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Ethiopian community looks to digital platforms for improved connections

Twin Cities nonprofit Mission Impact Council and other local partners are looking to recruit at least 20 Ethiopian Minnesotan youth to attend SPARK, an annual summit that will this year highlight digital storytelling's role in racial equity.

Organizing participation at the event was one of numerous ideas discussed during Ethiopian Immersion Lab sessions.

The group wrapped up its final meeting Nov. 4.

The council worked with local groups like the Woodbury YMCA and the Woodbury Community Foundation to facilitate four working sessions over three months in which community leaders, residents and members of the Ethiopian community identified Ethiopian Minnesotans' needs and brainstormed solutions.

An organization within the Twin Cities YMCA, the council organized similar series for members of the Somali, Hmong, Native and Latino communities.

Members of the Ethiopian community say the event will teach youth how to leverage social media and digital platforms to achieve some of the goals the workgroup identified: improving connections to resources, building leadership skills and promoting unity within the Ethiopian community.

"I'm hopeful because there's a lot of doers in here and this is not the end of the work," said Henok Fanta, a youth employment counselor with Washington County who attended the work sessions.

In addition to recruiting youth for the Dec. 1 SPARK summit in St. Paul, immersion lab participants also developed blueprints for a website that would feature a link to resources, an events calendar and tabs for Ethiopian parents and youth.

The "resources" tab would compile information and links to education and scholarship opportunities, athletic programs, tutors, and job training.

The "youth" tab will highlight opportunities for volunteering, internships, summer jobs and college preparation, while the "parents" tab will feature support groups, classes, events and mentoring. Both categories would provide information on accessing counselors and mental health care.

Division among various Ethiopian ethnic groups and religious practices was also a common concern among participants.

Mission Impact Council coordinator Ramon Pastrano said the immersion lab experience and the resulting projects are a good first step towards improving unity among Ethiopian Minnesotans.

"My hope is that this is going to repair some brokenness within the community and repair some of the tapestry where it's been ripped," he said. "I feel like the community is stronger when we're united, even with our differences."