Community leaders with EP roots receive 2021 Bush grants


When the late Jean Harris was mayor of Eden Prairie from 1995 to 2001, she sowed the seeds of diversity and justice. Now these seeds are blooming.

Two leaders with Eden Prairie roots are among the 2021 Bush Fellows.

Awarded to visionary individuals from Minnesota, the Dakotas, and 23 Indigenous nations that share similar geography, the Bush Foundation grants are awarded to individuals leading transformational change in their communities. Each Bush Fellow receives up to $ 100,000 over two years to pursue education and professional development that will help them become more equitable and effective leaders. Fellows design their own programs, often funding a mix of education, leadership training, networking and mentoring.

Sandra Gabriela Filardo – Bridge Builder

Sandra Filardo learned she was a 2021 Bush Fellow via email while working from her home in Eden Prairie. “I was upset and started to cry. My husband came from his office in the basement to see what was going on.

Sandra Gabriela Filardo

Originally from Argentina, Filardo began her legal career as an immigration lawyer. For 20 years, she worked in the Hennepin County District Attorney’s Office. Since 2018, she has been the office’s community engagement manager, working to identify and correct unfair practices in the justice and social systems, particularly how these practices impact the lives of low-income families and families. homeless people.

Filardo’s work focuses on inequalities in the criminal justice system. “Instead of helping people, the system stops, punishes and makes them clean up garbage on the side of the road,” she says.

“The system assumes we are all white and middle class.” Filardo found that people facing livability issues, such as inadequate housing or mental illness, can find themselves criminalized by these systemic assumptions.

“A lot of people in middle-class families have mental health issues and addiction issues, but we have the resources to address those challenges. The poor don’t.

Sandra Filardo

Jimmy and Sandra Filardo at the security camp

Filardo wants to use his leadership training scholarship to solve the “big problems” that the justice and correctional systems often ignore. She may pursue graduate studies or interview peers in countries that are not so dependent on incarceration.

She knows that her family and her “brotherhood” of Eden Prairie moms will support her efforts. “Over the past fifteen years, we have become a more welcoming city. We do a good job of welcoming refugees and incoming immigrants, making sure they have access to schools, community centers and parks. Our children are taught to be anti-racist and empathetic.

Filardo believes that helping tenants have more access to activities and services will help them feel more connected to Eden Prairie. “When I pay for sports equipment or activity fees for my children, I always wonder how someone who earns a third of my income pays for these things.”

“Sandra has been quietly bringing the people of Eden Prairie together regardless of race and class for over 18 years. Being selected for this leadership opportunity is a testament to her as a beacon of love, intelligence and fairness, ”said Lynnea West, a friend and former technology professor at Eagle Heights School. “The Bush Foundation saw in it the same light that we see every day.”

Michael Jon Westerhaus – Healer and Storyteller

Dr. Mike Westerhaus now lives in Minneapolis, but his family roots run deep in the soil of Eden Prairie. His grandparents, Jean and the late Tony Westerhaus, were the first members of the Pax Christi Catholic community. Her father Tom graduated from Eden Prairie High School. His wife Amy Finnegan grew up in Eden Prairie.

Michael jon westerhaus

“All Westerhauses are warm and caring people,” said Barb Olson, a longtime friend of the family. “They serve people in difficult life situations, whether in medicine, education or music. Through their eyes you see so much, learn so much.

“Working for the common good was part of my education,” Westerhaus recalls. “My grandparents traveled to Guatemala and on other international service trips when they were part of Pax Christi. When I went to mass there, I remember Father Tim Power and the amazing storyteller he was. He used his talent to engage people. The rooms at Pax Christi are named after people who inspired me to serve and righteousness.

Now a doctor, Westerhaus wants to develop his talent as a storyteller, bringing the arts into situations that could help renew overworked doctors and broaden their vision so that they can practice anti-racism in the communities they serve.

“It is an honor for me to be one of this year’s Bush Fellows,” says Westerhaus. He believes that social medicine and social justice is not just about treating people at their current pain point, but turning your lens “upstream” to find the causes of their illnesses.

“The weight of social forces has a huge impact on people’s lives. I am tired of seeing patients blamed for medical conditions which are actually the result of social forces such as racial capitalism, ”says Westerhaus. “Patients are often very honest about the sources of their suffering if we take the time to listen to them. “

Dr Westerhaus is currently practicing as a primary care clinician at the Healthpartners Center for International Health. He is also an assistant professor of medicine at the University of Minnesota, where he runs a program called BRIIDGE that prepares immigrant medical graduates to become medical residents in the United States. He spent time during his medical studies and residency training working under the umbrella of Global Health.

Mike Westerhaus (second from left) with colleagues

Before the pandemic, Mike and Amy traveled to Uganda every year for over a decade, working as volunteers and then teaching in a social medicine program they founded with other medical students and doctors there. . Westerhaus mentors Dr Paul Farmer from Partners in Health; Dr Farmer has dedicated his life to fighting poverty and injustice in Haiti.

“Paul Farmer talks about the failure of the imagination in the practice of social medicine,” Westerhaus explains. “What is really powerful about listening to each other’s stories – how those stories cross culture, race, gender, identity, ability – is the foundation of the work on the health equity. ”

Westerhaus is excited to dig deeper into unconventional types of relationships to spark his imagination. For example, he worked with the zAmya Theater Project, a troop of former and current homeless people, to explore the harms that can arise between health workers and homeless people. “Doing this work together stimulates the imagination of the actors and the audience. We go beyond textbooks to think about new strategies in unconventional ways. We use the theater to unwrap our relationships.

“The Bush scholarship will give me the opportunity to pause, reflect and reflect on ways in which I can learn and be a better partner for people,” says Westerhaus. To grow as a storyteller, he will deepen his creative writing skills through courses in the MFA program at the University of Minnesota and the Loft Literary Center. He will spend time with writers by participating in writers’ circles, literary conferences and slams.

He also hopes to intensify his ties with Resmaa Menakem, local author of My Grandmother’s Hands: Racial Trauma and the Path to Repairing Our Hearts and Bodies, and to follow professional training in Somatic experience, a body-focused approach to healing from trauma and other stress-related disorders.

“Through simultaneous immersion in these experiences, I try to generate ideas while developing a healthy skepticism towards myself. Why am I doing this? Am I focusing on justice? Westerhaus also hopes to create a community center for health workers who have been exhausted and overwhelmed during the pandemic so they can find renewed joy in their work.

The galvanizing effects of George Floyd’s murder

Like many in the community, the murder of George Floyd helped clarify the motivation and commitment of Filardo and Westerhaus.

“I know the system,” says Filardo. “I have been frank – I live in this world of law enforcement. I was heartbroken, but I wasn’t surprised. We all know it’s only a matter of time before this happens again, unless there is a drastic change in the way we treat blacks and browns. We need written, legitimate policy changes that correct specific flaws in our justice system. “

Dr Westerhaus (back to camera) addresses the students

“The murder of George Floyd and a number of other things showed me that you don’t have to go to Uganda to see injustice and take action,” says Westerhaus.

“George Floyd Square is a few blocks from where I live with my family. The events of 2020 reinforced my determination to be as local as possible. White supremacy is built into, for example, our relationship with the Dakota people. How can we take better care of each other, down to a block-by-block perspective? People who get to know their neighbors better create public safety and community health. People living in the same spaces where they work create opportunities for the community to do amazing things together. “

Coming from the roots of Eden Prairie, Filardo and Westerhaus are ready to do amazing things to make our communities healthier and more just.

Do you know of other people with Eden Prairie roots doing amazing things we should know? Send an email to [email protected]

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