DEI Leaders of Minnesota: Amina Jaafar

TPT’s chief inclusion and strategy officer entered into the field through moments of disconnection
Amina Jaafar, chief inclusion and strategy officer of Twin Cities Public Television
Amina Jaafar, chief inclusion and strategy officer of Twin Cities Public Television

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In the last few years, Minnesota has seen a number of prominent killings by police officers and has found itself at the center of national attention on racial disparities. The murder of George Floyd, in particular, caused people to examine how they fit into (or hinder) the goals of a broad social justice movement. Because tragedy doesn’t exist in a vacuum, we asked four of Minnesota’s diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) leaders about how everyday work decisions and company culture can make a better future. Here, we speak with Amina Jaafar, chief inclusion and strategy officer of Twin Cities Public Television (TPT).

It wasn’t one thing that brought Amina Jaafar to the field of diversity and inclusion—or, as Twin Cities Public Television puts it, inclusion, diversity, equity, and accessibility (IDEA). Instead, TPT’s chief inclusion and strategy officer entered it through moments of disconnection—when she was the only person of color in a space, when people became afraid of Muslims after 9/11, when her counseling-psychology graduate work perpetuated stereotypes about Muslim women.

Today, Jaafar has been connecting with just about everyone at the St. Paul-based media company to tailor IDEA trainings to employees’ needs. For instance, she has started up the first employee resource group for Indigenous people and people of color, and she is assessing how much people feel seen, engaged, and respected through TPT’s stories.

“Representation [in media] matters so much, and there’s so much power in media to be able to strengthen communities and connect communities,” she says. “There’s a lot of research out there that says public media is one of the more trusted sources of information, and we take that really seriously.”

In a way, Jaafar says, TPT’s mission isn’t too different from the University of Minnesota’s, where Jaafar spent more than a decade and ended as the assistant vice president in the Office for Equity and Diversity and as an affiliate faculty member in the department of organizational leadership, policy, and development. Both institutions try to produce content that informs, engages, inspires, and connects people. In fact, Jaafar even used some of TPT’s locally produced documentaries in her classes to show her students different ways to tell stories about communities.

“Going through [the strategic planning] for the last several months, something that I discussed … was that IDEA work should be the foundation of all of our strategic work. It wasn’t as linked before,” Jaafar says. “In order to advance priorities around IDEA and in order to have the type of equitable future we want, that work needs to be really tied and embedded in strategic planning.”

The new strategic plan launches this month, and its goals include using TPT’s content and events to address systemic inequities and support social change, fostering a culture of inclusion and learning, and investing in the right technology to help TPT reach more people and be more accessible. As Jaafar says, “We are an audience-first organization.” And she’s going to ensure that mindset disseminates into every aspect.

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