Critical Conversations

UROC Critical Conversations is a series of public discussions that bring together scholars, activists, historians, artists, and community leaders who address urban issues and ideas. Building on UROC's many campus-community collaborations, the series is intended as a "gathering place" for urban-focused research, dialogue, and cultural events.

Opioid Geographies
Tuesday, December 5, 2023 via Zoom 

and at four locations around the state

Opioids are a class of drugs that include heroin, synthetic opioids such as fentanyl, as well as other pain relievers available by prescription. So what exactly is the opioid epidemic and how is it affecting Minnesota's rural and urban spaces? Does the crisis look the same in rural and urban spaces? If not, what are the differences and what are the shared experiences impacting both groups? Join University of Minnesota researchers and community experts from throughout Minnesota in a statewide University of Minnesota Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) Critical Conversation on the basics of opioids and how they are impacting our state. The conversation will be held from 5 to 7 p.m., Tuesday, December 5 via Zoom and at four in-person broadcast locations around the state including: UROC in North Minneapolis; Beyond Brink in Mankato; KOOTASCA Community Action in Grand Rapids; and Promise Neighborhood of Central Minnesota in St. Cloud.

Watch a video of the event.

Demystifying Our Energy System:
The ins and outs of energy use in an age of increasing costs
Friday, April 14, 2023 via Zoom

Demystifying Our Energy System: The ins and outs of energy use in an age of increasing costs will tackle reading utility bills, applying for energy assistance, and accessing affordable energy saving programs and tools, as well as the importance of addressing climate change and building a clean and equitable energy system. Panelists will also address questions about energy use and equity such as: What policy initiatives are focusing on accessibility? What does a clean and equitable energy future look like? How energy systems are interconnected with our social, political, and cultural systems?  How can energy companies connect with communities that haven't traditionally been a part of the conversation? The discussion will be moderated by Sidney Stuart, Program Director with the East Side Freedom Library Housing Justice Program, and will be followed by a public Q&A session. Panelists are team members members of IonE's Energy Efficiency Cohort and will include: 
    •    Carmen Carruthers, Outreach Director, Citizens Utility Board of Minnesota;
    •    Metric Giles, Executive Director, Community Stabilization Project;
    •    Tanessa Lewis, Technical Services Assistant, Research and Knowledge Management, Fredrikson and Byron, P.A.;
    •    Tabitha Montgomery, Executive Director, Powderhorn Park Neighborhood Association; and
    •     Phitz Nantharath, Public Health Educator, Minnesota Department of Health
The event is co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Institute on the Environment and its Energy Efficiency Cohort. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required. 

Watch a video of the event. 

Living Well With Pain: 
Managing Your Pain So It Doesn't Manage You
Thursday, November 17, 2022 via Zoom

University of Minnesota researchers and community experts specializing in the treatment of chronic pain discussed strategies to empower individuals in managing chronic pain, navigate health systems, and build stronger relationships between patients and their care providers.  The conversation was moderated by Clarence Jones, community engagement consultant for Minneapolis-based Hue-MAN Partnership and an outreach director with the University of Minnesota's Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and feature a curated chat session for public input. 
Panelists included: 
    •    Ronda Marie Chakolis (PharmD, MPH) Clinical pharmacist and medication therapy management specialist; 
    •    Roni Evans (DC, MS, PhD), Director, Integrative Health & Wellbeing Research Program; Research Associate Professor, Earl  E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing, University of Minnesota; and

    •    Sam Simmons (LADC), behavioral consultant in chemical dependency and culturally sensitive trauma-informed strategies with Samuel Simmons Consulting; co-host of the "Voices” radio show on KMOJ FM.

Living Well With Pain: Managing Your Pain So It Doesn't Manage You was co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Earl E. Bakken Center for Spirituality and Healing's Integrative Health & Wellbeing Research Program. The event served as the kick-off for the series of Living Well with Pain community conversations on the topic of pain and pain management.

