On Thursday, April 4, 2019, Nexus Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) graduated its sixth cohort at the Bullard Rainforest Auditorium in the Como Zoo’s Visitor Center. With the addition of these year’s 16 fellows, Twin Cities BCLI has a grand total 85 alumni.

Similar to previous BCLI graduation ceremonies, Nexus President and CEO Repa Mekha officially welcomed everyone, and BCLI program director Terri Thao provided highlights from the 2018-2019 program year. Minnesota Lieutenant Governor and former BCLI trainer Peggy Flanagan provided opening remarks about the value that indigenous people, people of color and underrepresented groups bring to policy-making tables from which they have been historically shut out. She discussed the need to lift up more voices especially on boards and commissions at all levels of government. She stressed the importance of people who are most impacted being at the tables instead of being removed from the conversation.

After the Lieutenant Governor spoke, two graduating fellows Jamaica DelMar and Vincent Henry shared their personal stories and touched on the way the BCLI has inspired their confidence, reinvigorated their drive to get on boards, and do impactful work in community.

The keynote address was given by Minnesota State Representative Rena Moran (DFL-65A) of Saint Paul. Representative Moran talked about the importance of bringing each other along and holding each other accountable in the work we do in community and at policy tables. She reminded the fellows that this work often begins with one of the basic steps of organizing: conducting one-on-one’s with your colleagues to get a better grasp of who they are, what matters to them, and understanding the larger landscape.

Both speakers also shared a common message in their remarks—we need as many leaders of color and indigenous leaders as possible in racial and economic equity work. Both expressed appreciation for the work of the BCLI and other programs which prepare POCI folks for leadership positions in larger systems where they will represent community and bring equity to the table. The evening ended with BCLI fellows being honored with certificates and a poster from local artist Ricardo Levins Morales. Nexus is grateful to all of the alumni, friends, family and funders who helped make this year’s graduation a success.

Saint Paul, Minnesota— On Wednesday, March 6, Nexus staff member Chai Lee was sworn in to serve on the Metropolitan Council (The Met Council), representing District 13, which includes the eastern half of Saint Paul, Lilydale, Mendota Heights, Sunfish Lake and West St. Paul. Lee is a program coordinator for the Boards & Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) at Nexus. He joins 15 other members of the Met Council being sworn in March 6. The 16 members appointed on March 6 represent the 16 districts of the Met Council, which covers the seven county metro area. The chair of the Met Council, Nora Slawik, makes the 17thmember of the body, but is not appointed by geography. Chair Slawik was recently appointed by Governor Tim Walz to lead the council and is the former mayor of Maplewood, MN.

The Metropolitan Council is the regional policy-making body, planning agency, and provider of essential services for the Twin Cities metropolitan region. It is a unique regional body unlike any other in the nation, whose roots date back to the 1960s, and was created with bipartisan support by the governor and legislature of Minnesota. The appointments were made by Minnesota Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan, from a pool of over 200 applicants.

“I am humbled and honored to be appointed to the Met Council by Governor Tim Walz and Lieutenant Governor Peggy Flanagan. I will do my best to bring to the table divers perspectives as I reach out and work toward engagement between Council staff, advisory boards, and my deep community relationships. Most of all, I am proud to be at the table as someone in coming into this work from the unique viewpoint of Nexus, and the nonprofit sector, as well as my local government experience,” says Lee. “What I look forward to most is the opportunity to work on issues which impact all our communities so deeply, from planning for economic opportunity to affecting affordable housing and improving our infrastructure, I will work hard to strengthen the national and global competitiveness of our metro region through my work on Met Council. I am so proud and lucky to be working at Nexus, and my work and passion in diversifying boards and commissions will continue, and I can’t wait to help affect that as a Met Council Member as well,” Lee continued.

Lee brings many years of community involvement to the table. He has served on his neighborhood board, District 1, on Saint Paul’s east side, as well as a three-year term on Saint Paul’s Long-Range Capital Improvement Budget Committee (CIB), which is a board that reviews, ranks and recommends capital projects to the city.

The newly inaugurated Met Council is the most diverse class of appointments in its history, and Lee will be the second Hmong person ever to serve. Prior to coming to Nexus, Lee worked in the administration of Saint Paul Mayor Christopher B. Coleman. Learn more about theMet Council and its geographical districts here. An official bio of Lee can be found here, and he may be contacted at: chai.lee@metc.state.mn.us

Nexus Community Partners is excited to announce that we are recruiting a diverse group of 8-10 dynamic leaders from Black Indigenous and People of Color (BIPOC) communities for our 2019 Cooperative Development Fellowship Program.

The seven-month program is targeted at individuals/consultants who would like to become cooperative developers, organizations wanting to add cooperative development to their services or incubate a cooperative, and other professionals (e.g. lawyers, capital providers) who are interested in supporting cooperative development. We are also interested in recruiting applicants who will focus on assisting business owners and their employees who want to convert to worker ownership.  Please note that the Fellowship is not designed for individuals wanting to start their own cooperative.

