HFJ Program Officers Hit the Road to Moorhead  

As Program Officers at Headwaters, we spend most of our time planning and facilitating grantmaking processes that are led by community grantmakers – this is really the heart of our work. Another big part of our job is being out in community: building relationships with organizations, listening deeply to community voices, and supporting organizations in ways that go beyond the grant dollars.  

In recent years, we have set an intention to work harder to build relationships with organizations in greater Minnesota, outside of what can often feel like a Twin Cities bubble. So, when Fowzia Adde, Executive Director of the Immigrant Development Center, a long-time HFJ grantee partner, invited us to come meet with her and other leaders of color working in various sectors within the Fargo-Moorhead community in March, we immediately said yes.  

HFJ Program Officers (left to right), Sierra Judy, Abena Abraham, and Kate Vickery during our road trip to Moorhead in March. Was it an accident that we all wore green and black that day? Yes, yes it was.  

We piled into our rental car early that morning to make a drive that organizers in the Fargo/Moorhead area regularly make when they are advocating for policy changes at the Capitol (it’s a long way, folks). The organizations we were meeting with came from all around the region, so our hosts had arranged space for us in a shared community room used by New Roots Midwest.  

As we did introductions, one thing stood out immediately: the sheer diversity of communities doing powerful, grassroots work in the Fargo, ND and Moorhead, MN area. Organizations around the table represented many immigrant communities, including but not limited to South Sudanese, Liberian, Congolese, Kurdish, and Somali.  

Throughout our conversation, we heard stories that combat the incorrect narrative that all of Minnesota’s communities of color live in the Twin Cities Metro. In the Fargo school district, 40% of students are BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color); more than 90 languages are spoken by families in the Fargo Public Schools. Similarly, 40% students in the Moorhead schools are BIPOC, and 42 languages are spoken in the homes of district students.  

Large (and growing) immigrant communities in the region include Congolese, Kurdish, Somali, Arabic, Sudanese, South Sudanese, Bosnian, Albanian, Nepalese, Liberian, Latin/x/a/o, Ukranian, and Afghani. This (notedly dated) profile of immigrants in the Fargo/Moorhead area gives more context to what we heard directly at the listening session.

Attendees at the listening session on March 11, 2024 included (left to right): Sierra Judy, HFJ’s Giving Project Program Officer; Ibtissem Belmihoub, former ED of New American Consortium for Wellness and Empowerment (Fargo, ND); Ahmed Makaraan, ED of Eshara (Moorhead, MN); Jihan Brifki, Director of Development at Hanasa Plus Organization for Environmental Projection (Moorhead, MN); Cleophace Mukeba, ED of Baraza la Afrika (Moorhead, MN); Emmanuel Flomo, ED of United Liberian Association of North Dakota (Fargo, ND); Abena Abraham, HFJ’s Black Movement Ecosystem Program Officer; Jules Mukeba, Program Manager of  Baraza la Afrika (Moorhead, MN); Heidi Soliman, Organizer of Voices for Palestine events in Moorhead; Kate Vickery, HFJ’s Wellspring Fund Program Officer; Fowzia Adde, ED at Immigrant Development Center (Moorhead, MN). Missing from our group photo, but an important voice in the conversation: Matuor Alier, South Sudanese Foundation (Moorhead, MN). 

Our hosts had insightful information to share about their work to build economic and racial justice in the Fargo-Moorhead area. One of the biggest projects that the Immigrant Development Center is doing in collaboration with the larger community is working to get dollars appropriated from the state to revamp the downtown area to create a cultural district. Currently, many of the community members must go outside of the Fargo-Moorhead area to find culturally relevant foods and supplies. They hope to have businesses right within the community that can provide the items that they need, while reflecting the community’s immigrant families in their city’s infrastructure.  

Here are some other highlights we heard from organizations at the meeting: 

The large Kurdish community in the Moorhead area is trying to acquire land to expand their community farming programming.Jihan Brifki with Hanasa+ told us that their goal is for 10% of land in the area to be owned by BIPOC. The Kurdish community has been able to grow food on a small scale and feed their community, and they would like to expand this and partner with other communities to grow more food, expand land ownership, and take care of each other.  

ESHARA (Ethnic Self-help Alliance for Refugee Assistance) is leading workforce development work in the Fargo-Moorhead area for New Americans. They have started a program to support immigrant women to navigate working with a family. They provide technical assistance applying for and interviewing for jobs. Once women are hired, ESHARA supports finding childcare and transportation to support them long-term. 

To educate the Fargo-Moorhead community about the ongoing genocide happening in Palestine, Heidi Soliman and other community members have created Voices for Palestine. They are educating the community through listening sessions, panels with faith leaders, and rallies and marches. Through these events, they have organized community members to push the Moorhead City Council to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire, which it did on March 12.  

Throughout our conversation, folks mentioned again and again how much they have to fight for the attention of philanthropy, which tends to underinvest in this part of the state. To address this underinvestment, these grassroots organizations work in collaboration when applying for funding. This often means that every organization gets a little funding, but never enough. Indeed, as we wrapped up our conversation, nearly all of our hosts were headed out for another meeting with another funder, all together.  

As we drove home that evening, the three of us reflected on how important it is for us, Program Officers based in the Twin Cities, to get outside of our area of familiarity and see our state in all its richness and complexity. There is so much incredible work happening in the Fargo-Moorhead area and we invite you to check out these incredible organizations and see how you can support their work with us.