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

On Thursday, April 5, 2018, the Nexus Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute (BCLI) graduated 14 fellows from its fifth cohort to a room filled with over 75 friends, family members, nominators, alumni and supporters.

Graduation was hosted in the Paulson Hall at The Swedish American Institute in Minneapolis. Nexus President/CEO Repa Mekha welcomed the group and  summarized the last few cohort’s themes and how they wove into one another on the topic of grounded, deep work in community and relationship building as well as working in systems . The BCLI was honored to be graced by the wisdom and presence of Ramsey County Commissioner Toni Carter, who was the keynote speaker. Commissioner Carter gave a rousing and inspirational testimony about her lengthy road of service in community, expounding on the need for fresh, young and talented minds of color who have the will to serve others and the courage to grab a seat at the table. She reminded everyone of the need to be humble, to remember your roots, and always be grounded in speaking for those who are not at the table as yourself. Above all, her message of hope, retaining and channeling your passion for organizing and courage was a reminder that we have a long way to go to put more equity champions like BCLI alumni on many more important seats which impact the issues that affect our communities every day. As she said beautifully, “we should not stop at being the first person to do this or the first woman to do that, but that it is never enough to be just one, to have just the first, and we need to help and support each other to build pipelines of leaders to come after us and to push into the work of community and public policy change.”

Commissioner Carter’s words were followed up with comments from two graduating cohort members, Jasmond “Jay” Rathell and Yingya Vang. Jay spoke first, and he highlighted the impact of BCLI being a safe space where people of color (POC) leaders could really learn and dig deep into policy issues together. He found inspiration in the esprit de corps which the BCLI fellowship provided, and announced that he was intending to take his leadership to the next level, and would run for city council in his City of Robbinsdale. Yingya spoke to the importance of strengthening a network of peers and colleagues dedicated to the ongoing work of racial equity, and how motivational it was to be a part of movement to put equity champions at the decision-making tables.

After the speakers, the 14 graduates were acknowledged in the official commencement ceremony and given certificates and stipends for their participation. As in similar years, graduates were gifted with a poster from local artists/organizer/elder Ricardo Levins Morales who spoke at the October 2017 launch of the program.

This current cohort hails mostly from the East Metro, with seven St. Paul residents and a few from eastern suburbs. Fellows came with diverse backgrounds and from across sectors. They ranged in age from 23 to 58, averaging age 35. This year’s fellows had interests in seats at all levels of government from local and regional to state, examples include city budget boards to county health services and state-wide ethnic leadership councils.

The BCLI at Nexus is proud to graduate 14 more alumni into its network of leaders, making a total of 69 Twin Cities BCLI alumni, over half of whom have served at or currently serve in appointed boards and commissions at all levels of government in Minnesota. Stay tuned for more information as the BCLI works to recruit its next and sixth cohort this May.


Click here to learn more about Nexus’ Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute.

This program has been adapted from the Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute originally created by Urban Habitat in Oakland, California.

In a recent Next City article titled “City Halls Now Hiring for Community Wealth Building,” Reggie Gordon lifted up community wealth building as a strategy that cities across the country are beginning to invest in.

Reggie Gordon is the director of Richmond’s Office of Community Wealth Building, the first of its kind in the nation. As he says, minorities all too often suffer from high unemployment or are pushed into low quality, service-sector jobs that don’t give them the opportunity that they need.

“The first step is to call it out,” says Gordon. “This isn’t fictional. Sixty years ago, there was intentionality around redlining and segregation that led to concentrated poverty. And here we are in 2018 receiving the byproduct of those intentional decisions … It’s up to us to be just as intentional about solving these problems.”

Check out how Community Wealth Building is gaining momentum around the country!

Join us to celebrate the North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship 2017-18 Graduating Cohort!

Come help us honor this year’s graduating North Star fellows: Amoke Kubat, Carl Crawford, Harrison Bullard, Lashunda Roberts, Lavasha Smith, Nicque Mabrey, Selah Michele and Sheronda Orridge and their efforts in establishing Black led Cooperative initiatives. Fellows’ initiatives vary from housing, worker owned, healing networks, hair care and hair product cooperatives.

Join us to learn more about their work and how you can be in cooperation with them. A keynote address will be made by Collie Graddick, our local north and south cooperative leader.

RSVP by April 18th here!

The Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA) CSA shares are back at Nexus again this year! Sign up today for your spring and summer shares to pick up Thursdays between 12-4:30pm at Nexus Community Partners.

Welcome to the 2018 HAFA CSA! We offer fresh produce and flower shares throughout the growing season. The HAFA CSA features produce grown by Hmong farmers in the Greater Twin Cities area. When you purchase a HAFA CSA, not only are you committing to eat fresh produce, you are investing in local farmers and your community.

Check out HAFA’s CSA site for more information and to sign up today!