When I joined McKnight three years ago as the inaugural Director of its Vibrant & Equitable Communities program (or ‘Communities program’) the pandemic had just taken hold, and the tragic murder of George Floyd had ignited a local uprising and a nationwide racial reckoning. The Communities program was still in its infancy, having emerged from McKnight’s commitment in 2019 to advancing a more explicit, intentional racial equity analysis and approach. Drawing on my experience guiding organizations through pivotal transitions, I worked with colleagues to turn this vision into tangible, impactful progress that would pave the way for a more vibrant and equitable future for every Minnesotan with shared power, prosperity, and participation.
“I feel satisfied and proud that I have completed what I was called here to do, and I am certain that the team will continue building on our immense progress as they move into the next phase of our program’s work.”—DAVID NICHOLSON, VIBRANT & EQUITABLE COMMUNITIES DIRECTOR
Recognizing the strides we’ve made and the shared vision we hold, I’ve decided to step down from my role at McKnight. I feel satisfied and proud that I have completed what I was called here to do, and I am certain that the team will continue building on our immense progress as they move into the next phase of our program’s work. In this, my last blog for McKnight, I’m proud to share some of the learning and insights we’ve gained during my three years leading the program.
Three Years of Progress, Learning, and Impact
Our program was born from fiery determination and an unwavering commitment to advancing racial equity and a brighter future for every Minnesotan. From the beginning, important strategic questions framed our vision: ‘What does it take to advance our commitment to racial equity? How do we do it in a way where community members are partners, actors, planners, and leaders in our work?’
In our journey to advance racial equity, we’ve recognized the pivotal roles of strategic positioning and community-centered listening. The practice of community requires us to weave different themes together to create a shared vision, cultivating bridges of belonging and illuminating the profound change that can be achieved through the power of collective action.
We’ve come to understand that barriers to racial equity operate on multiple levels. Like the tip of an iceberg, we know that deep below what’s visible on the surface there are many layers to the systems driving racial disparities. These layers are also where we find the culture, stories, and beliefs that shape our future. In our ever-changing world, the Communities program team has learned to embrace change and accept our collective responsibility to shape and enhance the world around us – to heal the layers beneath the surface – through strategic, community-centered, empathetic leadership.
“The practice of community requires us to weave different themes together to create a shared vision, cultivating bridges of belonging and illuminating the profound change that can be achieved through the power of collective action.”—DAVID NICHOLSON, VIBRANT & EQUITABLE COMMUNITIES DIRECTOR
The Future is Vibrant and Equitable
Today, the Communities program is in strong, leaderful formation. We’ve expanded our team, honed our strategies for driving systems change, and provided crucial support to our community and grantee partners, bolstering their efforts to strengthen and broaden vibrant, equitable communities across Minnesota.
With 180 grantee partners across the state, our efforts are making a meaningful impact in advancing vibrant communities in Minnesota. Beyond the launch and growth of the Communities program, the McKnight Foundation has made great progress on its transformational work to effectively and authentically center racial equity and climate action across the Foundation over the past three years.
“Together, we will continue to march forward on the path to racial equity, making Minnesota a more vibrant and equitable place for everyone.”—DAVID NICHOLSON, VIBRANT & EQUITABLE COMMUNITIES DIRECTOR
Since 2021, President Tonya Allen has been at the forefront of this work, guiding our organization with radical love, intention, and care. As an institution, we take immense pride in what we’ve collectively learned and built. I have the utmost confidence in the Communities program team and the entire McKnight community as they forge ahead with an unwavering commitment to navigating change, avoiding the traps of nostalgia, and creating a better future for every Minnesotan.
As I step away from my role at McKnight and reflect on the past three years, I am ready for a new chapter and a new challenge. Just as I was drawn to help shape McKnight’s vision to close Minnesota’s staggering racial disparities, I now feel called to further connect with the people and places McKnight serves and supports. I am filled with gratitude for the powerful relationships I’ve nurtured, and look forward to maintaining them. I have been honored to work with colleagues, partners, and community leaders striving to transform our systems and advance shared power, prosperity, and participation across the state. I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to each one of you – whether you’re a community leader, philanthropic peer, or grantee partner, your work is important, and your efforts to bring racial equity to Minnesota are deeply valued. It has been an honor to serve as a leader guiding this work forward, and I have complete confidence in the current and future leadership of the team and the foundation. While I will no longer be at McKnight, I know that together, we will continue to march forward on the path to racial equity, making Minnesota a more vibrant and equitable place for everyone.