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Bush Fellow wants to start ‘blameless conversations’ for social change

Dave Ellis aims to start a serious conversation among African-American men and boys.

Dave Ellis
Photo provided by the Bush FoundationDave Ellis

Dave Ellis aims to start a serious conversation among African-American men and boys that he says will jump-start social change.

He is one of 10 persons from around the region recently named Bush Fellows by the Bush Foundation and awarded funds to implement or expand programs to change and strengthen their communities. Others will be named in July and September.

Ellis, whose history includes 23 years working in the Minnesota correctional system in jobs from prison guard to director, wants to engage African-American men in what he calls blameless conversations of “how their behavior is impacting how their children grow up.’’ He now has established Dave Ellis Consulting.

“What I’m trying to do is create a way of presenting information to men in a conversational rather than confrontational way,’’ Ellis says. He has asked for $80,000 to fund his project over two years.

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“We’re not crazy; there’s nothing wrong with us,’’ says Ellis, an African-American whose grandfather was a slave. It’s that, he says, black men have lived through historic trauma, including slavery as well as generational trauma.      

“These things are embedded in us in ways we don’t even recognize,’’ Ellis says.  

He plans to use academic research from the Adverse Childhood Experiences Study to demonstrate how factors such as child abuse, emotional neglect, domestic violence, drug use and a parents’ incarceration can affect the brain development of a young child starting before birth. Such experiences impact a child’s emotional and physical well-being and his learning, Ellis says.

He says the discussions will open the men’s eyes to the importance of acting as role models for their children and being responsible providers, fathers and partners.

The knowledge about child development will make the men more accepting of their personal histories and upbringing and lead them to change their lives, he says. Long range, that will mean higher graduation rates, less incarceration and fewer young males in special education programs in the schools, he says.

“If you want a different outcome, you want to do something differently,’’ he says.

Other Bush Fellows

Following are the other nine persons receiving the first of the Bush fellowships this year. The foundation has named more than 2,200 fellows since starting the program in 1965.    

  • Habon Abdulle of Richfield wants to build on the strength of young women in the Somali-American community and plans to “empower” them to become capable community leaders.
  • Nan Baker of Sioux Falls, S.D., hopes to revitalize her city’s arts and culture plan and secure financial support for artists in her community.
  • Kevin Brooks of Fargo, N.D., plans to develop a refugee resettlement team that will, among other things, help new refugee families quickly become fluent in English.
  • Mark Ellson, a retired military officer who lives in Woodbury, will use the grant money to convene stakeholders to discuss and address the needs of post 9/11 combat veterans and their families, specifically those with disabilities. He hopes to develop a “streamlined system that allows veterans of all eras to receive the best services available with less duplication in the continuum of care.’’
  • Cheryl Kary, who lives in Bismarck, N.D., aims to develop partnerships between Bismarck-Mandan American Indians living off the reservation and the community.
  • Tracey Sides, who lives on the East Side of St. Paul,wants to “create opportunities related to food, people and the land that lead to better health, a greater sense of connectedness and more economic prosperity.’’
  • Jason Sole of Eagan plans to work with youths of color leaving the correctional system and others to help youths successfully reintegrate into society and reduce high rates of recidivism.
  • Ryan Taylor of Towner, N.D., will use the Bush Fellowship to study the successful oil economy of Norway and contrast and compare it to the oil boom in North Dakota. “We have the opportunity to use the wealth in a way that honors our past, ensures present prosperity and creates a future for our children that we can be proud of,’’ he says.
  • Charles Waibel of Milan, Minn., will work with local sustainable farmers to build infrastructure for and promote the concept of providing fresh, healthy local food in West Central Minnesota in winter.