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In June 2020, workers from across the Twin Cities food-service industry rallied to demand workers’ safety, racial equity in workplaces, and the elimination of wage theft. Photo Credit: ROC-MN
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McKnight Accelerates Economic Mobility in First Slate of Vibrant & Equitable Communities Grants

The McKnight Foundation is thrilled to announce the inaugural slate of grantee organizations in its new Vibrant & Equitable Communities program.

“This is a moment to celebrate—a culmination of 18 months of thoughtful planning, community input, learning, and working to infuse equity and transparency into our grantmaking at every step,” said Tonya Allen, president. “We are incredibly proud of the Communities team and excited to build on the relationships with our grantee partners, many of which are new to McKnight.”

In the Foundation’s first-quarter 2021 grantmaking, the board awarded 35 grants totaling $17.9 million. (You can find the full list of approved grants in our grants database.) Of that sum, $5.4 million went to support grantees in the Vibrant & Equitable Communities program—particularly those whose work focuses on accelerating economic mobility.

“This is a moment to celebrate—a culmination of 18 months of thoughtful planning, community input, learning, and working to infuse equity and transparency into our grantmaking at every step.” —TONYA  ALLEN, McKNIGHT PRESIDENT

Amid ever widening social and economic disparities, which have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, the Vibrant & Equitable Communities program seeks transformational systems changes that will benefit all Minnesotans. (Learn more about how the team thinks about systems change.) One of the program’s four strategies aims to accelerate economic mobility—ensuring that individuals can achieve and sustain increased income and wealth, build durable skills that create pathways to quality work, and position themselves to succeed in a rapidly changing economy.

Native Sun Community Development

Native Sun Community Power Development aims to create access to clean energy and a sustainable energy economy for Native nations. Photo was taken in 2018. Photo Credit: Robert Blake, Native Sun

Grants That Spur Economic Mobility in Minnesota

The program’s grantmaking supports partners across the state who are committed to achieving more equitable outcomes with and for Black Minnesotans, Indigenous communities, Minnesotans of color, and low-wealth Minnesotans. This quarter’s grants highlight efforts led by Indigenous and immigrant communities. Another focus is programs that reach Minnesotans impacted by the criminal justice system.

“McKnight envisions a future in which all Minnesotans have shared power, participation, and prosperity,” said board chair Noa Staryk. “With their innovative spirit and strong community ties, these grantee partners are helping us get closer to realizing that vision.”

Advancing Equity and Economic Power for African Immigrants: In 2017, East African workers from Amazon’s Minnesota warehouses organized and formed the Awood Center to address issues of racism, anti-immigration, and Islamophobia. In a first-time grant to this grassroots organization, McKnight awarded $150,000 over 24 months to support Awood’s mission of building economic power among Minnesota workers. (“Awood” is the Somali word for power.) This grant will enable Awood to engage its community members by educating, organizing, developing leadership, and mobilizing to improve the economic and political life of all working people.

Additionally, McKnight granted $250,000 over 24 months to African Career, Education, and Resource, which works with an engaged base of hundreds of northwest suburban community members in the Twin Cities. The organization develops innovative policy and practice solutions that bolster education, employment, health, housing, and wealth for African immigrants and other BIPOC communities.

Fostering a Just Transition and Creating Renewable Energy Jobs for Native People: Native Sun Community Power Development, another new grantee partner, has a mission to build a dynamic clean energy future that works for all. The Native-led organization promotes renewable energy, energy efficiency, and a just energy transition through education, workforce training, and demonstration. McKnight’s grant of $125,000 over 12 months aims to help Native nations install solar energy systems on Native lands and rooftops; train and deploy a Native solar/renewable energy workforce; educate the community about climate change; and develop civic skills and capacity among Native people. The goal is to create access to clean energy and a sustainable energy economy for Native nations, starting with the Red Lake Nation in northern Minnesota—home of the Red Lake Band of Chippewa Indians, a community of Ojibwe people. This work aligns closely with the goals of McKnight’s Midwest Climate & Energy program.

All Square graduate and Fellowship Coordinator, Terrein Gill, jokes with Director Tatum Barile ahead of a lunch rush. All Square is well known for its south Minneapolis restaurant. Photo taken pre-pandemic. Photo Credit: All Square

Investing in Justice-Impacted Individuals: One in four Minnesotan adults has some type of a criminal record, according to the Council on Crime and Justice. This creates barriers to accessing employment, housing, credit, and education. This quarter, McKnight granted $300,000 over 24 months to All Square, a nonprofit social enterprise that invests in formerly incarcerated individuals. It is best known for its south Minneapolis restaurant and 12-month fellowship program anchored in mental health, wealth building, and entrepreneurship.

In 2021-2022, All Square plans to expand its scope and potential for systems impact by launching a prison-to-law-pipeline in collaboration with several community partners and establishing an in-house civil rights law firm—promoting economic mobility, and enhancing opportunities for civic engagement, advocacy, and participation.

McKnight also granted $200,000 over 24 months to another new partner, The Network for Better Futures, commonly known as Better Futures Minnesota. This organization works to transform the lives of more than 100 formerly incarcerated men through housing, health, life coaching, and employment supports. The network aims to expand its model of integrated care to include the children of participants. It also plans to launch Better Futures Enterprises, a wholly owned subsidiary with a goal of creating 150 living wage jobs and leadership opportunities in high-growth, sustainable industries.

Improving Conditions for Restaurant Workers: The pandemic has devastated the restaurant industry, with as many as 8 million restaurant workers across the country laid off or furloughed during the peak of the lockdowns. The Restaurant Opportunities Center of Minnesota advocates for fair, dignified wages and working conditions across Minnesota. It emerged as a key advocate for personal protective equipment, hazard pay, and other safety issues faced by these essential workers. McKnight awarded $150,000 over 24 months to this new partner to improve the working and living conditions for low-wage restaurant workers by building worker power and amplifying workers’ voices.

New McKnight Staff

From left to right: Tonya Allen, Kim Anderson, Tenzin Dolkar

Staff Updates

In the first quarter of 2021, the McKnight Foundation welcomed Tonya Allen as its new president. In the quest for a new president, the board sought a leader who would build on the Foundation’s program commitments and move it forward to its next level of impact. They found that leader in Allen, who shares McKnight’s vision for the possibility and power of philanthropy.

In addition, Kim Anderson joined the Foundation as human resource generalist, and Tenzin Dolkar joined as a Midwest Climate & Energy program officer. Finally, McKnight bid an affectionate farewell to Lee Sheehy, who served as interim president after a long tenure as the Region & Communities program director.

Topic: Diversity Equity & Inclusion, Vibrant & Equitable Communities

March 2021