Announcing The 2019-2020 BCLI Fellows!
Perpetually curious about life and its meanings, Abdulrahman Wako is a self-proclaimed Visionary and Creative. He selflessly pursues that which piques his curiosity in efforts of increasing his capacity to do and be good in his community. Currently, Wako works as a Community Engagement Coordinator for Union Park District Council and also does community organizing work with The Saint Paul Federation of Educators. Wako embodies the idea of “Speaking Truth to Power” and has demonstrated this in helping to organize the first unionized political campaign with the Minnesota DFL Coordinated Campaign in the 2018 Midterms. An avid biker, a community gardener, and a technology buff, Wako enjoys interacting with his fellow man around the things that make life more enjoyable. Wako firmly believes in the idea of leading by example. And he chooses to be a humanitarian, an environmentalist and a soul that strives to make that which is said to be impossible, possible, in a world where many things are uncertain and needing of a new change.
Ana Vergara is passionate about worker’s rights advocacy and is the Lead Wage Theft Investigator for the Minnesota Attorney General’s Office. Ana holds a Masters in Human Rights from the Humphrey School of Public Affairs, where she was awarded the 2019 Paul and Sheila Wellstone Award for Public Action. Ana has heavily focused much of her research on asylum seekers at the southern border and family separation. In fact, at the height of family separation, Ana worked as a refugee campaigner at the Amnesty International headquarters in Washington, D.C. She also worked as an educator in South Korea, where she gained her love for Kimchi in burritos. Additionally, she is a board member to the Shakopee Diversity Alliance, where she oversees events and town halls that facilitate solidarity amongst Shakopee’s diverse community. Most recently, she was appointed to be the Congressional District 2 representative for the Minnesota Council of Latino Affairs, where she is the youngest member.
Boozhoo indinawemaaganidog (Hello all of my relatives), my name is Benjamin Yawakie (Pueblo of Zuni/Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa) and I have been a resident of Brooklyn Park for 28 years. I am a graduate student at the Humphrey School of Public Affairs (MPP) and School of Public Health (MPH) at the University of Minnesota. I am also a citizen member representing the 3rd Congressional District on Minnesota’s Environmental Quality Board, Equity and Inclusion Officer for the Public Affairs Student Association, and Graduate Student Representative on the University of Minnesota’s Finance and Planning Committee. It was instilled within me at a young age to be curious about why the world works the way it does, as I have come to understand the history of Minnesota, I seek to understand how to effectively incorporate equity in law and policy to allow for our state to realize equitable outcomes for all citizens.
I have been a resident of MN for about 20 years, growing up in both South and North Minneapolis. As a result of my mother being incarcerated, my brother and I were put into the foster care system and were separated until we found family in Minnesota. As a teenage mother who had experienced the hardship of being homeless with children, I applied to St. Stephens Human Services as a part-time Shelter Advocate and was promoted at St. Stephen’s Human Services as a Lead Case Manager. In my, role I helped people that are already housed sustain their housing by helping them overcome various barriers that induce homelessness. Currently, I am working for Lutheran Social Service of MN in the Transitional Housing Program working with families to overcome the barrier of homelessness. I believe that we, as communities of color, can look at issues of injustice, come up with some resolution and I am willing to take responsibility with fellow council members and others in the community to accomplish these goals.
Born in Ecuador, Diego moved to the United States in 2011 to be re-united with his family. Throughout and after his days in the Minneapolis Public Schools, he has been an advocate for youth leadership, human rights and racial equity. In 2017, he created YouthPride: Queer youth of color, a youth group dedicated to creating safe space and youth leadership for Queer youth of color. He has also been politically involved as a political organizer for the DFL. In 2019, Unidos Minnesota supported Diego as a youth leader and supported his community organizing for the campaign for Freedom to Drive. His recent work has been focused on leadership building and civic engagement in his community through his new project, Fuerza Ecuatoriana MN (Ecuadorean Force MN). Diego considers himself “a leader who was born in the land of the Condor, following the Quetzal and living in the land of the Eagle.”
