North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship 2018/2019 cohort sessions have started off well! The first cohort meeting dug into the history of cooperatives and the society in which we live in that bread a necessity for cooperatives to exist. We also discussed how modern-day society makes it difficult for black businesses to remain afloat without systematic structures trying to tear them down. Our second session dove into the role capitalism plays into the overall success of a cooperative economy and the need to bring it to fruition. And our most recent cohort session dissected the cooperative bylaws and development – what makes cooperatives successful and what foundations are necessary for keeping the cooperative stable. It asked a difficult question: what is most important to the board – profit or the people? Through this, many of the members revealed the ingrained roots of capitalism and have continued to tackle the multilayered issue of social inequality with curiosity and understanding. The pessimism that surrounds our community due to the weight of social inequality can be back breaking, however, this is only true if you allow it to consume you.
In partnership with Hlee Lee of OMG Media, the East Side Funders Group is launching a series of stories to lift up the amazing business community on the East Side of St. Paul. Check out the first story: Cook St. Paul: From Childhood Memories to Community Collaborations
We all know Serlin’s, it was a staple on the East Side for what seemed like forever, well nearly 70 years. Edmond Charles
Hansen III, aka Eddie Wu, remembers it too. His father was a firefighter stationed on Payne Avenue.
‘My dad would get off work at the fire station and I would get dropped off there,” Wu said. “I’d help with his side job: washing windows or trimming trees. The deal would be he’d give me $5 but also he’d take me out to eat and usually he’d let me choose. And I could never remember the name of Serlin’s, but I remember the pictures on the wall. Those food pictures. So I would say, ‘Can we go to the place with the weird food pictures?’ And he knew.”
Check out the full story here.
Written by Nkuli Shongwe
The Humanist Philosophy of Ubuntu was introduced by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a South African cleric and theologian, one of the main Leaders of the South African anti-Apartheid, and Human Rights movement. One of the many meanings of Ubuntu is: I am because we are. The word holds a meaning of collectiveness and interconnectedness in humans. The humanist philosophy can be used to advocate for the economic and social justice through cooperative economics for people who identify as identify as women, LGBTQIA, African, and African American. Economic justice is a tool that promotes sustainable economic growth and restorative community wealth in historically marginalized and continuously exploited communities.
It’s been a year since I was introduced to the cooperative movement. Before that, I never thought much of co-ops, I barely knew of co-ops- in the formal sense. I was fascinated with cooperatives and became interested in learning more about their history. I had this burning question about the first coops and where they were established. As I was doing more research to familiarize myself, I quickly discovered that most of the information I found online and the narrative in the coop world stated that cooperatives started in Europe in the 19th century and the Rochdale pioneers were established as pioneers whole catapulted the modern cooperative movement in the 20th century.
During my research, I was introduced to Dr. Jessica Gordon Nembhard’s book– Collective Courage: A History of African American Cooperative Economic Thought and Practice. Dr. Nembhard’s book is the only book written in the 21st century about African American cooperative business ownership and its place in the movements for Black civil rights and economic equality. It is one of two books ever written recollecting the history of black cooperatives. The only other text in existence W. E. B. Du Bois’s 1907 Economic Co-operation Among Negro Americans.
What was fascinating about Dr. Nembhard’s book was the she debunked the dominant narrative about the establishment of the first cooperatives. She details incredible history and stories proving that African Americans have had a long-rich history of cooperative ownership driven by market failures and racial discrimination that predates that cooperatives established in England during the 19th century. The revelation came when I read that coops were not always formal structures. There were many informal forms of cooperating that were powerful such as the underground rail road, programs led by the Black Panthers, mutual aid societies, tilling kitchens- and list goes on.
Essentially we have been cooperating as since the beginning of time. After pouring, through the research and learning more about the informal coop structures used and how they were used for survival, I began asking myself- where are my people in this story? Do my people have a history of cooperating and where can I find this history and information. I put in the words South African coops in google and google scholar and I was met with an extensive list of formal cooperatives existing in all provinces in South Africa.
I was astonished and found myself going down rabbit holes. Once I pulled myself out of the rabbit hole, I thought of the informal ways of cooperating and the list was also endless. I thought of family weddings or funerals where all the mothers and women of the family would gather to make a beautiful feast. Each woman would have a task from cutting the vegetables or meat, cooking, plating up, and washing the dishes- there were no formal procedures. Women would come together and contribute where they were needed. I thought of stockvels- invitation only clubs of twelve or more people serving as rotating credit unions or saving scheme in South Africa where members contribute fixed sums of money to a central fund on a weekly, fortnightly or monthly basis. Stockvels have been around since the 19th century and were used fight against colonialism.
The philosophy of UBUNTU is prevalent throughout the cooperative movement and the fight for economic justice. Cooperatives use a human based approach to build community wealth. Cooperation is driven by trust, care, and empathy for each other. The cooperative movement encourages us to participate in a liberatory economy that is regenerative and works to actively challenge a racialized and gendered economic system.
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?
