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.


Written by Nichelle Brunner

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.

Participants discussing coops in small groups

Written by Nichelle Brunner


Walking into Room 105 of the Urban Outreach-Engagement and Research Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis, the room setup is perfect for group discussion, planning and work around cooperatives. The large room is filled with tables draped in colorful table cloths, and on the front walls, the co-op values and principles are centered.

In the room, there are over 20 community members, business owners and partner organizations who have come ready to engage and to learn about cooperatives and their role in our cultural history.

This was the first of a 2-part Co-op Learning Series hosted by Nexus Community Partners, a community building intermediary in the Twin Cities. Repa Mekha, President and CEO of Nexus, opened the meeting by introducing the Nexus staff and Nexus’ commitment to a strong, equitable and just community in which all members are afforded multiple access points to generate and sustain wealth.

During the almost 3 hour long meeting, Nexus introduced the room to the definition of a cooperative, the importance of  culturally-based economic development, and the idea of using cooperatives to build democratic communities.

Storytelling, power, and cooperative movements

Following the introduction, LaDonna Redmond, Seward Community Coop’s Diversity and Community Engagement Manager, approached the mic stand.

With a commanding and energetic presence, LaDonna set the foundation of her presentation by defining exactly what a coop is.

Grounding structure of coops

“One, a coop is a legal structure. That means it’s a business. Two, it also has a social justice lens. These two things tend to overlap in a coop structure.”

Once the foundation was set, LaDonna presented the history of coops and the importance of power and oppression in storytelling.

“I will start with telling the story of the Rochdale Pioneers. They say the Rochdale Pioneers in 1844 created the contemporary coop movement, meaning that they codified, or wrote down, the principles [of coops] as they understood them. So they show you a picture of 10 white men in England, where one of the dudes had the baddest mushroom haircut I’ve ever seen in my life,” LaDonna said, as the room erupted in laughter.

“But what they don’t tell you is the Rochdale Pioneers organized themselves to take control of their economic destiny. That doesn’t come across when you see the photo of these 10 white men. Me, a Black woman, when I saw this I thought, ‘This is only for white people.’ So when we talk about the narrative of coops, we have to talk about power and who has the power to tell these stories.”

For the next 30 minutes, LaDonna challenged the “white’s only” cooperative narrative by highlighting the stories and histories of Blacks in the United States.

“In 1787, 60 years before the Rochdale Pioneers, Africans formed cooperatives for their freedom in the U.S. The Black Panthers 10 Point Platform has the same values as our local coops. When someone asks me what is a coop and cooperation, I say it’s the Underground Railroad. It’s all the pieces and principles coming together.”

Back to the basics

Participants reflecting on the coop timeline development activity

For the final part of the meeting, guests were asked to get in pairs and participate in a gallery walk. On the walls of the room were pictures and descriptions of various coops, such as New York City’s Colors Cooperative, Oakland’s Mandela Marketplace, Pine Ridge Reservation’s Owíŋža Quilters Cooperative and Minneapolis’ Village Trust Financial Cooperative. As they circled the room, the pairs reflected on common themes and coop principles.

At the end of the gallery walk, guests shared their final thoughts and what resonated with them regarding cooperatives. One participant commented on one thing that is missing from nonprofit and federal programs.

“When we transition programs to nonprofits and to the federal government, community is lost in this transition. Coops can bring that back,” said one participant.

Everyone stressed the importance of getting back to the basics, as was summed up by one of the final thoughts of the evening.

“Capitalism and white supremacy are in place so we don’t practice what is at our basic core. If you take away those things, cooperation is human nature. It makes sense because it’s who we are.”


If you have any questions regarding the Cooperative Learning Series, feel free to reach out the Nkuli Shongwe, the Community Wealth Building Coordinator- nshongwe@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!

Metro Transit staff photo credit: Bill Klotz

In the summer of 2016, Nexus along with other Community Engagement Team members (CURA and the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability) supported 11 community-based organizations in engaging their communities to find out what bus stop improvements are important to them. The Better Bus Stops engagement process concluded in the spring of last year. Recently, Metro Transit announced changes to their policies that resulted from the engagement process:

“After receiving community feedback and reviewing wait time data we recently revised those guidelines. Under the new guidelines, shelters will be considered at any site where there are more than 30 boardings a day, with a priority on sites that have more than 100 daily boardings.

The guidelines also place a higher priority on locations that serve people with disabilities, older adults and those who are less likely to own a vehicle. Transfer points and boarding locations near healthcare or social service centers will also get greater consideration.

The new criteria are a clear demonstration of how equity, defined as equal access to opportunity for all, is guiding our work.”

Read the full story on Metro Transit’s blog

Learn more about Business Conversions from Nexus’ partner, Project Equity

For Nexus Community Partners, business conversions to worker ownership is part of its community wealth building initiative that seeks to promote local and broad-based ownership and encourage economic practices rooted in cultural communities.

This work received a shout out in the Nonprofit Quarterly’s “Nonprofits Shift Baby Boomer Businesses to Worker Ownership in Bid for Community Sustainability.”

“If you’re a boomer business owner planning for succession, you can’t afford to overlook the employee ownership option,” writes Lori Shepherd in Entrepreneur.

At NPQ, we have written about the growing prominence of employee ownership, but mostly from the perspective of the value of preserving businesses and jobs in the community. Still, these community benefits will only be realized if business owners agree to sell to their employees. So, what would drive a business owner to do so?

While the ability to defer capital gains tax is a factor, it turns out there are also powerful market incentives. A wave of retirements (2.4 million, Shepherd estimates) has long been expected in the decade or so to come, and as Shepherd points out, “In a crowded marketplace, transferring full ownership to the workers may represent [retiring owners’] best chance to sell their businesses at fair market value.”

Full article here

Reposted from the Neighborhood Funders Group member blog posted by Shannon Lin, January 22, 2018:

The Story of the Blue Line Coalition: How Philanthropy Can Promote Equity through Community Engagement

 

“When NFG members Nexus Community Partners and The Jay & Rose Phillips Family Foundation of Minnesota heard that there was a light rail extension planned to connect Minneapolis and Brooklyn Park, they knew there was an opportunity to leverage their resources to support community power in the process. 

Many of the neighborhoods that the light rail extension would pass through are home to a population of majority people of color and immigrants who would likely be left out of the conversation if traditional planning processes were followed. As Patrick Troska, Executive Director of the Phillips Family Foundation said, ‘If the community wasn’t engaged in this decision from the very start, then the outcomes the community needed wouldn’t have been accomplished.’

Nexus and Phillips are organizations committed to living out the values of community engagement and working alongside community leaders and organizations. They believe that every community member, especially those who have been historically oppressed or ignored, should have access to opportunities to influence decision-making that affects their lives. Using their resources to fund and support community engagement was critical to ensuring all of the community could benefit from this large public infrastructure investment.”

Read the full blog here

2015 HAFA CSA shares at Nexus

Nexus’ partner, the Hmong American Farmers Association (HAFA), just announced that their 2018 CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) Memberships are now open!

“We are excited to announce that our  2018 CSA signups are open!  We are out of the field, busy planning for the coming season and learning more about soil health and all the new food safety rules.  We will be starting the first CSA crops in early March and have so much to do before then!  In the meantime, your CSA membership will help us buy the seeds and greenhouse supplies, to get these plants growing.  Sign up for your HAFA CSA HERE.

Learn more about how you can support Hmong farmers in Minnesota – and eat deliciously fresh produce this summer!