Newspaper article

Getting People Who Speak for the Powerless into Positions of Power

Newspaper article

Getting People Who Speak for the Powerless into Positions of Power

Article excerpt

Here's a challenge: Get people who traditionally lack power -- the poor, immigrants, people of color, the disabled -- into positions of power.

That's the goal of Nexus Community Partners, a St. Paul-based nonprofit aiming to bring diverse voices with different perspectives to the tables of power around the Twin Cities.

So Nexus is launching today a Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute, a seven-month leadership program designed to educate and support the 12 people in the first training to take a significant role on critical public-policy issues including health, housing, transportation, economic development and workforce development.

Some already serve on policy bodies; others aim to be appointed to one of 30 different policy boards and commissions around the Twin Cities metro area that Nexus has identified.

"Our neighborhoods, our cities and region and our country, the demographics are changing rapidly," said Repa Mekha, president and CEO of Nexus Community Partners. (U.S. Census data released this summer shows non-whites make up 17 percent of the residents in Minnesota.)

"The challenges that our community and country will be faced with require new and innovative solutions. That means bringing new ideas to the table,'' representative of all our citizens, he said.

Take the education achievement gap, for instance, Mekha suggested. Communities are continuing to use "main-stream education strategies" despite increasingly diverse student bodies, children who learn differently and who come from different cultures.

The answer to closing such gaps, he said, is to "tap into the rich diversity we have'' by recruiting and training qualified candidates from diverse populations and helping them move toward positions on decision-making bodies in the Twin cities area.

Further, these same people will have the capacity "as the next generation of elected and appointed officials" to represent underrepresented communities, according to Nexus.

Nexus, formerly known as Payne-Lake Community Partners, supports community engagement and asset-building programs offered by organizations representing minority groups such as African- Americans or Latinos, staff members said. …

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