‘Reverend, you can lean on me’

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


When Lake St. burned, Father Joe Gillespie gathered each night with others at the Church of St. Albert the Great in Longfellow. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Father Joe Gillespie’s first pastoral ministry was at Cook County Hospital in 1968. He moved from Minneapolis to Chicago, and started his new job with energy and enthusiasm. Then Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy were assassinated, followed by violent anti-Vietnam War protests at the Chicago Democratic Convention. Chicago suddenly turned into a war zone.
When Lake Street burned in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, Father Joe said, “Those memories of Chicago came pouring back.” He felt a sense of post-traumatic stress and abandonment, saying, “We had no police, fire department, or mail service; even the paper boy couldn’t come here.”
But Father Joe knew he had to stick around. Despite invitations from nephews in Plymouth and church administrators in St. Paul to take shelter with them, Father Joe didn’t go looking for a way out. The Church of St. Albert the Great in Longfellow is his home.
Instead, he gathered with neighbors and parishioners on the church grounds each night. Together they watched the Walgreen’s drugstore at the end of the block go up in pentecostal flames. Three dozen residents from Volunteers of America slept on the basement floor of the church during the curfew, fearing that their Lake St. residence would burn to the ground.
Father Joe walked up and down Lake St. every day during the week of unrest. Usually he walked alone, remembering places his family had frequented when he was a kid growing up in the neighborhood. His eyes welled with tears outside the ruins of the Town Talk Diner, where he had gone many times with his father. He could almost see himself and his three siblings sitting high up on stools, dangling their legs and sharing a single pancake.
Father Joe attended the Ecumenical Clergy March on June 2 with hundreds of other faith leaders, and walked the neighborhood streets once more. When the march ended at the George Floyd Memorial site, everyone was asked to kneel in silence. Father Joe dropped to one knee, but found he couldn’t stand up again unassisted. An African American woman nearby said, “Reverend, you can lean on me,” and helped him to his feet. That’s the way he sees it now. This is a time to lean in, lean on, and help each other stand strong.
The Church of St. Albert the Great recently reopened for services on Pentecost (the seventh Sunday after Easter) at half capacity. Father Joe explained, “Historically the early Christians had to celebrate in secret, just a few at a time. They celebrated in the catacombs so they wouldn’t be seen. They celebrated during the plagues. They just kept going. I guess you could say that we’re right on target.”

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‘We just want our lives back’

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

With three college degrees, Bunni ended up broke and homeless last December. She hopes to get permanent housing in September. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Bunni (last name withheld on request) has lived in Minneapolis since 2007. She moved here for college, and ended up with three degrees in art, business, and law enforcement.
Last December, she also ended up broke and homeless. There was nowhere for her to live, so she parked her van across from Powderhorn Park with her dog and called it home. From December to March, it was cold but quiet.
In the aftermath of the uprising, Powderhorn Park began to fill up fast. Eventually a group of Native American women decided to leave the park for safety reasons. They moved to a new encampment in the Longfellow neighborhood just for women, and she went with them. Bunni was formerly married to a Native American man. Of his community she said, “Once you’re welcomed in, you’re part of the family. We stick together in the native community. We share our last. We give until it hurts.”
There have been major problems in the start-up phase of the Longfellow encampment. Four ill-intentioned men, who self-identified as protectors of the women, were evicted by a coalition of encampment residents and Native American leaders on July 13. Almost 100 people descended on the encampment that night and literally shouted the four men out.
In the eight days since the encampment began, the residents find themselves starting over again – supposedly with a coalition of women leaders this time.
One of the greatest indignities about being homeless is the sheer visibility of it. Anyone passing by can see who lives there, and many stop to take pictures. Bunni said, “Not all homeless people are bad people, probably most of us aren’t. We just want our lives back. We’ve all had jobs, and lost them. We’ve all had homes, and lost them. Many of us have had children, and lost them.”
On the day of this interview, Bunni had just secured affordable, permanent housing which, unfortunately, wouldn’t become available until September. She said, “In addition to a roof over my head, I’m hoping for safety, recovery, and healing. I could really use your prayers.”

