“Institutions have no historical memory, indigenous communities have nothing but memories.”
–  Engaged Learning Series participant quoting an indigenous community member

“This is a conversation about healing but it is really about what happens because of that healing. It is a conversation about transformation; about what will emerge because of how we have healed.”
–  Susan Raffo, Healing Justice Report


Communities, at their core, are about relationships.

In order to promote and build an equitable society, we have to practice equity-based community engagement where historically oppressed or ignored community members have authorship over their lives and future.

But what if our institution has historically been the oppressor or has broken trust with the community through planning, programming or funding practices in the past? How can we rebuild trust and begin to heal the relationship with community?

On September 28th, 2017, we explored these questions with 50 community members at Nexus Community Engagement Institute (NCEI) Engaged Learning Series. From this meeting, four themes emerged for helping us move toward healing through community engagement:

  1. centering self-care and personal healing;
  2. shifting organizational and interpersonal culture to be more human and relationship-centered;
  3. needing to prioritize healing in our institutions’ budgets and in our funding practices; and,
  4. incorporating relationship-centered practices in community to repair trust.

Self-care and Personal Healing

“Individual and collective healing, one doesn’t happen without the other in any sustainable way but it all starts with individual healing. I see lots of organizations being run by wounded people who are doing their best to do good work. They are creating organizational habits that are wounded; they are asking people to work too many hours for too little pay because that is what their sector does.” Suzanne Koepplinger (Raffo 2017)

In order to practice authentic community engagement, we have to first confront our own personal experiences with historical trauma, microaggressions, and toxic stress to move toward self-healing and self-care. Practices such as meditating, taking breaks, having fun, and walking in nature are all important during the work day (and on the clock).

“I try to have feelings at least once a day, I do acupuncture once a month, and I do poetry with a group of fellow Arabs,” said panelist Jna Shelomith of Ramsey County.

Likewise, panelist JooHee Pomplun of the Alliance, shared the importance of negotiations and self-care. “I’m at a negotiating point in my life – if I can nourish myself with food and friends, that is what’s important to me.”

Taking care of ourselves and creating space for self-care allows us to release toxic energy from our bodies. In turn, space is created for communities’ energies, emotions, and healing.

Shifting Organizational and Interpersonal Culture

Dominant workplace culture encourages the separation of home and work life, but why? We are all part of a community – and that does not stop when we walk into an office. We should make time at work to be our full selves – incorporating time to show emotions, sharing what’s going on in our lives, listening time at meetings, and bringing healing components into staff trainings.

Being listened to can lead to unexpected outcomes. As Jna Shelomith said, “we need each other to do reality checks. How are you? No really how are you? That’s the work.”

Being listened to helps build trust and trust can lead to the surfacing of past workplace, institutional, or outside harms or memories. From there, raw, honest conversations can lead to organizational healing:

Having more authentic conversations, even though they bring up thoughts and feelings that can be hard to hear or challenging to have, are a sign of success. Sometimes organizations are confused by this turn of events. Organizations assume that if no one’s talking about these issues, then everything is going fine. Quite the contrary–if you create enough safety, more and more conversations will happen, and more issues will come into the light; the silences are to be broken. And that is a good thing.” (Luna Jimenez 2015).

In addition to creating a workplace that values listening and relationship-building among staff, having internal support groups and caucuses can be a safe space for people to release toxic energy, as well as hold each other accountable.

“For the Giving Project, we had a POC [people of color] caucus and a white caucus, because there’s different healing and different spaces that we need,” said panelist Caitlin Schwartz, board member for Headwaters Foundation for Justice.

Identity caucuses are a powerful way for us to learn about ourselves – as both the oppressor and the oppressed – and allow space to process our patterns of behavior as well as to heal from the actions of others.

Prioritizing Healing in Our Budgets and Outcomes

As the saying goes: “Show me your budget and I’ll tell you your values.” Prioritizing community engagement, community healing, and organizational healing requires a budget line item (or multiple line items) for relationship-building and personal wellness. Are we providing resources for employees to take care of themselves and their families? How are we investing time to repair trust with community and get on the path to healing? What financial resources are we investing for community to be nourished and to heal? Additionally, who are we hiring and how are we investing in the community?

Part of the path to healing is about institutions’ accountability to community, which includes honoring the community’s knowledge and assets by providing paid opportunities for community members to lead at institutions.

