WORTHINGTON — When two organizations, #SHARETHEMICMN and the Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, decided to team up for a series of "mic share" events between leaders across the state, two Worthington women seemed like perfect fits to take part in the first event.
Cheniqua Johnson wears many public-service-related hats. Currently serving as the legislative assistant to the U.S. House of Representatives Aviation Transportation and Infrastructure Committee and as a relationship manager at the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation, Johnson recently completed a three-month stint as Worthington's honorary city council member. On Tuesday, Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison announced that he has selected Johnson as one of 15 members of the newly formed Advisory Task Force on Expanding the Economic Security of Women.
Andrea Duarte-Alonso is about three-quarters through her tenure as a Lead for American Hometown Fellow with the Southwest Initiative Foundation (SWIF), with which she is part of the inaugural cohort. Recently, she also began splitting her time between SWIF and the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, where she works as a legal assistant.
Both women have a passion for improving their community and supporting others to do so, too.
As part of their "share the mic'" experience, Duarte-Alonso and Johnson were paired with other changemakers in the state. Johnson was matched with Women’s Foundation of Minnesota President Gloria Perez, and Duarte-Alonso partnered with Clockwork Interactive founder and CEO Nancy Lyons.
Duarte-Alonso took over Lyons's Twitter and Instagram accounts last Friday, and she has been able to share her story and experience and connect with other leaders and kindred spirits around the state.
In a Tuesday interview with The Globe, Duarte-Alonso reflected on Friday's event.
To Duarte-Alonso, leadership means "stepping up and doing the work." While she doesn't always love being in the spotlight, she tries to use her platform to amplify others' voices.
"Oftentimes, young women of color are on the margins," she said. "They often are not given the mic, taken as seriously or seen as leaders."
Friday's experience taught the leader that social media is a good tool for connecting with young people who are trying to find their voice and want to talk about important things.
"It just felt exciting to be talking not just to my own followers, but to a new audience," she said. In her Twitter and Instagram posts, she focused on highlighting that "communities like Worthington that are really diverse are doing great things."
Audience was a big factor for Johnson, as well. She took over Perez's LinkedIn account, which was a wholly different experience from other forms of social media. She and Perez carefully considered the audience of Johnson's posts — nonprofit leadership, which is made up predominantly of white women. Knowing this demographic helped Johnson hone in on her main message: changing perspectives toward opening doors for Black women.
"They don't need empowerment — they empower themselves. What they need is opportunity," she said. "Don't just mentor; sponsor."
While tweaking linguistic expression about underrepresented communities might seem small, it's a step toward Johnson's long-term goal of making real change in ways that matter.
"I love people and I enjoy making an impact, and that's how I've found myself in my roles," Johnson explained.
She realized at young age that being a changemaker is part of who she is. As for her inclination toward leadership, "I might have always known that," she said.
Reflecting on last Friday's mic share, Johnson described the experience as both enjoyable and productive.
"My goals that I've always had became clearer," she said. She was reminded that her voice is important, and that it's vital to invest in young people.
"It's really not that difficult to give the mic to someone who might not always have it," she said.
Both leaders have advice for other young women of color who are interested in making changes in the world, but might not know where to start.
"Whatever you're feeling, it's valid," Duarte-Alonso said. "There's a reason you want to make change."
Although a young leader will probably experience resistance and opposition, it's important to persevere anyway, she added. She encouraged aspiring changemakers to reach out to teachers and other community members for help, and to bring their friends with them.
"The why is super important," Johnson added. Although how a person helps others is likely to change over time, it helps to focus on what keeps a leader motivated, she said.