President and CEO, Nexus Community Partners, Saint Paul, Minnesota
Can the way we build neighborhoods shape our sense of community and inspire us? That was the question that brought Repa Mekha to the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University for his 2005 Bush Fellowship. “I started wondering why there were no persons of color influencing the way our environments were being built, and thinking about ways we could bring a new perspective.”
Bringing more input from people of color into community planning is now part of Mekha’s mission as president and CEO of Nexus Community Partners, which makes grants to community- and culture-based organizations to ensure development projects are built on community strengths.
When Mekha is looking for inspiration himself, he visits one of the first projects Nexus supported, the Cultural Wellness Center that serves the diverse Phillips and Powderhorn neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
“The moment you walk in you exhale. You feel this sense of freedom and this sense of release. It’s the most powerful experience in a physical environment I’ve ever had—and this is before anyone says anything to you,” says Mekha. “I go there sometimes and I sit; I might read and I might not. The space allows me to just be. In terms of my own spirit, my own sense of groundedness, it’s one of the best places I know.”