The Science Museum of Minnesota unveiled a unique exhibit in 2007 examining the history and science of race that went on to tour museums across the country.

Now, more than a decade later, the nonprofit St. Paul museum says it’s time for a refresh: It’s using a $1 million grant to update the exhibit in a time when racial disparities and bias are getting increased attention. The move dovetails with the renewed attention that Minnesota foundations and nonprofits are putting on delving into equity issues in new ways.

“There is heightened awareness now around equity and inclusion than I’ve never seen before,” said Hedy Lemar Walls of the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities.

It comes as Minnesota faces rising anti-immigrant rhetoric and hate crimes and has struggled with persistent racial disparities, with gaps between whites and blacks that are among the largest in the country. The state is also drawing more people of color, who now make up 20% of the population, according to the state demographer’s office.

“That is creating this urgency for organizations to get ready,” Lemar Walls said.

Nonprofits and foundations are also doing more self-reflection, examining demographics of leadership and board positions, how they retain people of color on staff and how they spend resources, such as hiring a restaurant owned by a person of color for a catering event, said Nonoko Sato and Kari Aane­stad of the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits, which is surveying grantmakers’ staff and board member demographics for 2020.

“No longer is it sort of enough to be doing the work in the community,” Aanestad said.

Just this month, a group of community leaders launched an initiative backed by the CLA Foundation, the philanthropic arm of the accounting firm CLA. The goal: increase the number of people of color in nonprofit finance roles and increase knowledge within the community. The group’s 10 members, who will receive stipends for their work, will meet over six months to develop a plan for how nonprofits can attract, support and keep people of color in finance roles, especially as the sector sees a wave of retirements.

“There is just not enough people of color in finance; there is a need to build that talent pipeline,” said May Thao-Schuck, the co-facilitator of the group.

Taking action

The push by nonprofits to confront racism reaches across the state.

A conference on racism that’s been held in the metro for a decade will also be held in Bemidji in November, focusing on how nonprofits, schools and other groups can work to dismantle white supremacy. Large foundations — such as Minneapolis’ McKnight Foundation and the Target Foundation — have retooled or sharpened focus on funding equity initiatives.

And grantmakers are trying to diversify who gives donations. The Minneapolis Foundation’s new OneMPLS Fund has no minimum contribution amount, hoping to draw donors of all backgrounds, while the Headwaters Foundation for Justice is part of the national Giving Project, tapping multiracial groups of community members representing different socioeconomic backgrounds to raise money and decide which organizations to give money to for racial justice work.

Like a lot of nonprofits, the YWCA Minneapolis has been doing racial justice work for decades.

But now, Rubén Vázquez, the YWCA’s vice president of racial justice and public policy, said nonprofits are more aware that racism remains a societal problem that they need to confront, even if it’s sometimes in awkward conversations.

“A lot of people I talk to say: ‘I thought we were over this,’ ” he said. “This whole Minnesota Nice thing is about wanting to not talk about things that make us uncomfortable.”

Last year, the YWCA started It’s Time to Act! — a four-part series of events that drew some 1,000 attendees delving into how to take action on issues such as white fragility. The YWCA has also held an annual event, It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race, for 16 years, but participants wanted to do more than have a conversation about the issue. Schools, businesses and other organizations are also eager to create change, tapping into the YWCA’s longstanding consulting services on equity work.

‘Grittier’ conversations

The YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities launched similar consulting work and an Equity Leader Institute. This year, the nonprofit opened a new Equity Innovation Center in downtown Minneapolis featuring displays on immigrants, housing and economic disparities and interactive stations where people can examine their own biases.

In St. Paul, the Science Museum of Minnesota, known for its lab experiments and dinosaur exhibits, has evolved to address modern issues — from mental health to racism. Its “RACE: Are we so different?” exhibit toured to more than 60 museums across the country before returning a couple of years ago as a permanent exhibit.

The update funded by the Otto Bremer Trust will add new videos and information on disparities in the criminal justice system, bias and how legal practices have created racially concentrated areas of wealth in the metro. It’s expected to be complete in June.

“[Race] wasn’t part of the public discourse [in 2007] as it is now … because of social media,” said Joanne Jones-Rizzi, the museum’s vice president of STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) equity and education. “Museums are changing and this is a trend — the idea of an exhibit that is a catalyst about concerns people are having in society.”

Foundations also can’t just rely on doling out grants, but must help lead these “grittier conversations,” said Chanda Smith Baker, senior vice president of community impact at the Minneapolis Foundation. This year, she created a podcast on issues such as white fragility and decolonizing wealth.

“Money is just one of the levers we have to support change in the community,” Smith Baker said. “The elevating of hate and hate crimes demands something different of all of us. … We underestimate the importance of people seeing things from others’ point of view.”