Watch a video of the event

Caring for Our Elders: 
Exploring Cultural Approaches to Elder Care in Minnesota
Tuesday, May 31, 2022 via Zoom

The growth and longevity of our aging population presents opportunities, as well as challenges for Minnesota's elders, their families, and friends. University of Minnesota Robert J. Jones Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center Executive Director Makeda Zulu and University School of Public Health Professor Joseph Gaugler opened a wide-ranging exploration of Minnesota's cultural approaches to helping elders live their best and fullest lives.  The conversation was moderated by Kate Klosterman, co-president of the Alzheimer's Association Young Champions-Twin Cities Chapter; and will featured the following panelists:
    • Odichinma Akosionu, Graduate Research Assistant, Division of Health Policy and Management, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota;
    • Cindy Kaigama, Health Equity Design Partner, Minnesota Community Care; 
    • Jordan Lewis, Professor, Department of Family Medicine and Bio-Behavioral Health, Medical School, University of Minnesota; and
    • Donald Richard Wright, Gitchiayayag in Residence, Indian Health Board of Minneapolis.
The event will feature a curated Q&A and live chat session moderated by representatives from Minnesota's Senior LinkAge Line, a free service of the Minnesota Board on Aging, delivered by Trellis and other Minnesota Area Agencies on Aging. Caring for Our Elders: Exploring Cultural Approaches to Elder Care in Minnesota is co-sponsored by the Center for Healthy Aging and Innovation (CHAI) at the University's School of Public Health.

Resources mentioned in the event's online chat:
Alive and Kickin’
NorthPoint Health and Wellness’s Living and Aging Well at Home
Juniper’s Powerful Tools for Caregivers classes
Senior Community Resources

Watch a video of the event.

Banking and Lending's Role in Family Wealth Disparities 
Thursday, November 18, 2021 via Zoom

AVP Furco
Andy Furco, Associate Vice President for Public Engagement

Commercial banking and lending institutions play a critical role in building individual and family wealth. Bankers and loan officers are the first introduction many people have to financial tools and concepts such as personal loans, investments, and refinancing. Too often banks miss opportunities for clients—as well as for themselves—when they deny people of color access points to wealth building tools like IRAs, lines of credit, investment vehicles, budgeting and tax strategies, and financial pathways to home ownership.

Moderated by award-winning Twin Cities financial educator and career coach Tonia Brinston, the conversation examined the role financial institutions play in the long-term financial health and wealth of their clients and community. Attendees heard from some of Minnesota's most influential advocates and experts on systemic barriers to wealth, as well as solutions like long-term, team-focused relationships between banks and clients and innovative financial literacy projects such as student run credit unions in Minnesota schools. 

Mr English
William English, Community Leader

Panelists included:

  •  Rose Brewer, Professor, Department of African American and African Studies, University of Minnesota;
  • Dorothy Bridges, Member, Board of Directors, U.S. Bancorp; 
  •  Kenya McKnight-Ahad, Founder, CEO of Black Women's Wealth Alliance;
  • Felicia  Perry, Executive Director, West Broadway Business and Area Coalition; and
  • Maxwell Zappia, Deputy Commissioner of Financial Institutions Division, Minnesota Department of Commerce.

The event also honored University of Minnesota Associate Vice President for Public Engagement Andy Furco and community leader William Englishfor their accomplishments and long-standing commitment to UROC. Both men were recipients of the UROC Rock—a symbol of gratitude and deep appreciation from the staff of UROC.

Watch a video of the event.


The Art of Transformation: We Thrive Together
Monday, June 21, 2021 via Zoom

Celebrate ten years of groundbreaking research and community outreach at the UROC Community Day/Tenth Anniversary Celebration virtual event at 4 p.m. Monday, June 21. The event will feature The Art of Transformation: We Thrive Together, a virtual UROC Critical Conversation featuring five of UROC's innovative project leaders who've demonstrated resilience and creativity in growing their organizations and community-based projects over the past year. The conversation will be moderated by special guest University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign Chancellor Robert J. Jones, and include a welcome from University of Minnesota President Joan Gabel and University Associate Vice President for Public Engagement Andy Furco. Panelists include: Award-winning financial educator Tonia Brinston and University College of Education and Human Development Professor Chalandra Bryant on the link between historical trauma, ambiguous loss, and financial decision-making among African American families in North Minneapolis; Managing Director Brett Buckner on the development of Seeds to Harvest, a community-based service organization dedicated to responding to the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and civil unrest in North MinneapolisSenior Program Manager of University's Technology Empowerment Center (TEC) Sem Lafleur on the work of TEC's free workforce development program and computer refurbishing prograUniversity School of Nursing Associate Professor Siobhan McMahon on Ready Steady, a research program through the University's School of Nursing that investigates the best ways to avoid falls through strength-building and balance exercises with community participants; and Vice-Chair of Health Equity at Boston University Department of Family Medicine Dr. Renee Crichlow on The Ladder, a North Minneapolis-based club and cascading mentorship program that builds interest in healthcare careers.

