Boards and commissions are important bodies for impacting communities at the regional and local levels. They are instrumental in shaping key policy decisions, as well as designing and providing input on administration of city services. A unique partnership between the City of Minneapolis and Nexus Community Partners works to improve racial equity in board and commission membership, which in turn influences major policy decisions toward more equitable outcomes.
The City of Minneapolis has over 50 volunteer-based boards, commissions and advisory committees, whose input and advice constitutes a major component of the City’s community engagement work. Approximately 600 volunteers serve on these boards and commissions. As such, the City has seen board and commission service as an important leverage point for advancing racial equity. Currently, people of color represent 25 percent of the population, but only 16% of the membership of boards and commissions. It is projected that by 2040, people of color will be 40 percent of the population. The City of Minneapolis recognizes that in order to be effective in their work and to truly represent the interests of all of the city residents, membership of the City’s boards and commissions must reflect the diversity of the community.
The Boards and Commissions Leadership Institute of the Twin Cities (BCLI) is a 7-month program that identifies, trains, and supports placement of communities of color and other underrepresented communities in publicly appointed boards and commissions in support of an equity agenda. Fellows in the program meet face-to-face twice a month October through April. The program also entails online assignments including readings, discussions and webinars. Fellows gain knowledge around five key issue areas of economic development, health, housing, transit and workforce development. In addition, fellows receive technical and political skills required to become a successful commissioner.
The BCLI is a program of a community-building intermediary organization called Nexus Community Partners and a replication of an original program started by Oakland-based advocacy organization Urban Habitat. Nexus partners with the City of Minneapolis’ Neighborhood and Community Relations department in the placement of commissioners and other city advisory board members as part of the BCLI program. Terri Thao of Nexus directs the program in partnership with David Rubedor of the City of Minneapolis Neighborhood and Community Relations department. The overall goal of the program is to shift local and regional policies, resources and outcomes to incorporate the voices and lived experiences of communities of color.
A list of about 50 board and commissions seats for which fellows are targeted has been developed. Specific seats are prioritized based on the five issue areas mentioned above across seven geographical areas. These areas include: the cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, the suburbs of Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, Hennepin and Ramsey counties and the regional planning authority, and regional planning authority the Metropolitan Council. To date, 16 of the 26 BCLI alums participated on a publicly appointed boards and commissions. All alums self-identify from a community of color and/or underrepresented community.
1. Historically marginalized communities hold priority seats on local and regional public boards and commissions in the Twin Cities region.
2. A new network of leaders are technically and politically prepared and supported to make decisions that reflect the needs and interests of communities of color and other underrepresented communities.
3. Decisions made by prioritized boards and commissions are aligned with Nexus’ mission of building more engaged and powerful communities and supporting a broader equity agenda.
Community Engagement Focus
The BCLI is deeply rooted in community engagement and racially inclusive collaboration is a core tenet of the program. Applicants to the program are nominated by community organizations or individuals, which demonstrates accountability to community. The goal is for fellows to become commissioners who are truly accountable to communities they serve rather than to individual interests. The commissions work to raise awareness of issues facing racially diverse communities as well as advocate to change policies for racially equitable outcomes. The curriculum is infused with racial equity analysis, from introducing the definitions of interpersonal, institutional and systemic racism to reviewing development proposals for their racial equity impacts.
In conjunction with the BCLI, Nexus Community Partners hosts the Thursday Night Issue Series. These monthly sessions focus on current issues related to the BCLI’s five core issues in regards to racial equity. For example, one of the sessions examined how cooperatives are used and viewed in communities of color. The event featured a racially diverse panel of four local leaders who have been involved in cooperatives who spoke to the historical and cultural role of cooperatives in communities of color and how they can be a vehicle for community wealth building. The Issue Series is free and open to the public. These events educate and engage the community in important issues directly related to racial equity.[/fusion_text]
Built on Partnerships
At its core, Minneapolis’ approach is to utilize partnerships with community to support engagement. The partnership with Nexus to implement the BCLI builds on the strengths of both parties. The City supports a boarder equity agenda and provides the internal support to increase diversity representation on the boards and commissions. Meanwhile, the BCLI provides the community connections and relationships and builds the capacity of applicants. Nexus partners with many different other established and emerging leadership programs to promote the BCLI, including Amherst H. Wilder Foundation’s Neighborhood Leadership Program, Voices for Racial Justice’s Organizing Apprenticeship Program and Hope Community’s Sustainable Progress through Engaging Active Citizens program.
The City of Minneapolis completes a voluntary Boards and Commissions Diversity Survey which asks board and commission members to complete questions regarding 8 diversity factors: age, gender, disability, sexual orientation, race/ethnicity, income and education. The survey, which was completed in 2009, 2012, and most recently in 2014, helps tracks progress in reaching the goal of equitably representing the community. The latest survey completed in 2014 can be found here. In 2014, the City of Minneapolis also began tracking the demographics in its boards and commissions applicant pool. The purpose of this effort is to be able to compare the demographics of people applying for the boards and commissions to those actually appointed. This helps identify any issues or biases that may reside in the appointment process.
Complementary Programs and Policies
The City of Minneapolis has aligned the BCLI with other programs and policies already working toward racial equity. The following are addition programs that complement this work:
- One Minneapolis Fund: A small grant program that provides direct grants to community and culturally-based organizations in the city that support engagement and leadership development. The program is now in its 3rd year and has awarded 20 grants to date.
- City Academy: A five week course that teaches residents about the operations and functions of city government.
- Streamlined Appointment Process: The City has aligned the appointments to its boards and commissions to occur twice a year (spring and fall cycles). This allows clarity and transparency for community members as to when and which appointments are available.
- Orientation, staff training and other internal supports: Training for boards and commissions support staff (including equity training), an orientation to new members and a manual for volunteers are some of the additional supports now being offered to appointed volunteers.
Looking to the Future
Terri and David note that the success of the BCLI to date has been due to its ability to build and strengthen relationships with numerous key partners. Terri believes that cultural shifts of boards and commissions are necessary in order for effective policy change to occur. David says the City of Minneapolis is examining board culture not only to increase the diversity of those serving, but also to ensure the retention of those volunteers. In addition, the BCLI is looking to create ways of measuring the change that occurs on a particular board or commission and how that can impact equity.
For more information on the BCLI, please contact:
- Terri Thao, Program Director at Nexus Community Partners firstname.lastname@example.org</li>
- David Rubedor, Director, Department of Neighborhood and Community Relations, City of Minneapolis David.Rubedor@minneapolismn.gov
If you are interested in learning more about the BCLI, Terri and David hosted a webinar on September 14th.