Creating a More Diverse Narrative

Minnesota Humanities Center works with partners all across the state using educational partnerships and public programming to inspire community conversations and illuminate authentic diverse voices—especially those often left out of education and public awareness.

Minnesota Humanities Center, founded in 1971 and located in Saint Paul, is a statewide 501(c)(3) nonprofit and full-service event center. In a current partnership with MPR, KMOJ/89.9 Radio, Pillsbury United Communities, ThreeSixty Journalism and Hamline University, the organization is providing training for members of the news media statewide through an upcoming spring conference called Truth and Transformation: Changing Racial Narrative in Media.

Equity Alliance MN Youth Executive Board Sung Ja Shin
Equity Alliance MN’s Youth Executive Board interviewed Sung Ja Shin about her path to becoming a Minnesota Humanities Center program officer. (Minnesota Humanites Center)

Given that the organization works to bring in voices that have been absent from a dominant conversation, K-12 Education Program Officer Sung Ja Shin says narrative change is fundamental to who they are as an organization. Minnesota Humanities Center addresses narrative change through their absent narratives approach, which Shin says the organization will bring to the Truth and Transformation project.

Shin says the absent narrative approach is based in humanities and used to create equity. The organization uses four core values that drive that approach: building and strengthening relationships, recognizing the power of stories and dangers of absence, learning from and with multiple voices, and amplifying community solutions for change.

Minnesota Humanities Center uses the absent narrative approach through their five core programs: Veterans’ Voices, We Are Water MN, K-12 Education, Native Nations of Minnesota and Community Conversations. Veterans’ Voices seeks to amplify Minnesotan military veteran experiences. We Are Water MN is an exhibit examining the roles water plays in our lives. K-12 Education teaches students about other cultures in Minnesota. Native Nations of Minnesota learns from Dakota and Ojibwe people and helps share their stories. Community Conversations are public events held by Minnesota Humanities Center that are intended for all Minnesotans who have an interest in learning from and with diverse communities.

“One of the things we hope to do is help people who call Minnesota home to redefine what our Minnesota means,” Shin said. Minnesota Humanities Center does this by making sure all voices are heard.

Sung Ja Shin
Sung Ja Shin of Minnesota Humanities Center welcomes board members, administrators and guests to MHC’s 2018 Educator Institute Showcase on June 21, 2018. (Minnesota Humanities Center)

A recent example of this sharing of diverse voices was a collaboration with the large Somali population in Minnesota. According to the Minnesota State Demographic Center, 31,500 foreign-born Somalis lived in Minnesota in 2013. Minnesota Humanities Center created a bilingual book project that shares stories of Somali culture in both English and the Somali language. It also included a dual-language audio recording. “Those are the things that I love about the Humanities Center,” Shin said. “They have really taken pride in working with and amplifying the voices in those [often left out] communities.”

According to Minnesota Humanities Center’s website, they serve the entire state of Minnesota—from Warroad to Austin, Moorhead to Duluth—and every where in between.

In the fiscal years 2014-2016, Minnesota Humanities Center held events and programs in 68 different communities that were attended by 47,208 people. Their mission is “building a thoughtful, literate and engaged society.” Using philosophy, literature, civics, history, language and more, Minnesota Humanities Center focuses on what unites us—bringing the humanities out of academia and into the lives of everyday Minnesotans.

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The future of Minnesota Humanities Center remains untold. The organization is currently in a state of strategic thinking to be intentional and thoughtful about its next steps.

Shin says the organization hopes to make new connections, but one thing remains true: “We are really about connecting people together. Narrative change is fundamental to who we are as an organization.”