


Lyndale Neighborhood Association is a partner in Nexus’ Building the Field of Community Engagement Initiative. Their “Community Conversations” is one way LNA is deepening their community engagement work and demonstrating what it means to be a responsive, engaged organization. 

“During the past year LNA began a new strategy to engage Lyndale’s diverse community members through a series of community conversations. The goal of the conversations is to understand the value people place on their connections in the neighborhood, discover what they want for Lyndale, and build community. This article is a summary of what we have heard so far.” Read more

panelOn February 6th, over 65 community members packed the BCLI Issue Series at the McKnight Foundation to engage in learning and honest discussion about the “Intersection of Equity, Transit and Affordable Housing in the Twin Cities.”

The panel included Owen Duckworth, Coalition Organizer for the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Margaret Kaplan, Community Development Director of Minnesota Housing, and Wynfred Russell, Executive Director of African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. The panelists began the conversation by sharing their work in transit and affordable housing through an organizing, nonprofit and systems approach. (Click on the links below to hear each speaker’s segment of the panel. Click here to view the photo gallery).

The speakers focused on several themes, including: the need to have a greater racial equity analysis within organizations and at the systems and institutional levels; the need for more leaders championing and implementing equitable strategies; the need for continuous community engagement; and the need for established communities of color to share their lessons with the new immigrant communities.

These issues are extremely important to Nexus, and for the region, as critical decisions are being made on investments in transportation and affordable housing. It is imperative to ensure that communities benefit from these opportunities, especially given the historical and continued discrimination against communities of color and low-wealth communities. The audience raised some valid and difficult questions including: What makes white, middle-class educated people qualified to make decisions for low-wealth people of color with the lived experiences of inaccessibility to transit and affordable housing? Why aren’t community members with the lived experiences considered the experts and therefore represented on panels such as these?

2.6photoThese are themes that Nexus is familiar with and we work on ensuring that people (majority communities of color and low-wealth) who live these experiences actually inform the decisions that are being made at the systems level and are considered experts.  Through the BCLI Issue Series, Nexus is intentional about creating shared spaces where community members and organizers, as well as policymakers and systems representatives, can build relationships and honestly address equity issues in our region. By engaging leaders from all levels of the decision-making process, our collective power to advance equity becomes stronger – and the voices of those impacted by decisions around affordable housing, transit-expansion, jobs, and education can become the voices at the decision-making tables for these issues.

We appreciate the feedback from all attendees regarding suggestions for making these shared spaces stronger and more resourceful – as that is the ultimate goal of the BCLI Issue Series. The suggestions included inviting the BCLI fellows and community members to sit on the panel, clearly defining equity, exploring the divisions between different cultural and ethnic groups in equity work, and many others that will help inform our final Issue Series event on March 6th, as well as the Issue Series for the 2014-2015 BCLI program year.

Click on the below links to hear each speaker’s segment of the panel.


Owen Duckworth
Coalition Organizer
Alliance for Metropolitan Stability

“As many people who’ve done work on statewide coalitions or issue advocacy coalitions, there’s a real tension at the heart of a lot of these issues especially when it comes to racial equity issues…A lot of the issue advocacy organizations in our state or in our region are not led by people of color, are not necessarily based in an analysis that leads with race equity…There’s also a challenge…when building these coalitions…there’s a number of players that need to be at the table. Not all of them share a racial equity analysis – that’s an understatement. Many of them are literally turned off by the conversation around race…that’s a tension that’s there. But again for the Alliance [for Metropolitan Stability] – we put racial equity in front and center of our mission and hold that lens wherever we go. It’s a challenge again to how we think about building power within, for our member organizations, for our own organization and for communities on the ground.”

Owen Duckworth

Margaret Kaplan
Community Development Director
Minnesota Housing

“One of the things that I think has helped us along the way [of determining and implementing processes for supporting affordable housing] is some really strong leadership – both within our organization itself, with our commissioner Mary Tingerthol – deciding that equity, that community engagement, that engaging with communities in different ways and having voices at the table in different ways as we are making our decisions was something that we care about even if we didn’t know how to do it. And then also I think particularly when you look at the Twin Cities region, having some very strong leaders who are increasingly coming together and thinking about the way that we talk about equity and the way that we talk about disparities and the connection that equity and public investments have with each other in a more coordinated way. I think that helps us make changes in the work that we do.”

Margaret Kaplan

Wynfred Russell
Executive Director

African Career, Education & Resource, Inc.

The Northwest suburbs are the new frontier…Brooklyn Center is 51-49, it’s the only majority minority city in the state. But if you would look at the representation, the elected officials there, it would give you a completely different picture – even the folks that work at city hall would give you a completely different picture…Brooklyn Park [population] is officially 48% minority…But Brooklyn Park has less than 2% people of color that work at the city and zero on the city council…The organization that I work with [African Career, Education & Resource (ACER) has] been trying to build relationships, build bridges all across the board…Our primary target audience is African immigrants, African Americans and all the minority groups…For some of us who have been fortunate to work with institutions like the U of M and other places, we know what needs to happen; we know some of the deficits that exist in some of these mainstream organizations. So we try to serve as a bridge to connect our community, the larger minority community, with a lot of these mainstream institutions and say okay, how can you help us? We’ve identified the needs, how can you help us deliver to our folks?”

Wynfred Russell

2014-2015 Issue Series : February 6, 2014

The Intersection of Equity, Transit & Housing

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

View the photo gallery here.

Owen Duckworth

Margaret Kaplan

Wynfred Russell


“Nexus Community Partners believes that a competitive and inclusive region is one in which members of all racial, ethnic and income groups have opportunities to live and work in all parts of the region; have access to living wage jobs; and equitably benefit from local and regional opportunities.”

Click here to read more (Minnesota Council of Nonprofits Newsletter 2014; page 4).