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1,000 MILES

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Terry Willis completes march from Alabama to George Floyd Square

Terry Willis, at center wearing a white and black bandana, is surrounded by throngs of supporters and media as he walks the last block of his historic 1,000-mile march from Alabama to the site where George Floyd was killed. (Photo by Jill Boogren)

On July 12, 2020, Terry Willis completed his 1,000-mile march from Huntsville, Alabama, to his destination in Minneapolis, 38th St. and Chicago Ave. S., where George Floyd was killed by police. As he arrived, the growing crowd was jubilant, chanting “Terry, Terry” and “One man, two feet,” Willis’ slogan for his journey. A trumpeter played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an emotional Willis paid quiet tribute to Floyd beneath a canopy decorated with flowers that marks the site of his death. Willis began the trek on June 2, marching for “Change, Justice and Equality.” As he told reporters just before walking the final leg from the Mall of America that morning, “It’s for all of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. All of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. It’s so simple. So simple.” Mayor Jacob Frey issued an official proclamation naming July 12, 2020 Terry Willis Day.

On July 12, Terry Willis (wearing white headband) completed his 1,000-mile march from Huntsville, Ala., to his destination in Minneapolis – 38th St. and Chicago Ave. S., – where George Floyd was killed by police. As Willis arrived, the growing crowd was jubilant, chanting “Terry, Terry” and “One man, two feet,” Willis’ slogan for his journey. A trumpeter played “Lift Every Voice and Sing” as an emotional Willis paid quiet tribute to Floyd beneath a canopy decorated with flowers that marks the site of his death. Willis began the trek on June 2, marching for “Change, Justice and Equality.” As he told reporters just before walking the final leg from the Mall of America that morning, “It’s for all of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. All of us to be seen as equals. That’s it. It’s so simple. So simple.” Mayor Jacob Frey issued an official proclamation naming July 12, 2020 Terry Willis Day. ~ by Jill Boogren

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Why is city excluding neighborhood residents?

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Neighborhood leaders concerned Minneapolis, state plans for rebuilding aren’t including voices from community