I am organizer, activist, and mom. I am driven by a passion for being a part of the change that I want to see and modeling civic engagement, independent thinking, and harnessing power from your place and position, for my children and my community. I have been advocating for housing rights at the state Capitol and serving with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood Parent Council as a Regional Expert for Heading Home Together: Minnesota’s 2018–2020 Action Plan to Prevent and End Homelessness. As a Community Engagement Specialists for the Science Museum of Minnesota, I work to root the approach of access and equity efforts in community and foster a stronger relationship between POCI and STEM. My work with families and communities was recognized through a 2018 Unsung Hero Award from Minnesota Communities Caring for Children. I’m inspired by the youth because they are going to run the world and it’s up to us to give them the best start. Being a mom of 3 African American boys in a state with such large racial disparities is a large motivator for me to be a part changing the narrative and ensuring that the children in our communities are equipped and empowered to succeed. I’m most excited about getting to meet and be in community with people like me who have passion for something and who pride themselves on not being complacent.
As a survivor of the Liberian civil conflict, Fatu has dedicated her life to addressing issues that are the root causes of social conflicts and instability. She is passionate about addressing poverty and the way it impacts our local and global societies. One way Fatu has chosen to address this has been by advocating for people and to support themselves and to work in underserved communities to create proactive environments where everyone is building their community and their own narrative. As an organizer with TakeAction Minnesota, Fatu created the first African Voting Bloc in the state of Minnesota to channel Africans more intentionally into the political arena. The Bloc has been renamed Africans for Political Change, but the goal remains the same. Fatu is active and continues to support Africans in their political leadership in community. Fatu holds a Master’s degree in International Relations with a Humanitarian Issues focus from Webster University and studied at Southwest Minnesota State University, where she received her Bachelor’s in Human Resource Management and a minor in Marketing. Fatu was part of the 2019 cohort of Wilder’s Community Equity Program (CEP). She currently serves on the Brooklyn Center’s Sister City Commission and hopes to continue the relationship building that is needed locally and with sister cities internationally.
Jae Hyun Shim is a queer, nonbinary, transracial/transnational adoptee from South Korea. They are a resident of South Minneapolis and organize around food justice, inclusive athletic and art spaces, and police abolition. This summer, their synchronized swim team, The Subversive Sirens, brought home gold and silver in the International Gay and Lesbian Aquatics Championship during World Pride in New York City. You can hear Jae Hyun talk about swimming and equity in a recent MPR video postcard and read a roundtable published this spring in Open Rivers: Rethinking Water, Place & Community, a journal published by UMN Press. Jae Hyun’s most joyful moments are spent in the water, on their bike, eating or making food, and in the company of friends. They also enjoy reading budgets and setting up conditional formatting in a spreadsheet. Jae Hyun currently works in administration at a nonprofit bike shop, Cycles for Change, and in food service at Sun Street Breads.
Linda’s legislative and political background spans over 20 years, which has allowed her to represent the voices of underrepresented communities in areas of Education and Criminal Justice on Statewide Task Forces and Advisory Committees. Linda is currently involved in community engagement as a Precinct Chair and Outreach and Inclusion Officer. She is also co-facilitating community conversations on Race. Linda is a Certified LEAN Six Sigma Black Belt Process Improvement Consultant for a Healthcare Corporation in Minnesota focused on improving the customer experience. She is also a small business owner of GmaGear (https://www.GmaGear.com), a clothing line for women who are “definitely not grandma as usual”, has published a book “Seeing in the Spirit Understanding the Battle”, and is also building community engagement through her work at her company “The Word Applied, Inc.” Linda has two adult children, eight grandchildren, one great-grandchild and a fur-baby (Maltese Shih Tzu).
Magdalena O’Connor is a first-generation Cuban American. As the child of a Cuban exile, she believes in the power and privilege of voice. Magdalena earned a B.A. in Urban Studies with a focus in Social and Cultural Analysis from the University of Minnesota. Following graduation, Magdalena worked to provide workforce solutions to unemployed and under-employed individuals in Hennepin County. Growing up in the Chicagoland area, Magdalena was exposed to the stark racial disparities that exist in access to stable housing. Most recently, she has had the opportunity to serve single adults who have experienced long term homelessness. Magdalena is passionate about housing and education equity, community building and the elevation of underrepresented voices.
