Danielle Mkali is the Community Wealth Building Director at Nexus Community Partners, an organization that works to support strong, equitable and just communities.
I’ve been in Minneapolis for 21 years. I was actually born in St. Paul, adopted as an infant, and raised in Stillwater in much more of a rural setting. We didn’t farm the land, but there was corn and hay being grown all around our house. Up until school age I had a kind of “free black child in nature” experience, and then moved to Minneapolis when I was 20.
My family and I moved to the north side four years ago. I love the north side. It’s the first place that I’ve lived where there are black folks that have been able to maintain their home and live there for a long time. It just feels different. I don’t even want to talk about it too much because I think it’s so special!
The work I do now is all about supporting black folks to either develop or learn more deeply about the black cooperative economic legacy. I started getting involved with cooperatives when I was pretty young, at a small cooperatively-owned grocery store in Stillwater. Working there as a young black woman in the majority white space of Stillwater, I found a different level of racial understanding, acceptance and progressive ideas.
I think the fundamental part of a cooperative is that people have equal power and voice. One member, one vote. A cooperative should work to fulfill a need, a social need, a political need, a community need. Until we’re really in these spaces where we’re trying to figure these things out, disagreeing together, growing through conflict together, fighting together, we won’t be able to get there.
We’re really looking at what it looks like for workers and laborers to actually own their labor and be able to profit from the wealth that they’re creating. You can’t really find a movement, a Black, Latin movement without seeing that cooperative economics played some kind of a role in it.
In the mid-1800s black folks had mutual aid societies that collectively held nearly a million dollars — a highly organized network of folks. I worked to create the North Star Black Cooperative Fellowship, which looks to help folks reclaim that legacy of black cooperative economics and dig deep into why it’s been important. A lot of the folks that we’re working with are looking to start up cooperatives, and then we work to provide technical assistance support to them. Help them create a budget and build relationships and networks to be able to get their cooperatives off the ground.
I would love to see Minneapolis be an example of what building black and brown and indigenous community wealth could look like. Where we aren’t simply valued on the labor that we’re able to create. There is so much wealth here. I feel like everyone wants to contribute well to their community. Our job is to really figure out ways that everyone can do that, and still provide dignified housing and access to education and healthcare. I don’t think that those are far fetched things. I think those are just really more human things. I would like to see Minneapolis be a place where black and brown and indigenous folks’ ideas are taken seriously, and they’re able to get the space and room they need to be able to solve problems or to innovate in really powerful ways. I’d like to see children that have a deep sense of hope. I’m optimistic, and I know it will not be easy.
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