MK Nguyen

Hello Fellows: Meet MK Nguyen

3/22/17 by MK Nguyen

Wilder employees have the opportunity to apply for Kingston Fellowships, an honor awarded annually based on accomplishments, commitment to human services and leadership potential.

In March 2016, Wilder awarded fellowships to 11 employees spanning a variety of professional backgrounds. The fellowships help these professionals to study, teach, conduct research, exchange ideas and develop innovative programs to address community concerns.

In “Hello Fellows,” we introduce the most recent cohort of Kingston Fellows. This week, we catch up with MK Nguyen.

What is your role at Wilder?

I am a program manager in the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN). I help people understand why culturally responsive opportunities matter in a young people's success in school and life. My role is to support participation of parents and partners to advance in this value in both public and private systems.

Tell us about your background before coming to the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood.

Before coming to SPPN, I was a Vietnamese daughter in the Midway-Frogtown neighborhood borders. I left Minnesota for eight years to learn from the most thoughtful and inspirational educators and organizers in the Bay Area and New Orleans. I came back to be closer to family and raise my future kid(s) in Frogtown.

What are you using the Kingston Fellowship to achieve?

My Kingston Fellowship is about building up our story for ourselves, developing a story of ourselves that is regenerative, that honors our self-determination and our instinctual desire to be free. In the broadest sense I’m using the fellowship to help me develop my skills to be a better resource in my community.

After coming to SPPN, I became a Vietnamese mom in Frogtown. As refugee Vietnamese parents, I know our elders have sacrificed in unimaginable ways. I look to my elders for their stories and wisdom on parenting.

As second generation Vietnamese mother in the United States, I look to the young people to help me design a world, or at least a tight network of people who will protect the future of my son and his generation of Vietnamese people. I want to learn how the young people at my church, St. Columba, would like organize themselves to protect the people in their community from harm. I want to learn what kind of community-based systems our young people would design to address conflict when harm is done.

I am deeply impressed by the community that my father and his generation have built through St. Columba church. I am dumbfounded by the amount of sacrifice people, young and elder, make to keep this community together. After being gone for eight years, there is a lot I need to learn more about the way people in St. Columba have organized themselves and how young people want to organize themselves in the future. 

Columba church is the place we congregate, consolidate. We have done well coming together during moments of Viet Joy. I want to explore how we already come together or can better come together during moments of Viet pain, sadness, anger, confusion, or hopelessness.

The Kingston Fellowships are aimed at filling unmet needs in the field of human services and human services research. What unmet need is your fellowship filling?

Organizing is a human service, but I don’t think it’s framed that way. I’m trying to transform our models of service provision so that it shifts away from more consumption-based models into something that is cultivating people’s sense of self-determination. What human services looks like in our heads is somebody who has a job in an institution and it’s their role to leverage the resources that come from or go through our institutions to a recipient. To me that limits our human potential. What I love about organizing is it pushes people to solve their own problems. It pushes people to solve a problem that they cannot individually solve by themselves.

MK Nguyen is a program manager of the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, a transformative education initiative that brings together families, schools, public agencies, and the community to change the odds for a generation of children.