Words by Lisa Dahlberg | Photos by Josh Olson
“This isn’t a question, but I just feel like I’ve been, like, in church for the past hour. Like everything you said, thank you for it. This has been one of the best breakfasts I have ever been to. It just makes such a difference, you know, that you’re woke.” – Mallory Mitchell
Muneer Karcher-Ramos isn’t your typical nonprofit executive. He asks more questions than he answers. He eschews stuffiness, the wearing of suits, and traditional power structures. He’s been described as working with a sense of “pragmatic urgency.” Oh, and he’s a Millennial.
The director of Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood joined us for a recent YNPN Leadership Breakfast where he blew our minds, made us think, questioned just about everything, and talked about the many joys of having been a ‘90s kid.
“I’m a young nonprofit professional myself. It is refreshing to be in a room with other people in my same age cohort. Often, the rooms that I’m in, people are much much older than me. Often our closest cultural reference is, you know, Tom and Jerry. So to be in a room where people know what Snapchat is, or who can talk about “Scandal,” or “How to get Away with Murder,” or who watched “Rugrats” growing up—it is refreshing to be in a room where I can see the emerging talents we have in the Twin Cities’ nonprofit sector.”
Radically Reimagining Leadership
“We’re in a movement where a lot is changing. Right now it’s about what leadership looks like, reimagining what our sector looks like. You know, if we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we always got. We have old models of leadership with a top-down structure. But what does it mean when everyone at every level at an organization gets a chance to contribute and have their voice heard? For me, that means my team is involved in just about everything. We go through a process that, whether it’s front-line program staff or folks on my leadership team—everyone touches major decisions. In my own workplace experience before I got to be a director, decisions made by the leadership were always an announcement that came down. Just sort of like, this is how it is and you just have to take it. So how do we push our sector to be thinking differently about just having to take decisions that other people make for us, and how can we reimagine collaborative structures so that we’re not forced into settings that we really don’t want to be in?”
Cultural Engagement is the Key
“In our work, we’re constantly asking, how do we set up the pathways of opportunity that lead our children to college and career success? Now that said, my intention isn’t to make more of our kids just worker bees. I think we have to be careful when we talk about this discourse, you know, this idea of college and career readiness, college and career success, with the end gain always thinking about just the workforce. What we believe is that we need to put cultural engagement back into the classroom so that children learn the truth about themselves. Right? Too often they aren’t being told the truth about themselves. I didn’t learn about Indigenous history or Chicano Latino history until I went to college. Why? I mean, for me that’s just unacceptable, that I couldn’t know about myself through the education system until I was paying for it.
That the public education, which is supposed to be for the public good, did not teach me about my own public and who my people were. It’s not just about training the worker bee. It’s about how we’re in touch with ourselves.
How we look at our culture and our being as a place for healing, as a place for solace, as a place where we turn back to, whenever we’re in a struggle, whenever we’re in a good time.
As we think about our work, are we workers, or are we beings? Which one do we want to be first? Our roots sometimes get displaced by a desire to be a worker.
We’re displacing our identity with what we do, as opposed to who we are.
It’s always a struggle to navigate that. I know that I’m uniquely positioned to set my schedule in a way that many people aren’t. As I think about reimagining work, I expect the same things from my staff. Do what you need to do for your kids. Do what you need to do for your family, and take those first steps first.”
Muneer is poised to do more great things for the Twin Cities community as he continues to question, confront, and reimagine the realities of the nonprofit sector. Young nonprofit professionals left the event with renewed inspiration to try out their own innovative ideas. It became clear that over the coming years, our sector will see the benefits of more emerging leaders like Muneer.