Meet the Staff #6: Where we come from, where we’re going

By: Halla Dontje Lindell

Magdalena Kaluza (she/her), Youth Programs Manager at Cycles for Change, spoke an impromptu poem with a lilting voice when asked where she is from.

“I was born and raised in Phillips, South Minneapolis,” Magdalena said. “My mom grew up in Columbia Heights, and before that her family is from Kansas and the Iron Range, and before that they’re from French Canada, and Quebec Quay, and Poland.

“My dad’s family is from Guatemala and Honduras, Maya Quiche territory in the Highlands, and plantations in Santa Rosa Copan.

“I’m from my mom’s womb, I’m from gardens, and a house that got broken into a lot as a kid. I’m from activist parents, a political refugee, and an artist.”

After listening to Magdalena, Monica Bryand (she/her), Special Projects Manager at Cycles for Change, said that she might be simpler, or maybe more complicated.

“I was born and raised in St. Paul and lived mostly on the West Side of St. Paul,” Monica explained. “I don’t know a lot about my dad, but my mom’s parents were from Mexico City and her grandpa was from Spain.”

Magdalena and Monica are rooted in their cultural backgrounds and share experiences as social change makers.

When Magdalena was young, her mom did anti-apartheid, South African solidarity work and took Magdalena to anti-war rallies. Her dad did urban organizing on the guerrilla side of the Guatemalan civil war, wrote political songs, listened to Trova (Latin American political music), and regularly attended organizing meetings. Because of these experiences, a natural topic choice for one of Magdalena’s middle school research projects was social movements.

“I got to learn about all sorts of civil rights-era organizations, from the Black Panthers to the American Indian Movement to the Symbionese Liberation Army and other radical organizations,” she said. “And I used to fantasize about living in that era because it felt like they were closer to change in that era. They were on the cusp of something. I have since stopped romanticizing it, but have done some human rights work, labor rights work, and counter recruitment work because they used to recruit for the military in my high school.”

Monica’s activism bloomed while she was working as an accountant within corporate America, back when only about ten companies in Minnesota offered domestic partner benefits.

“I became an organizer for LGBT issues when I heard Pat Buchanan spewing hate about gays and lesbians,” she said. “I had to ask myself what I was doing about it. So I started organizing within corporate America, and we actually brought together over 100 different companies and got domestic partner benefits. We didn’t think way back then that [same-sex] marriage would ever be a possibility. But I feel like the work we did 20 years ago had an impact on getting [same-sex] marriage passed.”

Since then, her organizing work has expanded to include the Transition Town movement and countering fossil fuel dependency. Additionally, Monica is a birder who loves to spend time outdoors and has worked with Audubon Minnesota to document Minnesota birds threatened or endangered by climate change in Minnesota.

Fast forward to the present, where both Magdalena and Monica are working hard to carry out Cycles for Change’s mission of building a diverse and self-empowered community of bicyclists. For Magdalena, that means direct contact with the youth apprentices hired by Cycles for Change—a job that contains joys and struggles alike.

“I think youth can bring a bluntness to our work that I really like,” she said. “They demand honesty, truth, and authenticity. Kids are great bullshit detectors, right? And they don’t have a filter sometimes. What I value about that is that it keeps us on our toes and it keeps us reevaluating, so we don’t get stagnant or beat around the bush. There’s so much value in telling it how it is, and I think the youth contribute that to Cycles for Change.

“What can be hard is complicated lives. They’re in high school, have hormonal changes, have family things going on, want or need money, sometimes have different communication styles than I do, have limited access to internet or printers, or don’t have the best organizational skills. It can be hard to coordinate everything.”

Her current community work is centered around art and personal healing.

“I have come to find that I carry a lot of patterns based on the trauma that was passed down to me from my parents. My dad regularly carries weapons because he grew up during the [Guatemalan] civil war and couldn’t trust anyone. Your neighbor might turn you over to the military. People were killed and people disappeared left and right. And fear is something that can hold me back. Fear, pain, and wounds can hold a lot of people back if we don’t recognize them. So lately I have been doing cultural work—art and sharing meals with people. I’m a poet and have been doing puppetry—performing, putting myself out there, being vulnerable.”

For Monica, fulfilling Cycles for Change’s mission means making sure that Magdalena and other staff members have the financial support they need to carry out their programming. After working as an accountant, Monica spent over 20 years working for Headwaters Foundation for Justice, distributing money through grants—the “other side” of the nonprofit world. When she transitioned to Cycles for Change, she discovered what it was like to be a grant writer, instead of a grant reader.

“I’ve served on nonprofit boards for forever, and I know that part of being on a board is fundraising, which I did,” Monica said. “But I had never been on the staff of a nonprofit. The first thing I learned was that it’s really hard to write grants. It’s hard to succinctly convey everything that [the organization] is doing. And I think that relationships matter when you are doing individual fundraising, so I think that’s one of the things that I brought to Cycles for Change. I love events; I think they are fun. They can engage people, so that’s one thing I like to work on when I am helping to fundraise for Cycles for Change.”

Monica also appreciates her current work because it allows her to be present in her own neighborhood.

“One of the things that I realized as I was working on transition stuff was that I had to go back to my own community. I had been organizing in greater Minnesota; I would leave my West Side home and didn’t come back until late at night. So I started saying, ‘What can I do to impact the West Side?’ That was when I came back, started working with my community, and I’m still here working on environmental and economic justice issues. I’ll continue to organize. But I also know I want to create spaces for the new voices that are coming in—sharing what I might know but also listening to what they have to say and just being really open to that.”

The past and present leave Magdalena and Monica imagining future possibilities.

“I don’t work with youth directly,” Monica said, “but being exposed to them and the complications that they have in life, knowing where I came from as someone who was poor and didn’t have a lot of resources, and seeing that this is a safe space for them is something that I want to continue to grow. I want to keep making a safe space for not only the people who work here and the youth, but for community that comes in.”

Magdalena adds upon Monica’s vision of a safe space, and emphasizes the inclusivity that Cycles for Change strives toward.

“I believe in a world where people are exercising, laughing, and moving their bodies— bikes lend themselves to that,” Magdalena said. “Cycles for Change is strategically poised to bring outdoor education and environmental justice education to communities that are traditionally left out of that sphere. We have a long way to go in being as effective as we could be, but C4C is poised in an interesting space, and I really think there is no time to waste. We need to cherish this earth if we want any of this human species to survive… I want the best for our children, and our children’s children.”