Change Makers is a series that profiles young people who are making radical changes in communities across Minnesota. Miah Ulysse is the Northside Fresh Coordinator and Policy Manager at Appetite for Change. Miah fights for a more just food system in Minnesota, advocating for access to healthy and culturally-relevant food options for Minnesotan communities. More than that, Miah works to center Black, indigenous and POC voices in her advocacy at the Capitol, ensuring that folks who are the most impacted develop solutions to the systemic injustice they face. Read more about her work and advice to organizations interested in centering youth here.
She is the Northside Fresh Coordinator and Policy Manager at Appetite for Change
This series is about young people making change in their communities. Can you start out by telling us a little bit about yourself and the work you do to make change?
As the Northside Fresh Coordinator and Policy Manager at Appetite for Change (AFC), I coordinate a network that looks to bring together different partners in North Minneapolis that do food-related work. This could mean someone with a community garden, someone that lives in the Northside and is interested in having access to healthy and culturally-appropriate options into grocery stores, it could be the actual grocery store, like North Market or Wirth Co-op. We work with non-profit organizations, agencies and institutions to look at ways that we can further fuse our work to find better ways to partner with one another. This is important to remember because we’re looking at the food system as a system. So, every part of the food system feeds into one another, and it’s important to remember that they are linked because working separately financially and physically is detrimental for us to actually work toward a sustainable food system. Northside Fresh does this through creating connection and space through meetings, events, conversations. We also do policy and advocacy work, so my role as the Policy Manager at AFC is to look at ways we can collectively impact and influence policy at different levels of governance to make it easier for us to access, grow, sell or purchase quality food that is beneficial and respectful of our community.
What brought you to this work?
The food systems program at the University of Minnesota had piloted the same year I was thinking about what I wanted to do with my life. And here I am at AFC! Most of my background post-grad has been in the food world. Mainly in infrastructure development, looking at programs or positions that hadn’t existed before, and developing infrastructure for that work, or through marketing and communications at food-related organizations. A lot of my work is a mix between both and I love it. I can go out and take photos or video for social media and promote our coalition and get people involved. Learning more and more about policy has been very interesting for me because I had never realized how much policy influences our day-to-day life.
Can you tell us any specific things that you would like to see changed? How can other people support that change?
I feel a deep affinity now that I’ve gotten into this work to try to figure out and understand how to elevate work for people of color, especially Black people, and build up the Black community’s capacity to advocate for food policy and build food businesses and work with one another and heal from trauma. There’s a great need to deal with existing trauma both in relationships that have been torn and from the pressures of systemic racism in our different communities. I think that’s a large barrier for us to be more unified and I think that’s an important step for us to be able to work together that can push us towards being able to work more interculturally and intersectional basis. My goal is to be a young Black professional representing and working in a field that she loves and being a positive role model for Black queer individuals. I want to show them that they can make a living off of something they love and care about and make a difference by having their voice heard and identity validated.
Being employed by an organization that is primarily Black-owned and led has given me a different perspective.
As a young person, has anything made it difficult to do your work?
White liberalism makes this work hard sometimes. There are young white farmers that have degrees that may or may not be agriculture-related and people who are trying to come to the city to grow and start urban farms or food businesses. Sometimes it feels like they are taking up space and resources in spaces where I’m advocating for urban agriculture at the Capitol. I’m there advocating for the people who haven’t had solid access to food and have been displaced and systematically oppressed through multiple generations to receive funding and tap back into their ancestral roots and start a food operation or business to survive and build a legacy from.
When I go into a meeting and I want to bring more diverse folks, I can count on one hand how many people I can rely on, that are across different generations and that’s amazing in itself. We need more young people of color seeing themselves doing different kinds of work. It doesn’t have to be agriculture-related for you to influence the food system. You can do graphic design, you can do policy work, you can work at the city, in accounting, you can be a business advisor that specializes in restaurant analysis. There are so many different ways that you can have a positive impact on this work.
What has supported your growth as a leader, or helped you to do your work?
Working for AFC has been such an amazing opportunity for me to grow as a leader and in myself. AFC really does care about people at different levels within the organization being able to have a say and being able to provide input. It’s challenged me to ask the question of how are we creating a level of trust and affection within any organization? Also, how do you make sure you make people feel empowered and also participate? I felt so valued there.
I’ve had so many opportunities to speak and facilitate conversations around the country at conferences. And I’ve been afforded amazing opportunities to participate in the Heal Food Alliance’s School of Political Leadership in their first cohort this year. This cohort is composed of amazing people around the country in their 20s to 40s that are developing food policy related campaigns or running for office. 70% of our cohort are people of color or indigenous we are in the majority and feel developed from a political standpoint, by an organization that is also POC-run and operated has been amazing and I think I wouldn’t have had that opportunity without AFC. Being employed by an organization that is primarily Black-owned and led has given me a different perspective that I would not have had working with any other organizations.
Do you have any advice for organizations or policy makers about how they can best support young people?
Put young people on the forefront! Young people, queer people, people of color. My biggest pet peeve is when policy makers are looking to make a change for a community that they are not a part of and they wait until the policy has passed or the language has been drafted or approved and then they go and they seek out the affected population to involve them. Make more space and room for affected populations and related folks in the very beginning of that changemaking process. Get people involved at the very beginning and if you can’t get the affected populations in the room, re-evaluate your engagement strategy. It could be a logistical barrier, little access to transportation, maybe it’s the time of your meetings, or the fact that a person isn’t getting paid a salaried wage to do this work and doesn’t have the resources to afford themselves an hour or two hours a week to meet on these things. Or it can be a matter of trust -- what does your organization’s track record look like in that affected population community? How have you made strides toward building up that trust?
Any advice for young folks who are interested in making change in their communities?
Go for it! Don’t apologize or base your worth based off of your age. Your worth and intelligence and expertise are not congruent with the numbers of years you’ve lived on this Earth. There’s so much value in being young and having a fresh set of eyes and having vision that sometimes you lose when you get older. Never doubt yourself. Have experiences, take as much PTO as you possibly can because burn out is real. Taking the time you need for yourself to regenerate your soul and do things that you love, just for you, that’s really important. Because at the end of the day, you are a human first and you can’t do this work or make change if you’re tired and emotionally drained.