The Fellowship includes the following:

  • Opening Retreat
  • 3 intensive, in-person trainings
  • On-line training modules
  • Group webinars with national cooperative practitioners
  • Local Site Visit
  • National Site Visit
  • Project design and presentations
  • Coaching and support from Nexus and DAWI.
  • Closing Celebration

All training, coaching and off-site travel expenses will be covered by Nexus.

The Fellowship requires a time commitment of between 75-85 hours over the course of seven months, with participation in all program activities mandatory. A timeline for the program is available in the application below.

Applications are due February 25, 2019.  Please visit this link for our online application.

Before you complete the application, we request that you attend one of our information sessions. You’ll get the chance to learn more about the Fellowship program and ask questions. In the event you are unable to attend, we can schedule a short one-on-one phone call. Click here to view the dates and location of the information sessions. Please contact Nkuli Shongwe at nshongwe@nexuscp.org  to register or schedule a call.

For more information contact program officer Elena Gaarder at egaarder@nexuscp.org or community wealth building coordinator Nkuli Shongwe at nshongwe@nexuscp.org.

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.

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!!

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.

Leadership Development that Creates Ecosystem Change:  Nexus Community Partners Announces the Sixth Cohort of their Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI)


For more than 15 years, Nexus Community Partners has been dedicated to building more engaged and powerful communities of color. Through the work of BCLI, Nexus has continued to build sustainable and replicable models for community engagement and community orientated leadership development that strengthens communities.

The BCLI is a seven-month leadership program designed to identify, train, and support placement of dynamic leaders of color and underrepresented communities onto publicly appointed boards and commissions in the Twin Cities. BCLI fellows help advance a racial and economic equity agenda across several sectors and issue areas.

We’re pleased to announce our 2018-2019 cohort of 16 racially and ethnically diverse leaders. They come from the community, nonprofit, private, and public sectors and represent the Twin Cities metro area. The sixth BCLI cohort members are:

Aarica Colemannominated by BCLI Alumni
Abdi Alinominated by Center for Multicultural Mediation
Annie Chennominated by YWCA Minneapolis
Bao Leenominated by BCLI Alumni
Carmeann Fosternominated by Rebound Inc.
Christine McCleavenominated by National Native American Boarding School Healing Coalition
Clara Ugarte Perrinnominated by Center for Urban and Regional Affairs
Courtney Schroedernominated by Project for Pride in Living (PPL)
Jamaica DelMarnominated by  Jeremiah Program
Kameron Lindseynominated by BCLI Alumni
Oluwatobi Oluwagbegminominated by The Office of Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton 
Roshawn RenfroeRamsey County Children’s Mental Health Collaborative
Sara Thomasnominated by BCLI Alumni
Tenaya Crenshawnominated by BCLI Alumni
Vincent Henrynominated by Simpson Housing Services
Ying Lee nominated by Minneapolis Parks & Recreation

The BCLI continues to build momentum within local governing bodies by creating opportunities for community members to become active decision makers. The incoming BCLI fellows join a network of 69 alumni, 38 of which have to date been successfully appointed on a board or commission or hold a high-level policy position, and all of whom are building and pushing racial, social and economic equity in the community.

Biographies of each fellow can be found on Nexus’ website here.

For more information about the BCLI, the launch or ways to become involved, please contact the program director, Ms. Terri Thao at tthao@nexuscp.org or program coordinator Mr. Chai Lee at clee@nexuscp.org. You can also check out Nexus’ website: www.nexuscp.org.

See below for an infographic of the 2018-19 BCLI cohort’s demographics.

In June 2018, Nonprofit Quarterly featured Nexus Community Partners’ Community Wealth Building (CWB) work – the framework, the programs and collaborations:

In adopting a community wealth-building frame, Nexus borrowed heavily on the work of others… But Nexus has also sought to make the ‘community wealth-building’ approach its own. This includes redefining community wealth-building by developing its own set of eight principles, including equity, mutuality, stewardship, and attention to cultural practices. The cultural practices principle in particular illustrates the unique ‘Nexus approach’ to community wealth building. As Nexus writes, ‘Economic strategies must be tailored for the specific communities they are designed to benefit. Culture is a resource for creating and expanding wealth building options…’

“But building a supportive culture to support this work cuts across all three of these program areas [authorship, leadership and ownership]. In terms of rollout, the foundation has envisioned a three-part strategy: with 2016 envisioned as a ‘seeding’ phase focused on awareness raising, convening, educating, and getting a common language, 2017 focused on launching programs (a ‘cultivation’ phase), with this year being a ‘harvesting’ phase where tangible outcomes begin to become visible…

“[Nexus program officer Elena] Gaarder points out that a large part of the work is not just building cooperatives, but also building the ecosystem of support that gives the cooperatives a reasonable chance to prosper and thrive. As Gaarder explains, ‘The work that Nexus is building infrastructure around cooperative models. From that what we learned, it has to be a coordinated effort that builds the infrastructure first locally and then brings in national partners to build support that is needed.’”

Click here to read the full article

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