Patricia Torres Ray, Minnesota Senator 63

Melanie Majors, Longfellow Community Council Executive Director

Why is the city leaving Longfellow residents and businesses out of its plans for rebuilding along E. Lake St.?
At a Zoom meeting on Thursday, July 23, of the 12 local leaders in attendance, only two had been approached by the city and only one was part of the mayor’s rebuilding task force.
People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus member and District 63 Senator Patricia Torres Ray of southeast Minneapolis has been looking for a plan she can advocate for at the state capitol, and is starting to worry about the lack of one.
“I’m absolutely shocked the city doesn’t have a plan. I’m starting to ask if that is intentional,” said Torres Ray.
She added, “I’m very alarmed about the fact that we don’t have our act together. I find it hard to understand why we are so chaotic.”
“I find it so shady that there is zero inclusion of residents or the two African American Neighborhood Executive Directors in Corcoran and Greater Longfellow,” stated Longfellow Community Council Executive Director Melanie Majors. “I think it’s intentional people are being left out of the conversation.”
The Minnesota House PROMISE Act passed on June 19 will help rebuild the areas damaged by civil unrest and it has now gone to the Senate. Torres Ray has many concerns about the new and complex redevelopment corporation being created and its ability to use eminent domain, among other things. She encouraged people to read the bill to learn more about it, and offered to provide an overview of the bill during a separate meeting. She has questions about how the redevelopment corporation will be accessible to the community, how money will be distributed, and who will get funds.
Torres Ray repeatedly stressed that community leaders need to come together to create a plan that reflects their needs and desires for the Lake St. area. Current efforts are primarily grassroots and are being done by many organizations. (See sidebar)
“I am very happy to work with you on a plan to bring your voices to the Legislature,” said Torres Ray. “You’re asking for a new day. That requires a new process.”
Majors pointed out that the Third Precinct police station is a big unknown at present. The most recent estimate to rebuild is between $10-12 million. Given its location at the E. Lake St./Minnehaha Ave. intersection, it will impact how the area is redeveloped.
Seward Redesign Executive Director Chris Romano pointed out that community members are still dealing with emotional stress and strain, which makes planning difficult. “I don’t think we’ve given them enough time to figure that out,” said Romano. He suggested that planning be done in a series rather than all at once.
Hillary Oppmann of the Seward Commerce and Civic Organization (SCCA) noted that they are still trying to support businesses as they cope with COVID-19, manage evictions, and make future plans. Plus there is the issue of homelessness and local encampments. This is on top of the issues related to rebuilding after the civil unrest following George Floyd’s murder. “All of us are working on so many different fronts,” said Oppmann. “Keep all that in mind.”
“I think people are worn out,” agreed Corcoran Neighborhood Organization Executive Director Alicia Smith. “I think we are moving very fast. White folks are moving too fast and not allowing people to grieve.” She thinks that developers want to be on the right side of history and will wait to move when people are ready.
Torres Ray stated that she is a woman of color who deals with trauma every day. “I don’t have the luxury of taking time to deal with trauma,” she stated. “I can’t afford to wait to figure it out. I have to do something today.”
She pointed out that the banks and developers aren’t waiting. “I need that plan now. I need to know what you need,” said Torres Ray, who apologized for being blunt.
The group agreed to create a steering committee with representatives from the neighborhood.
Lake Street Council Executive Director Allison Sharkey is a member of the mayor’s task force, the Minneapolis Forward: Community Now Coalition. She reported that the group is primarily focused on fundraising and lobbying at the state level. There are no neighborhood organizations represented within the group, but it is instead made up of corporate stakeholders and larger business organizations such as the Minneapolis Regional Chamber, Minneapolis Foundation and Metropolitan Consortium of Community Developers.
Majors thinks that should be changed.
“One of the things I hear from residents the most is they don’t want things happening to them without them,” Majors said.
“We know that the greatest conflicts lie with money. There won’t be a collaborative community response if there isn’t at least a voice at the table.
“How do we get neighborhood representation?”


What are local groups doing?

Corcoran Neighborhood Association: Talking to businesses about their needs and obstacles to getting grants. Focus: Corcoran

Lake Street Council: Raised about $10 million, and is distributing $5 million in a round of grants that are being finalized. Businesses owned by Somali, Latinex and Black communities are among those receiving grants to rebuild and temporarily relocate. LSC received 500 applicants and grants will be up to $25,000. LSC is also coordinating pro bono donations of supplies of labor. Staff are leveraging additional funding to aid in site control of damaged buildings. To be better organized, LSC is adding staff for office administration and marketing. Focus: E. Lake St. from Mississippi to Bde Maka Ska

Longfellow Business Association: Distributed $1-$5,000 mini-grants to 22 businesses from a GoFundMe fundraiser in late July. Provides information and connects businesses with resources. Focus: Longfellow

Longfellow Community Council: Though a partnership with Rebuild Longfellow, LCC is matching volunteers with business needs, which range from general labor to IT to legal support to marketing. Comcast is donating $25,000 to help reach out to local businesses. Staff are engaging with residents to assist in rebuilding Downtown Longfellow, working on a longterm stabilization plan, and focusing on a rebuilding plan. They are also pulling resources together to connect with state, city and local leaders. Focus: Greater Longfellow

Longfellow Nokomis Messenger: Reaches residents and businesses with news and information, and provides an avenue for businesses to build their customer base. The free What’s Open web page connects businesses and customers. Focus: Longfellow and Nokomis

Seward Commerce and Civic Association: Offers $500 grants to help any business impacted from a total of $32,000 raised through GoFundMe. SCCA is coordinating with Augsburg University. Focus: Seward

