Propel Nonprofits

Report date
August 2017

What has been most instrumental to your progress?

1- Community/ Buy in- Cross-Generational engagement – The Black Community, along with Native, White and other People of Color, have come together to plan, coordinate and implement the Family Freedom School. As a result of community buy-in for the Family Freedom School, we are now calling the initiative, “The Family Freedom Center”. This process of shared community stewardship is a direct result of our effort to create a “safe place” designed by the Black community for the community. During the first year of the Bush Innovation Grant we engaged 326 people. Demographics: (158 people identified as Black, 28 Native, 34 Multi-Racial, 9 Asian, 4 Hispanic, 3 Pacific Island, 76 White and 14 people did not identify race)
Gender engagement was: (196 Women, 114 Men, 2 Gender Neutral and 14 did not identify).

The most exciting aspect is the cross-generational aspect of engagement: (30) children age 0-5; (66) kids age 6-11; (44) teenagers age 12-17; (31) young adult age 18-23: (71) adults age 24-44; (51) middle aged adults 45-60 and (13) elders 60 and older. Our eldest member is 90 year old. 20 people did not identify their age.
2- Community Leadership- (Core Team/SALT Team). The primary goal of this initiative is to support and encourage the development of inter- cultural and cross cultural resilience within the Family by acknowledging that, while the impacts of structural racism are real, a community-driven process of education, led by the people who are most impacted by racism increases social support, generate new ideas and create opportunities for, individuals, families; Black people and those in the broader community. This process is working! This year the Family Freedom Center (FFC) has been led by a CORE team of 10 people (6women/4men) within the Black community (we, unfortunately, experienced the death of a white elder who worked with us who we continue to honor named Bonnie Wolden) This team has recruited 17 additional people, who we call the S.A.L.T team and are responsible for developing workshops and aspects of community engagement.
As a result of this community driven effort, we developed project plans, curriculum, lesson plans and evaluation for 14 workshops that moved forward during Freedom Summer. (March-June 2017). We have included a summary of workshop in the attachment section.
We are witnessing the impact of the Theory of Change process- The Family Freedom Center (FFC) is flourishing as a result of the way we are engaging community! Community members are working together to identify and address issues impacting the Black community. Members are identifying the “need” and organizing to independently move “solutions” forward on our behalf. The University of Minnesota Duluth Marketing Department donated over 200 hours to re-brand our initiative. We have received financial donations totaling $3,535 and United Taconite donated 12 used computer docking stations for our youth STEM workshop to close the digital divide. Most excitedly, we have partnered with Pillsbury United to start a Charter School in Duluth. This is a joint effort with an authorizer from Pillsbury and the Black community. We have secured a $500,000 CSP grant to start the school in 2018, to address education disparities. Lastly, we have an event planned on September 29th 2017 with community partners, key stakeholders and the Minnesota Department of Human Rights offices to identify other disparities impacting the Black community.

Key lessons learned

Lesson One: We need a space to develop inter-cultural social capital. When people of color are at the decision making table, ideas arise that are collaborative, culturally relevant and concrete in a way that avoids exacerbating systemic disparities. One example: we had a young person visit the Freedom Center with a friend who had just run away from a foster home. A S.A.L.T. member who happened to work for the Juvenile Court, not knowing the situation, but recognizing the young person, started a conversation with him. The young person broke down and began to explain the situation openly and candidly. We had a CORE team member there as well who works for child protection services who was asked to join the conversation. The young person felt supported and shared some racially motivated issues that were occurring at the foster home. We learned that he felt unsafe and had run away. By the end of the night, we were able to place the young person in a safe and supportive environment.
Unapologetically Black perspectives have socially relevant outcomes on everyone. We have a number of white people involved the Family Freedom Center. One of the workshops we implement is CHESS, run by two white men considered to be in the top 2% best chess players in America. These men have been instrumental in making the game of CHESS relevant to our kids. They have been able to connect chess strategies to life lessons learned during the civil rights movement. Each week they share how much this process and history of the Black community continues to impact them personally.
A family shared the following: “Our family is white, and we’ve been humbled by the welcome we received at Family Freedom School. The Family Freedom School experience is something our family desperately needed—but without knowing it. My daughter has lived in Duluth all 10 years of her life and we have been searching for friendships and experiences that cross racial and socioeconomic lines and especially opportunities to work on equity and social justice issues as a family. Family Freedom school inspired an “awakening” in our family. Now that we are “woke,” we want to “stay woke” You’ve enriched our lives!”

