Diverse Group of Nonprofit and Community Leaders Work to Achieve Equity in Minnesota


By: Tracy Babler, Alliance for Metropolitan Stability
May 23, 2012

More than 150 nonprofit and community leaders have come together to declare that by working together we can achieve equity in Minnesota. The group is known as EquityNow Twin Cities, and was formed initially as a delegation that traveled together to Detroit in November 2011 for Policy Link's Equity Summit 2011. PolicyLink holds the Equity Summit every three years to bring together the nation’s equity movement for shared learning. The Minnesota delegation, organized jointly by the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability, Nexus Community Partners and the Minnesota Center for Neighborhood Organizing was by far the largest group that attended the conference.

The enthusiasm of people wishing to join our delegation inspired us to think bigger about what we could accomplish together. Rather than merely travel together and then go our separate ways, we asked the Minnesota delegates to commit to two pre-conference gatherings where we discussed what we wanted to get out of the conference, as well as one post-conference gathering where we explored possibilities for ongoing work together.

We started by talking with one another about what equity means. At the first gathering, Bill Lerman, a leader with Jewish Community Action, used a lesson from his school teaching days to provide a visual image of equity. “Equality is making sure every kid has a pair of shoes,” he said. “Equity is making sure every kid has a pair of shoes that fit.”

Our early goal as a delegation was to reconcile the excellent work already taking place in the Twin Cities with the fact that our region still has some of the nation’s worst racial disparities. With all of the resources we have access to, we asked, why are racial disparities still so prevalent? And what do we want to learn in Detroit that could improve our work at home? Some of the ideas gathered in these early sessions are depicted in these word clouds at engagetc.org.

Veronica Burt, an organizer with Just Equity, said that these pre-conference gatherings were important for getting the Minnesota delegation on the same page. “I think it’s been good to do some initial networking in the Twin Cities before doing larger national networking,” she said. “It makes it all the more valuable when people are getting the same information at the same time and we’re all growing in our awareness and our values and our learning.”

Informed by these discussions, each delegate was able to set off for Detroit with desired learning points already identified. We spent our time at the conference deepening our understanding of our shared equity work, connecting with one another, and learning from powerful equity leaders of all ages, races and cultural backgrounds from around the country. We also created public communications spaces where people could share their thoughts, ideas and learnings in real time. You can view these insights on equitynowmn.org, Twitter, or Facebook.

When we returned home, we shared what we learned and identified a few areas where there were energy and ideas for advancing equity in Minnesota. Over the past several months, the large group has met several times to refine ideas for how to shape that work. Small groups have formed on communications, policy issues, leadership development and other areas where the group identified gaps that are preventing long-term gains for equity locally.

These conversations continue, and we are now working on expanding the group to include other equity leaders who did not attend the Equity Summit. But one of the most striking things we have learned through this process has been the value of joining together as equity advocates, supporting one another and forming a community of people who share the same values.

“I tend to subconsciously feel like I’m out there doing my own thing,” said Mike Temali of the Neighborhood Development Center. “Coming here…you get filled up with the sense of thousands of other people doing this work in so many ways. I’m not alone. I don’t have to figure it out myself.”

Danielle Mkali of the Main Street Project agreed. “If there are 2,500 of us here in Detroit, it warms my soul to know that there must be millions holding it down nationwide,” she said.

Regardless of what happens with EquityNow Twin Cities, providing one another with this sense of this connection, purpose and commitment has done a lot to advance equity in Minnesota in its own right. Each one of the leaders involved is committed to eliminating racial and economic disparities in Minnesota. And we know that no single person or organization can do it alone. If you would like to join us, please contact Ebony Adedayo at ebony@metrostability.org or join our Facebook network at http://www.facebook.com/groups/equitynowmn/.

Thank you to the Blue Cross Blue Shield Foundation, the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative, the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations Department, the McKnight Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation and the Saint Paul Foundation and for providing scholarships to many of the delegates who attended Equity Summit 2011.