Q&A with Lead for Minnesota Fellow Amber Lewis

In July 2021, Northspan was joined by Amber Lewis for a two-year fellowship through Lead for Minnesota. LFMN is a state affiliate of the national nonprofit Lead for America, a nonpartisan two-year fellowship program working to make communities more united by focusing on three core pillars of education, pathways, and systems-change.

Amber’s work gathering resident surveys and broadband data to shape Northspan’s Welcoming Community program was featured in American Connection Corps’s 2021 year-end report as “the region’s first and most comprehensive approach to understanding demographic inequities around digital access.”  

In this Q&A with Amber, we check in to see how the fellowship is going so far and get a glimpse at the work ahead.

How did you get involved with Lead for Minnesota and Northspan? 

I graduated with my master’s degree in Conflict Analysis and Resolution from the Carter School for Peace and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University in December 2020. After graduating, I looked into several different opportunities for how I could use my degree to begin to address some of the many problems I saw in my community. I considered applying for grants and starting a non-profit focused on building social and institutional trust at a community level, but when I came across a job posting for Lead for America, I realized how closely their mission aligned with my own. I decided to apply for their two-year fellowship program, which places young people in high impact leadership positions by connecting them with a local leader in their community.  

I was living in Oakdale, MN, near the Twin Cities at the time, but I am originally from the Iron Range and had grown up in Britt, MN. In my initial meeting with Lead for America, they indicated that the placement in Duluth, MN, might be a good fit for me. I had spent a considerable amount of time in the Duluth area growing up and the work of Northspan covered the seven-county area of the Arrowhead of Minnesota which included my hometown. 

I applied for the LFA fellowship and indicated my interest in the Duluth placement as my first choice. I was asked to interview and was selected as an endorsed candidate for LFA. I then interviewed with Elissa Hansen, the president and CEO of Northspan. I was grateful to be offered the position and excited for the opportunity to move back to my hometown area.  

What are some key highlights from projects you’ve worked on so far? 

In my first year in my fellowship, I have been able to work on many projects and learn so much about community leadership. Some of the highlights include: 

  • Conversations with community members across the region to better understand the needs of the Welcoming Community Program in northeast Minnesota 
  • Helping to plan and carry out the first Northeast Minnesota Equity Summit in October 2021 
  • Assisting in putting together a 31-person Welcoming Community Advisory Committee with over 50% representation from underrepresented communities  
  • Working with the NORTHFORCE team in planning, promoting, and hosting the Student Connect Program for 2021/2022 
  • Gathering broadband data from across northeast Minnesota to better understand existing equity gaps and how to address them 
  • Building and strengthening connections across the higher education system in northeast Minnesota and northwest Wisconsin

Looking at programs and projects in the works for 2022, three major efforts include: 

  • Preparation for initial Welcoming Community learning cohorts focused on inclusion in three communities in rural northeast Minnesota
  • Planning for a new take on a historic concept: Duluth Lyceum, a community learning and social forum hosted at Bent Paddle Brewing Co. 
  • Organizing community venture Uniting for Democracy in partnership with Urban Rural Action and LFA with a focus on constructive dialogue, connecting across differences, and making a positive community impact

What’s been your favorite part of the fellowship so far? 

I love working on projects that I feel will make a difference in fostering a more welcoming community in northeast Minnesota. I have especially enjoyed listening to the stories and experiences of those in my community from so many different lived experiences across our region. My favorite part has been planning ways to bring people together across differences by organizing and facilitating community conversations, learning opportunities, and community projects centered on belonging, inclusivity, and community engagement.

For more information, reach out to Amber by emailing alewis@northspan.org.