Brittany shares her experience moving back to MSP, finding a network of like-minded BIPOC professionals and leaning on community.

Photo: Warehouse District / North Loop Neighborhood, Minneapolis, MN

Photo credit: Uzoma Obasi

Could you tell us a little bit about yourself.

I grew up about 45 minutes West of Minneapolis in a very small town called Waverly. Small in the sense that I graduated with 89 people – so very small! (laughs).

I am Native American, German and Irish. My mom is German and Irish, and Native American comes from my dad’s side. He is 50% Native American and 50% German, so his mom is full blooded Native American, and his dad also comes from Native American lineage. The reservation on my dad’s and grandmother’s side is in Twin Buttes, North Dakota. It is three affiliated tribes: Mandan, Hidatsa and Arikara, but we are Arikara, Hidatsa and Ojibwe. My grandmother grew up on the reservation and didn’t come to the MSP region until she was 18, I believe, and she’s been here ever since. But we still have family that lives on and near our reservation.

I went to University of Minnesota for undergrad and I’m actually currently back at University of Minnesota to get my MBA. I’m very excited to be doing that. I’m currently a Manager of Patient and Translational Marketing at Be The Match, also known as the National Marrow Donor Program. We facilitate unrelated and related bone marrow matches for people who have blood cancers or blood disorders to find a genetic match and help them get a transplant.

Prior to that, I worked at a marketing agency in Minneapolis. And prior to that I worked in Indianapolis at an event retail company doing merchandising and buying for NFL companies. So, I actually lived in Indianapolis for about six years after college, and then moved back in 2016.

What are your favorite things about life in MSP?

I love it. I like the Midwestern feel. One of my favorite things about MSP is our breadth and variety of restaurants: places to eat and to drink. Some of my favorites are Nolo’s Kitchen and Soul Bowl in North Loop or the Warehouse District.

I also like the seasonality. Not everybody loves snow, but we find ways to love what we do in whatever climate we may be. I really appreciate spending time on a lake in the summer and then going out in the woods in the fall. In the winter, I like going up North or spending a day with my nephew snow tubing or snowshoeing. If you are wearing the right clothes to be able to play outside all day, it’s fun!

How could MSP improve? 

Moving back, I experienced that a lot of people who grew up here tend to stay here and have very long and deep roots with their family and friends. So, as adults, they are less likely to form new relationships with coworkers or older friends because they already have their network here. If you come here as a young adult, it’s a little bit harder to form those connections because some people may not necessarily be open. 

My advice is, don’t feel like a burden to keep asking to meet up. Know that some people might just need a few more nudges. Just be proactive. Rather than saying: “Hey, we should get drinks.” Say: “We should get drinks; are you open next Friday or the following Wednesday?” You may have to be the person to do the reaching out or asking somebody to show you around a little bit more. That would be my recommendation. 

How are you able to find a sense of community in MSP?

Focused interest groups. Back when I was doing marketing and promotion for liquor brands, I tapped into a group of local People of Color who worked in the beer, wine and spirits industry. It’s called Brewing Change Collaborative. I don’t even know how many members we have now, but it’s a grassroots group of People of Color who are on an Instagram thread, on an email chain and who meet once a month. That was a really great way for me to connect with people to talk about things that we are facing or dealing with. To have the support from that larger group was really moving. Especially when George Floyd was killed earlier this year, that group really provided me a sense of community.

Do you think MSP holds good career opportunities? 

I definitely think we’re in a unique state because of the sheer number of corporations that we have. I experienced this when I was looking for jobs in Indianapolis and looking here. We have X number of openings in Minneapolis at all times and other states are just much lower. There’s a lot more opportunity from a corporate standpoint, which means more roles and career paths within one organization. There are also so many different industries that we tap into here. From the retail standpoint, there is Target, BestBuy, and many others. There is also the food industry like General Mills, and even the music industry, with a lot of local grassroots recording studios and music venues. So, I feel that we have a good presence and a lot of industries that provide different types of opportunity for young, mid-level and older professionals. 

How did the murder of George Floyd and the social unrest that followed impact you? 

Not that the previous events leading up to George Floyd have gone unnoticed, but this hits really close to home – because it is home. It’s also hard seeing the sheer destruction and devastation when driving through South Minneapolis where that occurred and the mass effect it’s had. I’ve been seeing the reaction, or the lack of reaction, from family members, co-workers, businesses. Everybody’s approaching it differently. On the one hand, it’s really great that people are vocal. How can you not see all the issues with this and how far back they stem? Whereas other people are still looking at it from a surface level and not seeing all the factors that are feeding into this issue. Not seeing the need for change. So, it’s been disappointing to see how some people have reacted or not reacted, and also good to see how much people are stepping up and how much people are opening their eyes. 

For me, it’s been an experience because of how I am seeing my close circle and then external circle react to this. I have taken more of a personal initiative to start a conversation (about racial justice) with family, friends or with that larger circle of people. I appreciate the opportunity to start having those conversations to hopefully make a positive impact on this very negative situation.

I realize that from my appearance it may not be apparent that I am indigenious (BIPOC). Yet I am highly self-aware that my personal and professional experiences are impacted by that, but also that other BIPOC individuals could have a different experience.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected you and your community? 

In terms of my community, Native Americans are already more at risk for heart disorders, cancers, liver disorders, because of the systemic injustices that occurred. If you look at the historic Native American diet – it’s very lean, healthy and organic. Then you add governmental food support, which is processed white flour, etc. It’s harder for the Native American digestion to adjust, and when they’re not getting the nutrition they need, it has more of a negative effect. The impact of COVID on Native populations is starker, because if a Native person gets infected, they’re going to have a much harder time fighting the virus due to a weaker immune system and general health.

What is your call to action to somebody reading this?

To other People of Color in MSP, I would say don’t be afraid to voice your opinion. Now is not the time to second guess yourself or question how you feel. It’s on us to call people out on things that they may not understand. This is putting more work on a Person of Color, but it’s important to make people understand the implications of something. So, don’t be afraid to voice your opinion and be heard at work, in your personal life, school, etc. Make those changes and facilitate those conversations about racial justice and even broader. For example, even if you are most junior person on a team, but you have a great idea, don’t be afraid to say what you think.

Also, please consider donating to the 2020 Pad and Tampon Drive for the Department of Indian Work (DIW) in St. Paul, MN. Donate here. 

Click here for the full interview with Brittany. For more stories & resources, visit “MSP in Color” page.

This “MSP in Color” blog series aims to celebrate many dimensions of life and community across MSP by sharing real stories about life here from the people who tell it best – its residents.

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