Reflections on inclusive, collaborative or resourceful problem-solving

The most significant impact has come from the collaborative aspect of the process. Community leaders involved with SALT and CORE Team spent (September-February) planning, outlining strategies, and preparing to engage community during Freedom Summer. As they considered our needs they collaborated to bring the right people to the table, volunteered hundreds of hours and brought tangible resources to the table. They met weekly during the days leading up to Freedom Summer, implemented workshops, brought in special guest (building social capital) and at times collaborated to create a way, when there was no way!
We have been openly inclusive offering all people the opportunity to discuss issues that impact the Black community. One unique aspect of the FFC is that people don’t complain about their circumstances, no matter the extent of the pain. I/we believe this is because people feel supported and are realizing that they have power to change their circumstances collaboratively. Attached is a link to our governance model. Our norms, process of leadership and decision center around this process currently. It is working for us! (

Other key elements of Community Innovation

This process has allowed for people to be very transparent especially, as we consider the fact that this journey together will have direct impact on our collective future!
My role is to be a catalyst to remind our community that they can change their own circumstances. The dynamic that continues to surface is the Tyranny of the Moment. The meaning of this term is simple, “when you are feeling oppressed and struggling every day, it’s almost impossible to think about tomorrow,” you are stuck in the Tyranny of the Moment. The result is that you complain about today and even yesterday and avoid talking about the future because it’s too painful. The Family Freedom School incorporates a number of strategies that allow people to get out of the Tyranny. We acknowledge that we are a connected Family of human beings. This process has brought people to a point of reflection, understanding and even tears. We are avoiding the continuation of the “tyranny of the moment” by acknowledging our past, our elders and honoring history. Our lives are inter-dependent and our successes are achievable- once we move past Tyranny!

Understanding the problem

The primary issues we are addressing in the Family Freedom Center is the impact of structural racism. We are addressing the impact in four primary ways: Personally, Inter-Personally, Systemically and Structurally.
Personally-. Our S.A.L.T and CORE leaders implemented the Wilder evaluation to determine the personal impacts of our collective action. We will review this impact after year 2.
Inter-Personally- People are breaking aspects of social isolation. We see people reaching out toward the Elders who play a significant role within the FFC. Those who attended workshops but were not a part of the planning process, want to be involved in the planning this year! We’ve evaluated their experience within the workshop and can share insight.
Systemically- We are teaching financial freedom concepts, creating micro-enterprise opportunities and expanding inter-actions with youth/families to close the digital divide. We struggled building capacity to expand our process within our workshops platforms but, we have the framework to build from and plan to nail it this year!
Structurally, we are starting a Charter School. Home Run! And more to come.

If you could do it all over again...

We would have raised more money to take this model to scale! The Family Freedom Center is a space for the socially and economically oppressed, regardless of race. We the people- need a space to reflect and consider our collective experiences within a system of Structural Race Advantage. Structural Race Advantage is system-that normalizes historical, cultural, institutional and inter-personal dynamic that routinely advantage white people while producing chronic outcomes for people of color- It is a created system that allows people of color specifically, to feel like social oppression is a normal state of being! Crazy Right? We tend to address the “impacts” of Structural Race and not the “root cause!” We focus on outcomes like- disparities, economic deprivation and even social isolation instead of providing a way for the oppressed to stop feeling oppressed. We need to provide people with a way to see the truth(s) about poverty, classism and slavery. I believe, like in the movie the Matrix… we need people to take the red pill to see how deep the rabbit hole really goes! On behalf of the Family Freedom Center, Thank you so much for investing in “us,” Bush Foundation.

One last thought

"My experience at Family Freedom was a fun, educational, and invigorating experience. Family Freedom Center was a place where I was free to be myself, without the judgment of other people. It was a place where outsiders were turned into family! At Family Freedom, the family, love, respect, and the end of oppression and poverty for all was the priority! Family Freedom Center was a safe and friendly environment! I loved my experience there because I learned so much. I was able to express so much! I was able to express feeling about my biological father that I never knew how to comprehend and talk about it. I learned to show kindness to other who aren't as at peace as I am. And I learned to restrain against oppression, to rise up and be better and to be a good example. In just two years, we have done so well and ameliorated so much that we are going to make The Family Freedom School! From my perspective, it'll be the best school in the whole continental U.S. Thank you Family Freedom Center. You'll always be in my heart!" Letter from Serenity Sierra- Henry Randolph 13 years old.
Note: we have uploaded documentation to provide you with insight, impact and scope of work taking place.