Watch a video of the event. 

Women Leading Under Pressure: With No Road Map, What is Your Compass? 

4 p.m., Thursday, October 29, 2020 via Zoom
A major theme of the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center's (UROC) community-driven Research Agenda is  "Community Healing and Wholeness" — a focus based on the tenet that smart decisions can't be made unless decision makers and all parties involved address both individual and community healing and health. Hear how some of Minnesota’s most powerful female leaders make decisions under pressure while navigating their community's physical, mental and spiritual health and their own wellness. Panelists include: Joan T.A. Gabel, University of Minnesota President;  Alika P. Galloway, Liberty Community Church Co-pastor; Shauen Pearce, City of Minneapolis Mayor’s Office, Economic Development and Inclusion Policy Director; and Stella Whitney-West, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Chief Executive Officer. Women Leading Under Pressure: With No Road Map, What is Your Compass? will be moderated by Makeda Zulu-Gillespie, University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center executive director. The event will feature a discussion by panelists, followed by a Q&A session moderated by members of UROC’s YoUthROC Research Team. The event is free and open to the public.

Watch a video of the event.

Economic Inclusion and the Promise of Cultural Districts

Thursday, December 5, 2019
Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, Council Vice President Andrea Jenkins, Council Members Alondra Cano and Jeremiah Ellison, and other members of the council have been working on the establishment of "cultural districts" within the city limits. Cultural districts are defined as contiguous areas with cultural and/or linguistic identity rooted in communities significantly populated by Black, Indigenous, and immigrant people of color (BIPOC). The initiative aims to address the displacement of BIPOC residents and businesses by strengthening commercials corridors while advancing and ensuring racial equity in district communities through investments, tools, and the establishment of policies and practices that directly benefit and respond to the needs of BIPOC communities. In his budget recommendations, Mayor Frey has proposed that cultural districts receive new resources for improvements in street lighting, cleaning, marketing, interest-free business loans, and more. Presenters include:

  • C. Terrence Anderson, Director of Community Based Research, Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, University of Minnesota;
  • Mayor Jacob Frey, City of Minneapolis;
  • Shauen Pearce, Economic Development and Inclusion Policy Director, Mayor's Office, City of Minneapolis; and
  • James Terrell, Principal Project Coordinator and Manager, Participation Loans Programs, City of Minneapolis.

A Changing People Who Live in This Place Called Minnesota: A public conversation about challenges facing rural and urban Minnesota

Wednesday, May 29, 2019
Join rural and urban Minnesotans in a special UROC Critical Conversation about immigration, migration, and the impending “silver tsunami” of retirees set to change the demographic face of our state. The conversation, A Changing People Who Live in This Place Called Minnesota, will be live-streamed via conference feed between participants in Morris, Minn. and North Minneapolis at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 29. The event will feature panelists and presenters in two locations—45 Humanities Fine Arts Building on the University of Minnesota, Morris campus and the University's Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) in North Minneapolis. Attendees at both locations will have a chance to participate in small group conversations and share their thoughts.  Topics include the shared and unique challenges and opportunities that changing demographics pose to the healthcare, employment, housing, and transportation needs of Minnesotans living in urban centers, small towns, and rural settings.