Seward Redesign: Offers technical assistance to businesses in Seward and Longfellow, and are helping displaced businesses move. Staff are leveraging additional funding to aid in site control of damaged buildings and are considering how to revision and create a new plan for Minnehaha/Lake/27th. Focus: Seward and Longfellow

Standish-Ericsson Neighborhood Association: Connects with residents and businesses encouraging shop local mindset and providing support/services to small businesses to ensure a vibrant local economy. Focus: Standish-Ericsson, West of Rails businesses

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Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

SLRJ volunteers and staff: (left to right) Lisa Dejoras, Deb Reierson,Michele Braley, Rebecca Miller, Aaron Powell, Marisa Helms, and Juan Sosa.

Michele Braley has been wrestling with the issue of justice for a long time.
She’s part of the Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice (SLRJ) group formed 18 years ago when residents of the two neighborhoods came together to explore how they could grow restorative justice practices in their neighborhoods.
“The creation of SLRJ is a story of grassroots volunteer engagement that I hope still inspires the community today. There were several earlier initiatives including a long-running peacemaking circle in Seward,” said Braley.
“After many conversations and much planning SLRJ received its first referral in 2005 for an incident of graffiti on a business in Seward.”
The Messenger asked Braley to explain what restorative justice is and how it works.

What is “restorative justice”?
Braley: While many people know restorative justice through the modern movement it is not a new idea. Restorative justice has its roots in Indigenous teachings. One of these influences, as I understand it, is the idea that harm between individuals is a breaking of relationships that requires the community’s assistance to repair. Another is that there is no one universal truth – the goal of restorative justice is not to respond to one “truth” (i.e. what law was broken) but to understand the harm caused, from each person’s perspective, and to work together to make a plan to repair the harm.
Another way to describe restorative justice is in comparison to the retributive system, the basis for our legal system. The retributive approach asks, “What law was broken?”, “Who did it?” and “What punishment do they deserve?”. Restorative justice asks, “What harm was caused?” and “What needs to happen to repair the harm or make things better?”. Restorative justice includes the community, not just the person harmed and the person who did the harm, in exploring how harm was caused and in solutions to make it better.
The murder of George Floyd has increased the urgency to go beyond restorative justice which responds to individual harms and look to transformative justice which emphasizes transforming the systems that contributed to the harm. An idea for transformative justice that is resonating with me as I think about the mission of SLRJ is for Hennepin County to decriminalize youthful behavior. We know from brain development research that making bad decisions is part of the normal journey from childhood to adulthood. Currently, children as young as 10 years old can be cited for breaking laws including shoplifting, trespassing, and property damage. What if we treated the behavior as a learning opportunity instead of a crime? Another example comes from New Zealand where youth who break the law are referred to restorative justice first, and then a small number of youth are transferred to the legal system. In Hennepin County the process is reversed – youth are entered into the legal system first, and then a few youth are determined to be a better fit for restorative justice.

How do you help bring about restorative justice?
We primarily work with youth referred by the Minneapolis Police Department and the Hennepin County Attorney’s office. The youth are given the opportunity to participate in a restorative justice process instead of having their citation referred to the juvenile justice system. We also work to build a more restorative culture through training and consultation for organizations that are re-thinking their policies around discipline.
We have worked with hundreds of youth cited for incidents ranging from small thefts to property damage in the tens of thousands of dollars. While the process is tailored to each situation there are standard elements. We meet individually with both the person who did the harm and the person who was harmed. Then, we bring everyone together, including supporters, community members and our trained facilitators, for the restorative conference. The conversation focuses on what happened, how did it cause harm, and the creation of a plan to “make things right.” Since makings things right also means not doing it again, plans to repair the harm might include activities such as enrolling in summer school, doing a job search, and doing career or college preparations.
Unfortunately, restorative justice has limits in making things right in a legal system that does not treat people equitably. In Hennepin County we have huge racial disparities in the juvenile legal system. While youth of all backgrounds break the law at similar rates, black and brown youth are disproportionately given a citation. While it’s preferred for youth to get involved in restorative justice instead of the legal system, as a community we need to commit to anti-racism and transformative justice to ensure that all people are treated equitably when they break the law.

