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MANAUS creates sustainable social justice solutions

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People have an innate desire to help. Oftentimes, when a community is faced with a challenge, that desire becomes immediate, almost urgent; like a river gaining velocity during a storm, these people gather knowledge — books are read, money is donated and time is volunteered.

But how do you keep that momentum going after the storm?

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Enter MANAUS, a nonprofit based in Carbondale that aims to create a more inclusive and socially-conscious society through community engagement and education.

Inspired by the Rio Negro and Rio Solimões converging to create the Amazon River in Manaus, Brazil, the nonprofit’s namesake highlights how people — like rivers — can unite despite their differences to create a positive change, according to project manager of the Equity Action Project (EAP) at MANAUS, Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas.

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Founded in 2005 by the late George Stranahan, MANAUS was formerly known as The Manaus Fund, which invested in local nonprofits dedicated to social justice. Since its renaming, MANAUS has become its own nonprofit that partners with local organizations to address social injustices across the Western Slope via sustainable and collaborative projects.

At MANAUS, a series of “guiding principles” are followed in order to ensure that marginalized populations are at the forefront of the conversation, said Alvarez-Terrazas. Together, these principles — justice, community- and human-centered design, solidarity and allyship — help MANAUS leaders to “listen, imagine and launch” projects tailored to the community’s needs.

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“With that human-centered design component, we’re not making solutions for people, but instead keeping it an open conversation by saying, ‘I’m not the expert in this. I don’t have that deep experience in this. Tell me more about your experience,’” Alvarez-Terrazas continued. “In this process we’re building trust. I want to listen.”

As the project manager of EAP, Alvarez-Terrazas has learned a lot about listening in order to facilitate meaningful change. Following the murder of George Floyd in May 2020, the entire country erupted in outrage, and Valley leaders reached out to MANAUS seeking antiracism support.

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After interviewing and listening to these leaders, MANAUS, alongside Valley Settlement and Aspen Community Foundation, launched the EAP — a seven-week intensive training program for antiracism, race equity and inclusion. It seeks to dismantle oppressive systems by diversifying positions of power to more accurately represent the area’s population.

Partnering with Full Circle Strategies, the EAP has already worked with 26 local organizations, directly training 113 individuals.

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“It’s been primarily nonprofits, but we’ve also worked with some charter schools as well as the town of Carbondale and the Carbondale Fire Department. We’re trying to get as far-reaching as possible,” Alvarez-Terrazas continued.

In addition to the EAP, MANAUS is also home to the Rocky Mountain Preschool Coalition (RMPC). Focusing on public policy, RMPC’s mission is to increase access to high-quality early childhood education for people across the socioeconomic spectrum, shared project manager Katie Langenhuizen.

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Notably, RMPC propelled the 2019 state legislature’s bipartisian House Bill 19-1052 into action. Sponsored by Representatives Julie McCluskie and Janice Rich and Senators Bob Rankin and Jeff Bridges, the bill permits the creation of special tax districts for early childhood services, such as early care, education and mental health, for children from birth to eight years of age.

“This is another way to support young families, especially those struggling the most,” Langenhuizen said. “It’s a way to elevate the issues of our communities.”

Recognizing that many individuals want to help, but do not know where to start, MANAUS also offers free learning opportunities, “as a way to continue providing greater access to different resources to the community,” Alvarez-Terrazas said.

One such opportunity is the newly-launched Social Justice Library. Located at the Third Street Center in Carbondale, the Social Justice Library is a mini-library that loans out educational books covering topics such as community organizing, antiracism and education reform.

In addition to the Social Justice Library, MANAUS has partnered with The Arts Campus at Willits to host the Equity Speaker Series as a way to broaden invigorating social justice conversations.

On April 20, the Equity Speaker Series welcomed its first guest, Alejandro Jimenez — a former undocumented immigrant, poet, writer and distance runner — who spoke about his experience as an undocumented child living in the United States.

Future Equity Speaker Series guest Dr. Adriana Alvarez, will speak on July 27 about diversity within the educational system, biliteracy development and strengthening the family-school relationship.

“This is one way that we make sure — especially two years out from 2020 — that these conversations don’t fade away into the background,” assured Alvarez-Terrazas.

To learn more about getting involved, educational opportunities and future Equity Speaker Series events, visit www.manaus.org

Tags: #Bryan Alvarez-Terrazas #equity #Equity Action Project #George Stranahan #inclusion #MANAUS #social justice #Social Justice Library #The Arts Campus at Willits
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