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Meet Muneer Karcher-Ramos, the new Director of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood

 

What is your background?

For the past four years I have been a researcher with Wilder Research at the Wilder Foundation. I have a background in sociology and applied social research and am committed to aligning and coordinating existing community assets to highlight the neighborhood’s strengths and address tough challenges. I hold a master’s degree from the University of Chicago and received my bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota. Most of the things I have worked on have been at the intersection of urban education, structural inequity, neighborhood change and community impact, so the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood is very much in line with the kind of work I do and am passionate about doing.

Why were you interested in applying to be the Director of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood?

I have a particular interest in and commitment to the Frogtown and Summit-University neighborhoods that the SPPN serves because I have lived in the neighborhood and many of my extended family live here. I understand the landscape of the neighborhood and the ground-level challenges – those literally at the street level – as opposed to some theoretical understanding of what people in this community experience day to day.

When the Wilder Foundation got the opportunity to launch a year-long planning project of the SPPN three years ago, my investment in the neighborhood from a professional standpoint increased. I have been involved with the initiative since the beginning – providing oversight, hiring and supervision of the field staff for the Community Assessment survey, and reporting findings of the assessment and the work of the Solution Action Groups. The community assessment was really about learning how families assess their own strengths and needs, not about our coming in and assessing them or telling them what we think they need.

Since that first year, I have been involved in many aspects of the initiative, and I worked alongside the previous two directors, helping to create the database the SPPN uses, working with community and partner agencies to create frameworks for working together to understand community challenges and opportunities. I also represent the SPPN on several of our Communities of Practice, including the Health Committee, which is chaired by Dr. Terry Crowson at HealthPartners, and representing SPPN as one of the four zones receiving Race to the Top scholarships.

I have had a great opportunity to work with many key partners and stakeholders of the SPPN and I’m looking forward to meeting more and working on a deeper level with many of them.

Considering where the initiative is at present, what are some things you will be working on in the immediate future?

One of the first things I’m going to be working on as the Director is to gain a better understanding of what is the street-level presence of SPPN in the community: What do families in the neighborhood know about the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood? I want to have a better opportunity to tell families what we offer and ask how they would like to be involved and contribute to the initiative.

Second, I will continue to strengthen our partnerships with other organizations with whom we are delivering the SPPN initiative. We are fortunate to have many truly committed partners – this was proven and reinforced when we did not receive a $30 million implementation grant from the U.S. Department of Education last winter. Everyone remained committed to the children and families in the SPPN. So we have good relationships and rock-solid commitment to continue to build on.

Finally, since the beginning, the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood has identified race and racism as key factors in producing educational disparities, and our theory of change is that attention to culture is the “missing piece” in many efforts to understand and eliminate disparities. For many of us, we understand and make sense of the world through our cultural lens. Culture is also a place of healing and making oneself whole. We have been constructing the initiative through a racial equity lens in our practice and decision-making. I will work tirelessly with parents and partners to make it happen.

What do you like to do when you’re not working?

I recently have been volunteering as a Page Mentor for the Justice Alan Page Education Foundation and completed the Social Justice Leadership Program at the Headwaters Foundation for Justice. I also like to go to various community events and I am active in the social justice community. I teach at the University of Minnesota and enjoy working with students.

Otherwise, I also enjoy spending time with my extended family – I can be found hanging out at home with my wife and 9-month-old son, spending time with my family and my in-laws, and traveling to visit extended family back in California where I was born.

 

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