Is this something done along with police or in place of police and the judicial system?
While most of our referrals have come through police citations – it’s important for the community to know that we do not need a citation to do a restorative process. Over the years we have received direct requests to help neighbors resolve incidents including graffiti, theft, property damage and assault. The person harmed did not believe a police citation would lead to a positive outcome for them or anyone involved. What they wanted was to speak directly to the person that harmed them.

How are you adjusting things in response to COVID-19, George Floyd’s murder and the loss of your building?
In mid-March we shifted to working from home. We are doing restorative justice processes through video technology and are continuing to respond to requests for virtual training and consultation about restorative justice. Like everyone, SLRJ is trying to make the best of a tough situation by continuing to serve youth and the community as best we can.
After 14 years of sharing an office with Seward Neighborhood Group, just over one year ago SLRJ moved into its own office and became an independent non-profit. Our new office was in the Coliseum building at Lake and 27th Avenue, which experienced substantial damage during the unrest.
We salvaged almost all of our furniture and program supplies, which are in storage as we work from home for the foreseeable future. Of course it was devastating to lose our first independent office – which was a reflection of the hard work and vision of everyone who helped grow SLRJ into a non-profit. On the other hand, the loss of our office forces us to reflect, with the rest of Minneapolis, on the ways our program and approach have not done enough to move our city towards equity for everyone.
When I went to my office to empty it out, I spent time reading the graffiti on the sides of the building. One image stays with me, “You didn’t like silence. Are we loud enough?” While we could dwell on the loss of our office and debate about who did the damage, I think it’s more productive to move forward with a commitment to deep listening and to deeper examination of how RJ and SLRJ can be part of moving our city towards greater equity.

How can people get involved?
Unfortunately, we are not currently offering any volunteer training. I anticipate there will be future opportunities for the community to engage with our program and vision. In the meantime, people can tell the City Council that they want restorative justice and Seward Longfellow Restorative Justice to be part of the solution to relying less on police. You can follow us on Facebook or drop me an email ( so I can add you to the list of people who receive program announcements. Individual donations are a large part of our budget. Currently we need to rely even more on individual donations as activities that normally generate income for us, such as trainings and presentations, are postponed.
SLRJ was created by this community and the future of the program will be shaped by this community’s desires and needs. Eighteen years ago SLRJ was a radical program. Now, restorative justice and the idea of helping youth in a community process instead of in court have become almost universally accepted. It’s time for the community to make SLRJ radical again. Maybe it’s time for Seward Longfellow Transformative Justice and a commitment from our community to change the legal system into one that actually brings justice for all.

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You don’t have to leave to seek help

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Local and national staff, along with Carmen Yulín Cruz (mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico), and Teresa Rodriguez, from Univision, who served as the emcee of Casa de Esperanza’s 35th Anniversary Gala, Adelante Esperanza in May 2018.

Casa de Esperanza offers hope, resources to help families live free of violence

Need someone to walk with you as you get out of domestic violence? That’s what Casa de Esperanza offers women, children and men.
It’s hard to nail down exactly what the Midway non-profit Casa Esperanza does because they do a little bit of everything.
Teresa Burns currently manages the Casa de Esperanza shelter, and worked as an advocate before that. “I have done everything from accompany a mom for her ultrasound to registering kids for school,” she observed.
Domestic abuse overlaps with every aspect of life, she pointed out, including physical health, safety, mental health, public benefits, education, criminal court, housing, and more. So Casa de Esperanza does too.
“Domestic violence isn’t an isolated topic. It impacts someone’s entire life. So our advocacy matches that,” said Burns.
“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be part of an organization that has a dedicated group of advocates and other staff that give their all, each and every day. We believe community is the answer to ending domestic violence. We must all work together to make that happen,” stated Casa de Esperanza CEO Patti Tototzintle.