Caitlin Schwartz elaborated on the work of the Giving Project. “The Giving Project was created by having a group of community members determine the criteria for funding, and then actually being responsible for granting those funds to local organizations.” We all need to take a look at our grantmaking, hiring, and other internal processes through an equity lens to see who benefits from our work and who is burdened by our work.

Authentic Relationships to Repair Trust in Community

In addition to the above internal shifts, healing between institutions and communities requires representatives of those institutions showing up as listeners — honoring the community’s wisdom, knowing the history and context, and being prepared to be uncomfortable, transparent, follow-through on promises, and open doors for community leaders to lead.

It’s also important for us to know our personal interest – why am I the one leading this project, or this event? How are my experiences connected to this work? As Caitlin Schwartz said, “Getting clear on why I’m doing the work and where I’m doing the work [as a white woman], is about challenging white supremacy. It’s good to always get clear on why any of us are doing the work that we are doing.”

Self-awareness helps us build more authentic relationships, and helps us to realize when we should give up or reclaim power. Sometimes giving up power means partnering with community organizations that do have the community’s trust and investing in their work.

Summary

JooHee Pomplun told a story about Cambodian refugees who didn’t feel settled or at home in Minnesota. After experiencing the Little Mekong Night Market, an amazing opportunity to experience the sights, smells, sounds, and tastes of traditional Southeast Asian night markets, Southeast Asian elders told JooHee that for the first time, this felt like home. The Little Mekong Night Market was co-developed with the Asian Economic Development Association as a result of their community engagement efforts.

Community engagement can lead to some incredible outcomes – not the least of which is healing, for individuals and for our communities. “My somatic healer friends have told me that the lungs actually lie in your back, so when we say ‘I’ve got your back’, I picture holding your lungs so we can breathe,” said Jna Shelomith.

This is about changing how we do our work and how we have the community’s back.

The pathways to healing are complex, but we can move systems together – and it starts and ends with relationships.


References

Luna Jimenez, Nanci E. October 31, 2015. ”Building Authenticity at Work with Listening: The Most Powerful Social Justice Tool.”

Raffo, Susan. 2017. The Healing Justice Report. http://nexuscp.org/healing-justice/

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.

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.

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.

Read more from The Bush Foundation

 

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!!

The North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship is proud to announce our 2018-19 cohort! Please help us welcome the following fellows:

  1. Chalonne Wilson
  2. Duaba Unenra
  3. Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski
  4. Ini Augustine
  5. Jasmine Boudah
  6. Jolene Mason
  7. Kadijah Parris
  8. Marcus Harcus
  9. Quanda Arch
  10. Quincy Ballard
  11. Roxxanne O’Brien
  12. Shiranthi Goonathilaka
  13. Stacey Rosana
  14. Tia Williams
  15. Tyree Gulley

Keep following us here for more updates on their cooperative focus, photos and progress!

Top Left to Right: Stacey Rosana, Quincy Ballard, Ini Augustine, Marcus Harcus, Duaba Unenra, Repa Mekha (Nexus President),  Tyree Gulley, Ego Ahaiwe Sowinski, Chalonne Wilson, Quanda Arch, Tia Williams, Roxxanne O’Brien

Middle Left to Right: Danielle Mkali (Nexus), Nkuli Shongwe (Nexus), Selah Michele (Guest facilitator & NSBCF Alumni 17-18), Shiranthi Goonathilaka

Front Left to Right: Kadijah Parris, Jasmine Boudah

How do you effectively tell the story and impacts of authentic community engagement? How can we capture, evaluate and communicate the power of community engagement?

Join us for our next Engaged Learning Series to explore Storytelling & Evaluating Community Engagement with a dynamic panel of community leaders.

The session will begin with a facilitated panel with community engagement practitioners from Frogtown Neighborhood Association and another local organization (to be confirmed), who will share how storytelling has been a means of capturing the process and outcomes of authentic community engagement. Following Q&A, we’ll break into small group dialogue to explore challenges and questions regarding effective storytelling and evaluation of community engagement, and what opportunities you see in your own engagement practices to more authentically tell the story of engagement with community.

Date: Thursday, August 9, 2018
Time: 9:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Breakfast & Networking: 9-9:30am
Program: 9:30-11:30am

Location: International Institute of Minnesota
1694 Como Ave
Saint Paul, MN 55108

Click here for more info and to register!

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

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!