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 Community Partners is proud to be recognized by the Bush Foundation as a 2018 Bush Prize for Community Innovation winner! Nexus Community Partners has been at the center of innovative community capacity building efforts for 15 years. Our role as a community partner has served as a vehicle to bring partners from community, government, philanthropy and community development together to design and implement solutions to persistent challenges. The solutions have emerged over the years because of how we set the table; grounding partnerships in shared values and principles, nurturing authentic relationships, and creating intentional space for shared learning and impact. We want to thank all of our partners who we have had the honor of working with over the years. Together we are building more engaged and powerful communities of color.
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!!
How AEDS is transforming the African immigrant experience in Minnesota
Entering the African Economic Development Solutions’ (AEDS) office in St. Paul, Minnesota, visitors are instantly greeted with bright-colored, floor to ceiling banners displaying African pride and the work of AEDS.
Founded 10 years ago by Gene Gelgelu, president and CEO, AEDS supports wealth building in communities, with an African-centric focus. In its early years, AEDS provided wealth building through business planning and youth enrichment programs. Over the years, with the help of Nexus Community Partners and others, the work has expanded and evolved.
“We were able to start our loan program in 2013 with the help of Nexus and the grant we received. We have expanded the program so we are able to do micro-lending for businesses, financial literacy, and credit placemaking [in the Twin Cities-Metro area],” Gelgelu said.
Through the various programs, African Economic Development Solutions impact can be felt and seen economically, physically, and socially.
“Our biggest impact through the loan program is that we are helping start businesses that create jobs. From there, people are able to buy homes that are within their budget and that they own. We have our Little Africa festival, which creates space for people to connect to the African community [in Twin Cities] and helps in attracting and retaining talent in the region. All of this creates social capital, adding vibrancy and value to the area.”
When Gene first founded AEDS, it was not the large, vibrant office space it currently is. For the first couple years of the organization, Gene was sharing a desk with another organization and could only give himself part-time pay, though he was working far more than the standard, 40 hours a week.
“[W]hen I look back, I think about how many people have been impacted. We [African, immigrant communities] don’t get money for the planning stage like in certain communities…Nexus has supported us with funding during our planning stage and beyond. They’re not only our funders, but our friends. The [Nexus] team understands our community. They understand us because they have folks who lived through it or [who] step up to the challenge. They deeply care about what we do.”
The relationship between Nexus and AEDS dates back to 2010, when Nexus gave the organization a $10,000 capacity building grant to develop and strengthen their asset and wealth building programs. “We trusted Gene’s vision and his ability to address the needs of his community,” said Danielle Mkali, Nexus program officer. Over the years, Nexus provided funds to help AEDS communicate their story, attract additional resources and expand its programming. Today AEDS is a Community Development Financial Institution (CDFI), and in 2017, the organization received a $150,000 award from the Small Business Administration. “Gene is helping families build a legacy. It has been a pleasure to witness AEDS overcome barriers and watch the organization grow. We have learned so much from AEDS,” said Danielle.
Reflecting on next steps for AEDS, Gene wants to build out the lending program, expand benefits for existing staff, and strengthen organizational capacity; however, he also wants folks to remember how African communities are important to the Minnesotan fabric.
“We, our community, are an asset. We bring and have brought assets to this region…African immigrant communities are thriving in this region.”
Written by Nichelle Brunner
Written by Nkuli Shongwe
Nexus Community Partners and Village Financial Cooperative held the first annual Blackonomics Conference. The two organizations brought together over 60 people from the Twin Cities, Denver, Oakland, and Chicago. Blackonomics is an intentional gathering of Black folks in the Twin Cities and the Midwest that are working towards Black cooperative economics and solidarity economics.
The weekend kicked off Friday evening with a welcome dinner where we enjoyed incredible food from Chelle’s Kitchen. The air was filled with joy and celebration. The space was blessed by Amoke Kubat , a write, artist, teacher, Yoruba priestess and community elder who took part in Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. After dinner, we had a fish bowl conversation about cooperation, healing, and Blackness. One of the participants from Chicago was moved by the conversation and suggested that we needed to actually give money to the cause. He spontaneously pulled out a $20 bill and threw it on the ground. This prompted people to dig into their wallets and give what they could to the cause. By the end of the night people contributed over $180.
Saturday morning we had incredible breakfast from K’s Revolutionary Kitchen. After breakfast, everyone sauntered off to the three different morning break-out sessions. Danielle Mkali led a session about the steps of cooperative development. LaDonna Redmond Sanders and Makeda Toure led a session about the cooperative principles and values. I led a session about the historic and present local, national, and international BIPOC cooperatives. During lunch, we had the opportunity to learn about Mandela Foods Cooperative from the keynote speaker, Adrionna Fike. Adrionna is a worker owner of the BIPOC grocery coop in Oakland, California. Adrionna told the story of she found her way to Mandela Foods Cooperative, gave some history about the grocery store and the journey they are taking which included freeing themselves from a disempowering relationship with Mandela Marketplace, hiring more worker owners, and forgoing moving to a larger space which used to house the 99c store. After the Keynote, we had the last breakout sessions. Isaiah Goodman led a session about Becoming Financial, Renee Hatcher, a human rights and community development lawyer, led a session on the legal basics of starting a co-op, and Julia Ho and Salena Burch led a session an building solidarity economies.