Que Vang is described by her peers as creative, jovial, energetic, passionate, and a high capacity powerhouse. Que is a first-generation Hmong-American who was born and raised in Wisconsin. Shortly after graduating from Alverno College with a Bachelor of Arts in Professional Communication, she moved to the Twin Cities. For the past 10 years, Que has worked in the housing industry, both in private and public sectors. Her passion for creating financial wealth and empowerment for underserved populations lead her to advocate, create, and implement programs that serve communities of color, limited-English proficiency individuals, low-to-moderate income households, and individuals with disabilities. She has dedicated herself to creating equity and inclusion for all communities. Currently, Que works for the State of Minnesota where she manages the homeownership education and counseling grants that provide non-profits and governmental entities support to deliver homeownership sustainability services. She enrolled in American Sign Language courses to learn ASL and more about the deaf community. In her spare time, Que enjoys listening her identical twin girls (2 years old) tell her she’s “mean.”
Ricardo C Perez Gonzalez (him/his) was born and raised in Acapulco, Guerrero in Mexico and immigrated to the United States as a young adult. As an immigrant, Ricardo brings a unique lens that helps him interpret the systems that define us under a different light; and therefore, allows him to imagine and pursue solutions and models that intentionally address the needs and dreams of historically underrepresented and underinvested communities. Ricardo’s drive to help the Latinx community be present and heard has allowed him to be both professionally and personally involved in spaces where connecting the dots between his vision and opportunities have materialized. Ricardo has worked directly with community for the last 12 years of his career at different levels of impact. From being an interpreter and translator for the Human Services Department (Ramsey), to helping organize community in the Suburbs of Hennepin County and enact ordinances to produce, preserve affordable housing and create tenant protections. Ricardo has been a part of multiple trainings and cohorts such as, CURA’s Neighborhood Now!, Wilder Foundation’s Community Equity Pipeline, and more. Ricardo is a father of 2 kids, loves making and consuming art and his bicultural family.
I am Said M. Ahmed, and I work for Awood center organization. My job title is labor advocate and community organizer. Social justice is also my passionate. I have multicultural background, who poised and competent with demonstrated ability to easily transcend cultural differences. I also speak more than one language: English and Somali. Finally, I am currently a graduate student at Metropolitan State University, and I peruse a degree in the Master of Advocacy and Political Leadership program.
Tara is Bahamian immigrant who has called Minneapolis home for the past 11 years. She is passionate about learning and teaching and thus empowering Communities of Color about homeownership, financial access and literacy and leveraging these tools and expertise to improve the lives for people in her community, by helping to provide stability and wealth that can be utilized in turn to build further positive impact. Tara believes that knowledge is power, but effective, strategic and action-oriented use of that power is critical in building a purposeful and dynamic life for current generations and the ones to follow. To be armed with information through access can help steer this movement. Tara currently serves her community in the City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development Department as a Project Coordinator for Owner Occupied Lending and Single Family Development. These initiatives help to stabilize communities by providing residents access to funding to rehabilitate and maintain safe homes in addition to giving prospective Developers and Home Owners the opportunity to build and reside in affordable housing.
Timothy Brewington II is a resident of Woodbury, Minnesota and is the pastor of Fellowship Church in Woodbury. Timothy currently serves as a commissioner on the Parks and Natural Resources Commission for the City of Woodbury and would like to serve on the Planning Commission for the City of Woodbury. City planning impacts the type of community residents live, work and play. Often, the unique needs of minority communities are not considered. Timothy has a desire to change this narrative. Timothy also served as a community representative during the city of Woodbury’s public safety body worn camera policy initiative and is working with the police department to form a multicultural advisory board for the police department. As the father of a son with special needs, Timothy has become an advocate for ensuring that all families in Minnesota have access to resources necessary to support children with special needs regardless of their social or economic limitations.