The Intersection of Equity, Transit & Housing: Engaging at All Levels Toward an Equitable Region

panelOn February 6th, over 65 community members packed the BCLI Issue Series at the McKnight Foundation to engage in learning and honest discussion about the “Intersection of Equity, Transit and Affordable Housing in the Twin Cities.”

The panel included Owen Duckworth, Coalition Organizer for the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Margaret Kaplan, Community Development Director of Minnesota Housing, and Wynfred Russell, Executive Director of African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. The panelists began the conversation by sharing their work in transit and affordable housing through an organizing, nonprofit and systems approach. (Click on the links below to hear each speaker’s segment of the panel. Click here to view the photo gallery).

The speakers focused on several themes, including: the need to have a greater racial equity analysis within organizations and at the systems and institutional levels; the need for more leaders championing and implementing equitable strategies; the need for continuous community engagement; and the need for established communities of color to share their lessons with the new immigrant communities.

These issues are extremely important to Nexus, and for the region, as critical decisions are being made on investments in transportation and affordable housing. It is imperative to ensure that communities benefit from these opportunities, especially given the historical and continued discrimination against communities of color and low-wealth communities. The audience raised some valid and difficult questions including: What makes white, middle-class educated people qualified to make decisions for low-wealth people of color with the lived experiences of inaccessibility to transit and affordable housing? Why aren’t community members with the lived experiences considered the experts and therefore represented on panels such as these?

2.6photoThese are themes that Nexus is familiar with and we work on ensuring that people (majority communities of color and low-wealth) who live these experiences actually inform the decisions that are being made at the systems level and are considered experts.  Through the BCLI Issue Series, Nexus is intentional about creating shared spaces where community members and organizers, as well as policymakers and systems representatives, can build relationships and honestly address equity issues in our region. By engaging leaders from all levels of the decision-making process, our collective power to advance equity becomes stronger – and the voices of those impacted by decisions around affordable housing, transit-expansion, jobs, and education can become the voices at the decision-making tables for these issues.

We appreciate the feedback from all attendees regarding suggestions for making these shared spaces stronger and more resourceful – as that is the ultimate goal of the BCLI Issue Series. The suggestions included inviting the BCLI fellows and community members to sit on the panel, clearly defining equity, exploring the divisions between different cultural and ethnic groups in equity work, and many others that will help inform our final Issue Series event on March 6th, as well as the Issue Series for the 2014-2015 BCLI program year.

Click on the below links to hear each speaker’s segment of the panel.


Owen Duckworth
Coalition Organizer
Alliance for Metropolitan Stability

“As many people who’ve done work on statewide coalitions or issue advocacy coalitions, there’s a real tension at the heart of a lot of these issues especially when it comes to racial equity issues…A lot of the issue advocacy organizations in our state or in our region are not led by people of color, are not necessarily based in an analysis that leads with race equity…There’s also a challenge…when building these coalitions…there’s a number of players that need to be at the table. Not all of them share a racial equity analysis – that’s an understatement. Many of them are literally turned off by the conversation around race…that’s a tension that’s there. But again for the Alliance [for Metropolitan Stability] – we put racial equity in front and center of our mission and hold that lens wherever we go. It’s a challenge again to how we think about building power within, for our member organizations, for our own organization and for communities on the ground.”

Owen Duckworth

Margaret Kaplan
Community Development Director
Minnesota Housing

“One of the things that I think has helped us along the way [of determining and implementing processes for supporting affordable housing] is some really strong leadership – both within our organization itself, with our commissioner Mary Tingerthol – deciding that equity, that community engagement, that engaging with communities in different ways and having voices at the table in different ways as we are making our decisions was something that we care about even if we didn’t know how to do it. And then also I think particularly when you look at the Twin Cities region, having some very strong leaders who are increasingly coming together and thinking about the way that we talk about equity and the way that we talk about disparities and the connection that equity and public investments have with each other in a more coordinated way. I think that helps us make changes in the work that we do.”

Margaret Kaplan

Wynfred Russell
Executive Director

African Career, Education & Resource, Inc.

The Northwest suburbs are the new frontier…Brooklyn Center is 51-49, it’s the only majority minority city in the state. But if you would look at the representation, the elected officials there, it would give you a completely different picture – even the folks that work at city hall would give you a completely different picture…Brooklyn Park [population] is officially 48% minority…But Brooklyn Park has less than 2% people of color that work at the city and zero on the city council…The organization that I work with [African Career, Education & Resource (ACER) has] been trying to build relationships, build bridges all across the board…Our primary target audience is African immigrants, African Americans and all the minority groups…For some of us who have been fortunate to work with institutions like the U of M and other places, we know what needs to happen; we know some of the deficits that exist in some of these mainstream organizations. So we try to serve as a bridge to connect our community, the larger minority community, with a lot of these mainstream institutions and say okay, how can you help us? We’ve identified the needs, how can you help us deliver to our folks?”

Wynfred Russell