After we adjourned the day, we headed to Coop Fest which was led by Cooperative Principles, a co-op investment club. We celebrated cooperating and had the chance to donate to up and coming co-ops incubated by Minneapolis’ C-TAP program, Women Venture, and Nexus’ North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship. Each group gave a brief presentation about their cooperative and stated how much money they needed. There was a lot of excitement and jubilation in the air. At the end of the night, people donated money to the coops they were most interested in and the ones they supported.
Blackonomics came to a conclusion on Sunday. We spent the morning envisioning what cooperation would look like 30 years from now. Dr. Rose Brewer, a professor of Afro American and African Studies at the University of Minnesota, and Irna Landrum, a digital campaign director at Daily Kos led us through and activity about how we would build, maintain and develop and Black solidarity economy in the Midwest. After a lot of robust conversation we decided to build out our networks and invite more Black folks to our movement. We then identified who wanted to take initiative and be part of the planning process for the next Blackonomics conference which would be bigger than and just as amazing as the first one. We ended our day by expressing our gratitude of being in the space and how we felt after the long yet rewarding weekend.
Blackonomics was a beautiful, melanin filled space, that provided healing, hope, love, warmth, joy, and community.
The Minnesota Council of Nonprofits (MCN) announced eight candidates for their upcoming board of directors election – and Nexus’ very own Theresa Gardella is one of those eight! Theresa and the additional seven candidates will be on MCN’s ballot for five open positions.
Click here to read more about MCN’s board election process – voting will take place November 1, 2018.
Theresa Gardella is currently the Vice President of Programs and Operations for Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities, committed to advancing racial and economic justice through transforming systems and strengthening leaders and organizations. She has over 25 years of experience in the non-profit sector and has served in a number of different roles including but not limited to, program officer, facilitator, program developer, and development director. Theresa’s experiences have helped her gain valuable insights into the nonprofit sector’s unique assets and challenges.
In her current role, Theresa builds strong relationships with Nexus partners and stakeholders, shapes strategy for the organization and helps to ensure organizational sustainability and program alignment to achieve Nexus’ mission. Theresa also oversees internal operations, organization development and supervision of program staff. In addition, Gardella co-founded the East Side Funders Group, participated in both the Shannon Leadership Institute and GEO’s Change Leaders in Philanthropy, and served as a Commissioner for the City of Roseville.
Prior to joining Nexus in 2008, Theresa worked with domestic and international nonprofits, coalitions and government entities, helping to increase their capacity to more effectively accomplish their organization’s mission and goals. Gardella holds a Master of Arts in International Relations from American University in Washington, DC and a Bachelor of Arts in History from the University of Connecticut.
According to Theresa, “My professional career has been dedicated to advancing social justice and strengthening the capacity of nonprofits who are committed to seeing a more just and equitable world. I believe deeply in the role of nonprofits in our society and the need to ensure they are strong, sustainable and impactful. It is critical that MCN has the necessary tools and capacity to both remain responsive to the current needs of the nonprofit community and be proactive in ensuring its future relevance and responsiveness to a changing Minnesota.”
So mark your calendars, and don’t forget to have your organization vote on November 1st for Theresa!
The newest member of the Nexus team discusses titles, collectivism, and the power of love
Joining a little over a month ago, Chao currently serves as the Director of Strategic Development; however, she is quick to note that, “titles are just titles,” and it does not say much about her job. In her role, she focuses on development, but also communications, evaluation, fund management and relationships, and strategic planning.
Before coming to Nexus, Chao worked at a corporate foundation for close to three years where she funded communities in East Asia, United States and Minnesota; however, the experience taught her that she belonged in community.
“Here [at Nexus], community is everything, where corporate philanthropy is more about reputational giving. Being Hmong and coming from a collective community, I was missing out on being a part of an organization that valued me and my lived experiences as an asset. Before Nexus, I was serving communities globally, but I knew I could do more at home.”
With the first month under her belt, Chao is enjoying the new organizational culture of Nexus.
“What’s really amazing is Nexus has this deep, profound culture that leans towards collectivism. The relationships here are good and real. Being here reminds me of who I am and what my purpose is. I went through an emotional journey from self-reflection to acceptance.”
When asked to describe herself, Chao does away with the professional titles and jargon.
“I’m a walking contradiction. Often when people are asked to describe themselves, they jump to characteristics and titles. I live in moments, I’m complicated, and I’m complex. I can go from one spectrum to another depending on the context. I’m a big believer in love. Everyone’s motivations, at the end of the day, are to be loved and to love. My growth game is strong. If I’m not growing, I see it as a problem.
Outside of Nexus, Chao is staying busy with writing a memoir on her aunt, who is the oldest missing persons case in the Twin Cities; starting a healing-focused podcast; and providing career coaching for professionals.