Rights and options
Casa de Esperanza offers Minnesota’s only 24-hour bilingual domestic violence helpline: 651-772-1611. Staff conduct an intake over the phone to help figure out what assistance is needed. In-person meetings are done at a location the caller identifies as comfortable and easy to access, observed Burns. Sometimes that is in their own house or that of a friend. Sometimes it is at a coffee shop that offers some privacy.
“The role of the advocate is to inform and to advocate,” explained Burns. The advocate gives information on options, and helps think through pros and cons. The advocate shares resources and encouragement. “Once a decision is made, our job is to help,” added Burns.
“Big picture, we make sure someone is aware of their rights and knows what their options are.”
Advocates attend order for protection hearings, accompany people to appointments, and help them navigate the various systems out there.
Staff work within the Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center in the basement of the government center in downtown Minneapolis, and at the Bridges to Safety office at St. Paul City Hall.
Advocates help fill out and get copies of police reports, and offer walk-in hours at the Midtown Safety Center, 2949 Chicago Ave. across from the Global Market. (This office was damaged in the Uprising after George Floyd’s death.) They also collaborate with the Mexican consulate, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and the Tubman Center. They have staff at various high schools, including El Collegio (4137 Bloomington Ave.) and Longfellow High School in Minneapolis, and Agape High School in St. Paul.
Staff operate El Refugio, a 12-person shelter in St. Paul that is open to anyone in the state. While it is one of the smallest shelters in the state, it is part of the Day One network of service providers in Minnesota. They serve about 35 families each year in the shelter, and about 300 families overall through their programs.
Formed in 1982, Casa de Esperanza (or House of Hope) is recognized as the largest, most respected Latina organization in the country focused on ending gender-based violence and is increasing its capacity to respond to sexual assault and human trafficking. Through the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, they offer training and technical assistance across the country; advance public policy initiatives; and lead community-based research on the intersections of domestic violence and Latina realities.
Casa de Esperanza staff work with clients to identify goals. They base their work on the belief that each person is the expert on their own situation. “I don’t know this person that is using abuse against you. You know this person. I’m here to talk through it with you,” said Burns.

COVID-19 effects
During the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, phone calls have doubled, but most people are staying put for now. Domestic violence programs across the state are expecting an influx of calls after the order ends and people go back to work. They know they’re not hearing from people who are isolated, and don’t have the opportunity to make safe calls.
Calling for help is one of the things that sparks violence, Burns pointed out, and leaving is one of the most dangerous times for a survivor and children.
Some are using COVID-19 as a threat against their victims, which includes refusing to exchange children, and exposing others to the virus. Some threaten that if a call for help is made, they’ll say they have coronavirus so that no one will come assist the survivor.
If you’re experiencing physical abuse or property damage, Burns encourages you to take a photo and send it to a safe location such as a Google drive or a friend, and then delete it from your phone.
Police reports can be filed after the fact, and having evidence of scratches, bruising or damage can be part of that.
They can also be used when filing an order for protection (OFP), used when there is a romantic relationship past or present, the parties live together, or share children together. Another option is to file a harassment order, which has broader criteria than an OFP, or a No Abuse order.
Burns stressed that even with the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, people can still seek shelter, and domestic violence programs are still operating across the state. Casa Esperanza has a webpage devoted to COVID-19 resources.
Organizations are partnering with hotels to offer more social distancing and to boost the capacity.
One of the most common things an abuser does is isolate a victim and block their ability to connect with friends and family, so Burns urges people to reach out to someone they haven’t heard from in awhile to check in.