Mapping Prejudice: Racism, Rent, and Real Estate in Minneapolis

Wednesday, October 10, 2018
Join scholars and community members in a UROC Critical Conversation of Minneapolis's hidden history of racial covenants in Minneapolis. The discussion will center on new research showing what communities of color have known for decades—that structural barriers and legalized discrimination barred many people of color from buying property and building wealth for most of the last century. Co-sponsored by the University of Minnesota Libraries' Mapping Prejudice Project, the event is part of the Minnesota Housing Partnership's Racism, Rent and Real Estate series and the University's 1968-1969 to 2018-19 Historic Upheavals, Enduring Aftershocks symposium sponsored by the University of Minnesota's Institute for Advanced Study, Northrop, and University Honors Program. View photos, video, and event recap here

Prince’s Legacy: A Family Value

Saturday, April 14, 2018
What role did the late Prince Rogers Nelson’s biological and extended families played in his musical development, philanthropic activities, and rise to superstar status? Explore the opportunities and barriers confronting caretakers and mentors outside of biological relationships and traditional family structures with people who knew and worked with Prince. The conversation will be moderated by Airport Foundation MSP’s Robyne Robinson and feature artists, residents, University researchers, and community experts. 

Sanctuary Through the Eyes of Women and Girls: Immigration and the Impact of Deportation and Racialized Surveillance on Families of Color

Monday, May 22, 2017
University of Minnesota faculty and advocacy leaders from the Twin Cities’s communities of color led a public discussion about the physical and mental toll on women, girls, and families of color surrounding executive decisions and recent actions by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Participants were invited to share testimony, engage in small group conversations, and explored how University researchers can better partner with communities on the issues of immigration and deportation. The event was presented in partnership with the University's Race, Indigeniety, Gender and Sexuality and Women and Girls of Color initiatives.

Economic Development and Urban Communities: A Quality of Life Conversation 

Thursday, November 17, 2016
The event will explored the connection between public and private investment in North Minneapolis and other urban communities and its impact on individual and community health, prosperity, and quality of life. Speakers included: Lea Hargett, president, Minnesota Black Chamber of Commerce; Naim Madyun, associate dean for undergraduate programs, diversity, and outreach, University of Minnesota College of Education and Human Development; Ravi Norman, chief executive officer, THOR Construction, Inc.; Shauen V.T. Pearce-Lassiter, director, Center Cities Competitiveness Initiative, Greater MSP; Cathy Polasky, senior policy advisor, Office of Governor Mark Dayton and Lt. Governor Tina Smith; D. Craig Taylor, director, City of Minneapolis Community Planning and Economic Development; and Stella Whitney-West, executive director, NorthPoint Health & Wellness Center, Inc. The event's 5 p.m. reception feature an exhibitor display of new Northside businesses, as well as businesses planning to expand or relocate to North Minneapolis. Videos from this Critical Conversation are available on UROC's Youtube channel.

The Right to a Home: The Legacy of Structural Inequality and Homeownership

Tuesday, March 22, 2016
The three-week occupation of Minneapolis Police Department’s Fourth Precinct galvanized communities and made headlines around the world. Many scholars believe it—and other recent protests—is tied to a historical trajectory of structural racism, housing discrimination, and economic inequality. Guest speakers include Augustine "Willie" Dominguez, North Minneapolis resident and former member of the Minnesota House of Representatives; Edward Goetz, director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Urban and Regional Affairs and Humphrey School of Public Affairs professor; Keith Mayes, professor and past chair of the University's Department of African and African American Studies; and Shauen Pearce, executive director of the Harrison Neighborhood Association.

The Raising of America: Minnesota's Early Childhood Challenges and Opportunities

Tuesday, November 10, 2015
Policy makers, practitioners, and early childhood education experts and advocates participated in this UROC Critical Conversation on how a strong start for all Minnesota children can lead to a healthier, prosperous, and more equitable state. The interactive event featured a screening of episode two of the documentary series The Raising of America: Early Childhood and the Future of Our Nation, which aired nationwide on public television stations in the fall of 2015. Afterward, University of Minnesota researchers and state policy makers led a discussion on the wide range of quality in child development services and the role government should play in setting standards and ensuring access for all. Comments and ideas from the conversation were submitted to Governor Dayton’s Children’s Cabinet. Event partners included the University of Minnesota School of Public Health’s Health Equity Work Group, and Center for Leadership Education in Maternal and Child Public Health; the Medical School’s Program in Health Disparities Research, and North Memorial Family Medicine Residency Program’s Community Health and Advocacy Talks (CHAT) program.

