This led to the creation of what eventually became Kujichagulia 2.0, a government, nonprofit, and community project launched by Ramsey County Black community leaders alongside staffers who brought back a five-year effort from 2003 that ended prematurely, disappointing the community. Version 2.0 builds on previous work to change systems from within and increase community power through knowledge-building. Community members are now essential contributors to shared decisions made about their community’s health and wellbeing.
“This is an active community-building, community engagement, and community reconnection process,” says Elder Atum Azzahir, executive director of the Cultural Wellness Center, a community-based nonprofit that supports self-wellness by creating space “to be free and Black.” “What I admire is that [the county] knows community is a major measure of health and wellbeing.”
Kujichagulia 2.0 is a unique collaboration among the Cultural Wellness Center; Ramsey County; Black leadership within the county; and the Black Community Commission on Health (BCC). Making Black community feedback integral to county decisionmaking has been central to accountability and progress. The partnership has a shared goal of eliminating systemic racism that’s currently embedded in systems across the county, impacting health, housing, education, career opportunities, and more.
The county recognizes the need to dismantle systemic racism. The Ramsey County Board of Commissioners passed a resolution that unanimously declared that “Racism is a public health crisis” soon after George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis. At that time, they had also already begun to center racial equity in the County’s policy agenda. County public service leaders and staff see value for everyone involved when partnerships are created with the community.
“Understanding ‘partner’ as a verb, not a noun … increases county effectiveness and reinforces a community-family investment system,” says Sara Hollie, director of Saint Paul-Ramsey County Public Health. “The transfer, sharing, and production of knowledge and stronger partnerships is one of the greatest successes I’ve seen so far.”
Kujichagulia 2.0 has taken concrete steps to address the highway-related displacement and other disenfranchisement of the Black community. The partnership is focusing on addressing displacement as a community-identified priority, given the significant impact those policies have had on health and wellbeing of residents. The partnership is approaching this across three pillars of work. The first pillar is Community Health Action teams (CHATS). CHATS sessions are advocacy workgroups that create a space to share community stories and knowledge.