‘All of us know someone’
“Statistically all of us know someone in an abusive relationship,” said Burns.
Domestic violence impacts all cultural and ethnic groups at the same rate of 28-33%, Burns said. “It looks different in every culture and country.”
For Latinas in the Twin Cities, domestic violence often has a component associated with the threat of deportation. “There are a lot of misconceptions about people’s rights, even when people have legal status and are doing everything according to the books,” said Burns. “There are a lot of fears and stories,” some related to the historic trauma migrant workers have experienced in Minnesota.
Language is also a barrier. Asking for help is hard, and asking for help in a language that is not your native language makes it even tougher. “The legal system across nations looks really different,” Burns observed, and many refugees come with a distrust of state institutions. Many people don’t know what their legal rights are, and don’t know that some things are basic human rights.
“People are able to seek protection under the law regardless of immigration status,” Burns said.

Why don’t they just leave?
“There’s not one specific reason,” stressed Burns. It’s a combination of factors.
Finances are one barrier, especially in an economic crisis when unemployment is high. “The idea of picking up and leaving – especially with children – may just be unrealistic,” she pointed out. Within the Latina community, many people are already working two to three jobs to make ends meet.
Plus it is often still expected that a woman will stay home, so she will need to build a whole new skill set to be formally employed. That might include language access, education and training – which costs money to get. Many Latinas had high-paying jobs in their home countries but can no longer work at those in the United States because they have to re-earn their certifications.
Throw in kids, school, and activities on top of the low-paying job and it can be very difficult. A two-bedroom apartment at market rate is $1,100 a month, and to afford that a person needs to make a liveable wage of $19 an hour.
Women don’t leave because things are not black and white, and there’s a lot of gray matter, Burns observed.
“Life is complicated. Abusive relationships are not abusive all the time.”
The partner who uses abuse isn’t always like that, she stressed. It isn’t that every minute has been miserable. There are genuine good times. So, the good memories and the idea that the person can change keeps women in a relationship. “We all have a desire to love and be loved. It’s normal for a person to be torn,” she said.
Burns continues to believe that people who use abuse are capable of change – if they want to and it is self-initiated.
That said, she thinks people instinctively know that leaving will be very dangerous, and they recognize there will be consequences to splitting up.
“A survivor once told me: ‘The physical stuff, the bruises go away with time. What someone has said does not,” remarked Burns.
Women are told,”You are too dumb to learn English. No one else will ever love you. I’ll kill you if you leave.”
This emotional and verbal abuse, along with the physical, financial, and sexual abuse, also work against a survivor when they try to leave.
What is abuse? “It’s power and control over another person,” explained Burns. Much of this is achieved through fear, intimidation and threats. They may be told if they don’t stay, their vehicle will be damaged. The partner may punch holes in the wall so that the other has to pay the damages, which affects their financial well-being and ability to get another apartment.
Those who do leave often suffer post-separation abuse when the children are used to manipulate and threaten the other parent. The person who uses abuse may also turn the extended family and church community against the survivor so that they are cut off from support and resources. They may harass them at work, via social media, through cyber stalking, and through text messages. Because they are co-parenting, the survivor can’t block the abuse.

You don’t have to leave to seek help
Casa de Esperanza staff are mythbusters.
One of the most common swirls around the idea of “abandonment.” If someone leaves the home in Minnesota, they will not suffer any consequences associated with “abandonment,” which is common in other countries, said Burns. In Minnesota, property is owned jointly by both married parties and remains that way even if someone leaves.
On the other hand, if a child is born to an unmarried couple, the mother automatically has full legal and physical custody.
Those who don’t want to get divorced for religious reasons can opt for a legal separation instead.
And maybe the biggest myth is that people don’t have to leave a relationship to seek help.
More at or call the 24-hour bilingual helpline at 651-772-1611.

Domestic Abuse
Service Center
>> The Domestic Abuse Service Center (DASC) serves people who are victims of actual or threatened violence committed by a person with whom they have had a romantic or sexual relationship, or people who have lived together.

>> At DASC, District Court staff will help people at no cost complete the paperwork requesting a temporary Order for Protection (OFP). Several other city, county and advocacy agencies are on site at DASC to help people deal with domestic violence. Free services also include access to police and city of Minneapolis or Hennepin County prosecutors for victims of domestic abuse; advocacy and referral for housing, counseling, and financial assistance for victim/survivors of domestic abuse; on-site playroom and interpreter services. Advocates from several culturally specific agencies are available.

