Internship Blog Series #2: Experiencing Community, Striving for Inclusivity in North Minneapolis
Over the summer the Lutheran Center sponsored four internships at the Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement (CLNE) in North Minneapolis, an organization committed to offering transformative learning experiences that strengthen and inspire leaders and congregations. The Center is led by ELCA Pastor Kelly Chatman. Three St. Olaf interns share their experiences in this month’s installment of our Internship Blog Series.
Introducing Our Interns and Why They Applied to CLNE
Trish Sibongile Mutsigwa: I am an international student from Zimbabwe but I live in and was raised in the Kingdom of Eswatini. I am a junior at St. Olaf College majoring in economics and environmental studies with a concentration in international relations. I chose to apply to CLNE because I wanted to explore the nonprofit world and immerse myself in a community and culture that is not my own. Due to the pandemic and all the restrictions I was never really able to explore the U.S. I moved here as a first year and was limited to the campus for two years. I really wanted to learn more about another community outside of the St. Olaf bubble and get more exposure to other cultures that exist in Minnesota. I have done a bit of volunteer work back home in Eswatini but getting to experience what a predominantly BIPOC community like North Minneapolis looks like within the American context has been intriguing to me.
Ella Panchot and Eesha Nagwani: We were interns with CLNE this summer. Ella is a junior majoring in Race and Ethnic Studies and Eesha is majoring in Economics. We both picked this internship because of the emphasis on listening, learning and interacting with the community of North Minneapolis. We were both Social Media and Communications Interns as well as Digital Storytelling and Visual Media Production Interns.
What Aspects of CLNE’s Mission Did You Connect with the Most?
Ella and Eesha: The Center for Leadership and Neighborhood Engagement (CLNE) is a nonprofit organization in North Minneapolis that is rooted in the idea of inclusivity. CLNE tries to be a good neighbor by finding the assets that are already in the community and building upon those assets. In terms of our own work on inclusivity, both of us participated in many activities in the community. We went to cookouts and block parties held by the local churches and organizations in North Minneapolis. Through this we were able to connect and be more involved in the community.
Trish: At St. Olaf I have served as a student leader for KARIBU, the African and Caribbean Student Organization on campus, and throughout the summer I have been reflecting on how in the future we can be more inclusive and how we can create a better environment that offers “Welcome, Safety, and Belonging” as an exec team. CLNE is committed to cultivating a sense of “Welcome, Safety, and Belonging” among all who work with the organization. They offer the Intercultural Development Inventory (IDI), a theory-based assessment of intercultural competence for congregations and organizations in North Minneapolis. All of us who interned with them were able to take the assessment. I learned that I operate under the acceptance portion of the continuum and that I may overestimate my level of cultural awareness. Operating within acceptance shows that I recognize and appreciate patterns of cultural difference in my own and other cultures in values, perceptions and behaviors; however, I need to work on deepening my understanding of culture general and culture specific frameworks to better understand different cultural practices, including those practices with which I do not agree. The assessment helped me identify some of the biases that I have and areas that I can improve on.
What are Some of Your Takeaways about Working in North Minneapolis as Part of CLNE?
Trish: North Minneapolis is one of the communities at the center of attention last year when George Floyd was murdered. Part of CLNE’s role in antiracist work is to promote racial equity and diversity to congregations which are central to communities like North Minneapolis. This is why doing the IDI with congregations is very important. It helps members identify their biases and privilege which is a positive step in antiracist work. This level of growth is what will help a community like North Minneapolis which is predominately Black feel safer.
Ella and Eesha: Our main project this summer was directly connected with learning more about the community from community members. We did short interviews with about a dozen community members who were directly involved in the community through their work. By doing these interviews we were able to learn more about the community’s hopes and dreams and future visions. We then recorded these interviews and made small social media posts about the person and place we talked about, their advice and inspirational quotes centered around their experiences.
The second project we did was doing “one-to-ones” where we learned about how to get to know people on a deeper level and build relationships through hour-long interviews. We applied this knowledge by interviewing four leaders in North Minneapolis using what we learned from “one-to-ones” and we made great connections and relationships. They gave us advice that we will take with us far beyond the summer. We then posted this on the CLNE YouTube so everyone can get to know some of the leaders in North Minneapolis.
What Connections Do You See Between Your Internship Experiences with CLNE and the Mission of the Lutheran Center?
Trish: The mission of “Welcome, Safety, and Belonging” ties into the mission of the Lutheran Center because through my internships I learned about different cultures and faiths that operate together, the importance of relationships especially in the nonprofit world and in our personal lives, the value of accepting and learning from different cultural experiences and how those values can enrich and heal a community like North Minneapolis, especially during times of racial injustice. I was also able to meet with a bunch of community leaders and individuals who are central to the community. They shared their stories, gave us life advice and just took the time to pour into us as young leaders. They each came from different walks of life and had unique experiences that shaped them. Not all of them were religious and many came from different backgrounds but they were able to come together and work to better their community. This work links to Lutheran values of accepting people for who they are and celebrating the gifts that they bring to continually build and foster a healthy community. Outside of working on projects there was a lot of personal growth and reflection that I went through, I am grateful for the time that I spent at CLNE.
Ella and Eesha: A good quote that directly relates to the idea of inclusiveness is a quote that was given by Venture North’s Program Director, Pastor Stacey: “We try to force integration, we force communities to happen, communities form at their best when it’s organic. Venture North is the space for these communities to happen.” Venture North is a coffee shop in North Minneapolis that is organized by Redeemer Lutheran Church. This quote really encompasses the idea of inclusivity. We cannot expect to force community integration, but we need to be able to work together and make sure everyone is getting a say in the discussion to be a good community where all are truly welcome.