Race, Place, and the Geography of Community Safety: A Critical Conversation with Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, April 7, 2015
UROC hosted a public conversation with Bryan Stevenson on the role geography plays in the health and safety of individuals in workplace, school, and residential communities. The discussion was followed by a 30-minute conversation among the event's 75 attendees addressing these questions: The scope and reach of our criminal justice system has greatly expanded over the past 30 years. How can we reduce the frequency with which we use the system, while still maintaining public safety? The consequences of felony records create barriers to society that can reinforce economic and health disparity and racial segregation. What are the biggest challenges for people re-entering society from long-term incarcerations? How can we break the cycle? What does it mean to be part of a community? Law enforcement is only one force for community safety — and a force that some may consider unsafe. What are others? What can you do in your neighborhood, workplace, or school to ensure your safety and the safety of others?Attendees were asked to document their thoughts and reactions to the topics. Click here to download a compilation of their comments.

The Bright Sunshine of Human Rights: Hubert H. Humphrey and the Civil Rights Act of 1964

Thursday, Oct. 28, 2014
The event featured comments by University of Minnesota Humphrey School of Public Affairs (HSPA) assistant professor Paul Stone; philanthropic leader Reatha Clark King; and former Congressman Donald Fraser. UROC Executive Director Heidi Barajas welcomed everyone, and HSPA Dean Eric Schwartz gave an overview and made introductions.
VIDEO: Click here to watch a video of the presentation.

Art for Healing: The Role of Creativity in Trauma Recovery

Thursday, April 10, 2014
Minneapolis-based artists and professionals discuss the healing power of art in trauma and grief recovery during a Critical Conversation. The event, co-sponsored by KFAI radio, was part of UROC’s ongoing Trauma Recovery Project and presented as a special edition of KFAI's What's in the Mix, a community engagement forum made possible by a grant from the Minnesota Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund.
VIDEO: Click here to watch a video of the presentation.

Trauma, Faith, & Healing in the Community: Conversations with South Africa's Tutu Sisters

Tuesday, April 23, 2013
The daughters of renowned South African archbishop Desmond Tutu—race and gender activist Naomi Tutu and researcher Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe – spoke during "Trauma, Faith, & Healing in the Community: Conversations with South Africa's Tutu Sisters" in April 2013. The Critical Conversation examined the role faith, consensus-building, and reconciliation play in healing a community spirit that's been wounded by violence, natural disaster, or catastrophe. The events featured a moderated panel format, followed by an informal public question-and-answer period and public reception.
VIDEO: Click here to watch a video of the presentation at Coffman Memorial Union.

The Impact of Sex Trafficking and Prostitution on Community Health: Reducing Harm, Promoting Healing

Thursday, October 18, 2012
Sex trafficking and the prostitution of children is a growing concern in the Twin Cities, with Minneapolis named by the FBI as one of the top U.S. cities for trafficking of juveniles. Intimately tied to poverty, exploitation, and lack of choice, sex trading affects women, children, families, and community health. This Critical Conversation features small and large group discussions that focus on how North Minneapolis and other urban communities can take action steps to end sex trafficking in Minnesota.  This Critical Conversation is produced in partnership with the Northside Women's Space, a drop-in center that provides teens and women a way out of prostitution, and with the University of Minnesota Center for Integrative Leadership, as part of its yearlong series of events on the local and global impact of human trafficking.
VIDEO: Click here to watch a video of this Critical Conversation on the impact of sex trafficking and community health.

Cornerstones and Common Ground: Reflections on the History of North Minneapolis

Thursday, February 23, 2012
The history of Minneapolis' Northside community was the topic of Critical Conversations, UROC's series of public discussions with scholars, historians, artists, and community leaders on urban issues and ideas. The February 23 kick-off event focused on the people in front of—and behind—the camera in the recent University-produced documentary, "Cornerstones: A History of North Minneapolis." Cornerstone's director and Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Daniel Pierce Bergin moderated a panel that included: Roxanne Givens, businesswoman, philanthropist and founder of the Minnesota African American Museum and Cultural Center; Linda Schloff, historian, lecturer and former executive director of the Jewish Historical Society of the Upper Midwest;; Katherine Solomonson, associate professor in the University's School of Architecture and an architectural historian featured in Cornerstones; an; John Wright, professor in the University's Department of African American and African Studies. VIDEO: Click here to watch a video of the Critical Conversation.