Group guides flow of foundation dollars to Mpls North Side

Tawanna Black has been the executive director of Northside Funders Group (NFG) since 2013. Although NFG has been around since 2008, she is their first executive director.Black explains NFG is “a collaborative of 19 corporate, family and community foundations, including the City of Minneapolis, Hennepin County and the State of Minnesota, who are working to align strategies and investments in North Minneapolis.” They have three focus areas: building social capitol, workforce and economic development, and building thriving learning communities (in-school and out-of-school-time resources).NFG is located in Heritage Park Senior Service Center, near Glenwood and Dupont in North Minneapolis. Their staff work with foundations to invest in nonprofits on the North Side, getting better outcomes for families and building a better community.The members currently invest about $15 million a year in Northside organizations just in these three focus areas. Black says that many will agree that “to date, we are still not producing the level of outcome we would like to see for Northsiders… [There are] a lot of people who are not employed, [have] no access to high-quality schools, and we still have families who do not have secure housing and financial security. Although $15 million sounds like a lot, it is not achieving the outcomes we wish to see.”NFG works to help funders be smarter about their investments do a better job partnering with nonprofits, Black explains, “so they can meet families where they are and provide services in a way that works for the families, organizations and funders, so we can achieve equity at a faster pace.”From a funding perspective, Black adds, “Our members pool and align funds to approach grant-making in new ways. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | A joint response to Chue Feng Vang’s tragic death: Let’s find better solutions to end family violence

No community is shielded from family violence. The most recent tragedy in Maplewood where Pang Vang killed his son Chue Feng Vang, affirms this. The Vang family fell through the cracks of the Hmong and American systems meant to serve them. We can’t afford to wait for the next tragedy.We believe one necessary ingredient to developing better solutions is for leaders, service providers, and systems to better understand the problem and the context of the people who are impacted.The media coverage and responses thus far to the tragedy of Chue Feng Vang’s death magnifies the misunderstanding of what contributes to family violence and how it is experienced in Hmong American families.The over simplification of a father who kills his son over a cable bill, and the quick finger pointing often silences the many Hmong families who are suffering. It also perpetuates a culture that New American communities are not and will not be understood by the larger society. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong culture: A questioning of values

We are entering into a cultural reformation in our community, where our values today don’t quite align with our culture. For quite some time now, our values and our culture have clashed, which has created social upheaval and alienation in the Hmong community. “What does it mean to be Hmong?” seems to be the the question that every Hmong American goes through; it’s a rite of passage for those growing up in two seemingly opposing cultures. With the majority of the Hmong population now made up of youth, this questioning of the Hmong culture is inevitable. Why are things the way they are? Why has it always been done this way? Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Hmong 18 Clan Council Conference: Hmong bridal price policy

From October 18-20th, the Hmong 18 Council 1st Annual National Conference was held at the Hmong American Partnership (HAP) building. This effort was organized by the Minnesota Hmong 18 Council (H18C), which consists of Hmong leaders who represent one of the eighteen last names, and was sponsored by a variety of groups and organizations such as Hmong Village and Hmong American Partnership (HAP). The purpose of the conference was to bring “all community members throughout the nation to discuss many topics, including preventing and stopping poverty in the Hmong community by making decisions to standardize two important economic impacts in the Hmong community: Hmong funerals and bridal dowry.”  Although the idea of this conference was to include different leaders in making these important decisions, when it came to the content of the conference, it was nothing but confusing and contradicting.Bo Thao-Urabe, who has extensive experience in community engagement which includes serving as the Executive Director for the Women’s Association of Hmong and Lao in Minnesota and Hmong National Development in Washington, delivered an informative and inspiring presentation about inclusion and the state of the Hmong population in the United States. As a young Hmong American woman myself, it was a relief to see that women were able to present views and perspectives that challenged that old structure that governed entities like the H18C at the conference.But the next session, right after Thao Urabe had spoken, would provide testimony to the sexism and inequality that stills exists in the Hmong 18 Council and in the Hmong community.In the Hmong Bridal Price Policy session, which was chaired by H18C’s Culture Chair of Minnesota, Cha Yeng Cha, a 20 page document of the bylaws of the bridal dowry was passed out with the council saying that they would take suggestions; 20 minutes later, the Culture Chair announced that they would be voting on it that very day. With the majority of the conference participants relatives, friends, and supporters of H18C, it was no surprise that the initial vote for the first dowry price was approved 94 to 5, with many abstaining to even raise their hand to vote. Continue Reading

Lao Family Community of Minnesota: A struggle in the right direction

A well known organization in the Hmong community has been undergoing a large change since March 2013, and it’s being spearheaded by a group of six young Hmong women who just recently graduated from college. Under Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC), the Hmong Higher Education Scholar Program (HHESP) was developed to encourage educational attainment and leadership in the Hmong community. Not only does this signal a change of direction for the organization, but a change of leadership.Lao Family Community of Minnesota (LFC) is a 30-year-old organization that was founded in 1977 to lift the Hmong refugee community, coming from Thailand and Laos, up by providing social services, educating the Hmong population on American culture, and also providing cultural activities. Today, youth make up the bulk of the Hmong population, gender norms are changing, and refugee issues are no longer ‘issues.’ But in recent years, instead of being known for its leadership or community activities, LFC has come under fire for charges of corruption, clan politics, election fraud, and struggles to maintain relevance in the Hmong community.“I guess from the beginning I didn’t know we had an option to work with Lao Family,” said Ka Lia Lor, a member of HHESP. “It’s never really been that kind of community organization where you just walk in and contribute your ideas. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Low price tags and high quality not limited to end of season sales

Haiyen and Neeson Vang met when they were just fifteen years old, while growing up in Minneapolis off of Lake Street during the 90s.  The neighborhood was run down and crime was commonplace.  Haiyen and Neeson experienced the effects of that environment.  “We were the children from a neighborhood that was a bit forgotten,” Neeson said.   Haiyen adds, “As teenagers we both skipped school…we gave our parents a hard time and didn’t do what we should have done.”However, rather than simply accepting the barriers they faced from growing up in a ‘forgotten neighborhood,’ they began to imagine possibilities for making a better life for themselves and for their community. Haiyen and Neeson remember, “We used to sit and dream together.  We used to take the bus or drive around looking at big houses and dream about building a business where not only were we making money so that we could pay our bills and raise a family, but we’re also giving  back.” They also recall some of the challenges of growing up with very little money, “we never shopped regular price; everything was from the clearance rack!”  However, items from the clearance rack at many stores are those that are going out of fashion.   They mapped out a unique concept: a store with all new, trendy items where nothing was over $10.When they came up with the idea, Haiyen and Neeson had left high school before graduation and were working in retail.  Haiyen worked at a small business selling women’s clothing and Neeson worked in loss prevention for a major retailer.  They didn’t know where to start.  Then they heard about an upcoming small business training class near their home, in North Minneapolis.  In the spring of 2004, they applied to an early version of NDC’s Plan it! An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success class being offered in partnership with Northside Economic Opportunities Network (NEON).  From that class, they built the foundation to start and grow The Clearance Rack.Later in the fall of 2004, Haiyen and Neeson Vang received a loan from NDC and opened their first store in the neighborhood they knew best, the Phillips Neighborhood, off of Lake Street.  Since then they have opened four additional stores throughout the Twin Cities metro area.  Today, they provide jobs for more than 20 employees and are able to offer full-time employees benefits like paid time off and training. Neeson says, “It’s a blessing for kids who grew up every day having nothing.  We beat the odds!”They continue to dream and are now discussing the possibility of expanding The Clearance Rack beyond Minnesota into other states.  Haiyen and Neeson discuss the possibility of expanding to a warmer state with laughs, stating it would be good, “just so there’ll be a good reason to visit during the cold months here.”“We came to NDC with bad credit, no education…and they believed in our idea and they believed in us—most importantly they believed in us,” Haiyen concludes. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Dog Soldier Mixed Martial Arts: Making a difference

Tan, rust, brick and mortar walls stand tall in the historic south Minneapolis building where Dog Soldier MMA lies tucked away.  Peer into former stable windows and you can see into a world within a world where learning to stand tall is about much more than physical fitness. Vaughn Lodge opened Dog Soldier MMA in March 2013, but the story started long before, in Little Earth.  Little Earth is an urban housing complex in south Minneapolis which provides affordable housing with Native preference.   Over a year ago, tension was building among different groups within the Native Community.  Lodge remembers, “People were coming to me and saying my daughter has been attacked, or my granddaughter has been sold into the sex trade…and for me it was like, what can I do to make a difference?  What can I do to make a difference?” It didn’t take long for Lodge to decide—He had years of experience in mixed martial arts and knew that this was something he could share, something that would help.  He volunteered to teach self defense classes at Little Earth and, from there, the classes blossomed into a structured, disciplined program for more than fifty young people.  Lodge realized he wanted to do this full time: to open a gym, but keep it community based.  A friend told him to check out the Plan it! entrepreneur training program happening at BiiGiiWiin in partnership with NDC.  BiiGiiWiin is a branch of the American Indian Community Development Corporation.  Lodge applied and shared his idea: “We come from a warrior culture where, culturally, we fight.  We fight all the time.  You go to a reservation, trust me, you’ll see fights—all the time.”  Lodge wanted to deconstruct the modern trends that commercialize gangsterism and objectify women.  “How do we change that back to our traditional values?” asked Lodge. Thus came Dog Soldier MMA.  Dog Soldier was actually a Cheyenne warrior society from the plains, “They were the most feared warriors in all the plains…because they had a code,” Lodge stated. BiiGiiWiin and NDC welcomed Lodge into the Plan it! program.  He learned fast, developed a business plan and found a location to lease.  With NDC’s help he accessed pro bono legal assistance to review his lease and worked with his landlord to convert the space into a gym.  He now has three different payment plans for classes offered twice a day.  Dog Soldier MMA is growing but Lodge has not forgotten his roots.  He continues to waive tuition for his high school students who cannot pay on the condition that they maintain a 2.5 GPA, 80% attendance and complete 20 hours of verifiable community service.  “It’s a fine balance between what you give the community and then what you take for yourself,” Lodge noted.  Lodge is learning to manage the balance well!  Continue Reading

Placemaking: loving where you live and why it matters

“What makes people love where they live, and why does it matter?” “What bonds residents to a city and how can a community foster those emotional ties to drive economic success?” Those are questions explored in the Soul of the Community Project, a major initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and Gallup pollsters. They were also the focus of several presentations by Dr. Katherine Loflin during her Placemaking Residency in the Twin Cities in early May. Loflin was lead investigator for Soul of the Community while at Knight.                            Among the events held during Loflin’s residency were a presentation and workshop, “Measuring and Understanding Place,” held at the Wilder Foundation, and a walking tour of portions of St. Paul’s Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods, combined with a discussion and placemaking brainstorming session. Both took place on May 8. Katherine Loflin (l), Tim Griffin, St. Continue Reading