>> It is located in the lower level of the Hennepin County Government Center, 300 S 6th St. in Minneapolis.

Helpful apps
Casa de Esperanza is developing an app. In the meantime, here are two others to consider:
>> DocuSAFE is a free documentation and evidence collection app recently released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).

>> VictimsVoice provides a legally admissible way for victims to document abuse incidents in a safe, secure, consistent, and complete manner through an annual subscription. Financial help available. It can’t be found in an app store but is available at

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Backyard conversations

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Inspectors seek to build bridges between law enforcement,community


Inspector Amelia Huffman commands the Fifth Precinct in South Minneapolis. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

The Fifth Police Precinct is the nearest precinct building to the Longfellow and East Nokomis neighborhoods, since the Third went up in flames last month. Inspector Amelia Huffman commands the Fifth Precinct, and said, “The days following the killing of George Floyd were the saddest of my 26-year-career with the Minneapolis Police Department.”
Huffman expressed deep concern over the current state of the city, and feels the tension is fueled by focusing on differences. She said, “At the end of the day, we need to get to know each other as human beings. Before a police officer puts on a uniform, he or she is just a person.”
Toward the goal of fostering understanding, Huffman said she and her staff are making themselves available to participate is small group discussions with residents of the Fifth Precinct. She doesn’t think large group forums are effective at times of such heightened tensions. She said, “If you’re having a few neighbors over for a socially distanced get together in the yard and want to have a conversation, we’d love to join you. Let’s get to know each other better.”
Inspector Sean McGinty is in charge of the Third Precinct, albeit without a building. He is also available to attend backyard conversations of this kind. He said, “I am not afraid to have difficult conversations. The entire city is reeling from this tragedy, and the Third Precinct most of all. I would love to share from a leadership perspective, and to answer any questions that I can.”
Both inspectors Huffman and McGinty are interested in small group gatherings in safe, backyard environments. What they envision is very different from the interactions of old when police officers would visit neighborhoods on National Night Out and let kids sit in their squad cars. This would be a chance to talk in depth with knowledgeable officers about neighborhood concerns and the changing state of the police experience in Minneapolis.
It i is a good-faith effort to build bridges across the chasm of misunderstanding that exists between law enforcement and the community at large.
To set up a backyard conversation, email Third Precinct Inspector Sean McGinty at or Fifth Precinct Inspector Amelia Huffman at,depending on where you live.

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Tips to prevent activist burnout

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Paul Johnson encourages people to build in times for rest, self-care and exercise throughout the day. Consider blocking those times off on your calendar. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Burnout affecting many South Minneapolis residents affected by COVID-19 and racism, says Paul Johnson of Workflow Strengths

Longfellow resident Paul Johnson quit his steady, reliable job at the end of February. He had dreamed of starting his own business for years, and the time seemed right.
When he first heard about COVID-19 shortly after he resigned, he remembers thinking, “Huh, I wonder what that’s about?”
Johnson was certified a couple years ago to administer a tool called the Strengths Finder Assessment. The assessment helps people recognize their dominant strengths, and learn to how to apply them to their work life and their life in general.
Johnson said, “Based on my assessment results, it was clear that I have entrepreneurial strengths. I’m a good problem solver. I have the ability to visualize a better future. I want to be part of building a more responsible, inclusive future.”
Despite his enthusiasm, the limitations of starting a new business during a pandemic set in quickly. Then George Floyd was lynched on May 25. Johnson set aside all goals related to launching his new business, and worked overtime on racial justice and neighborhood issues for the next two weeks. He raised donations for small businesses that had been destroyed in the uprising, did clean-up on Lake St., was vigilant as a security presence with his block club, posted to social media 24/7 about everything that was happening in the neighborhood, and pressed for communication with lawmakers at the city and state level.
He did everything he could, except take care of himself.
Johnson said, “That time was totally exhausting, but it also solidified my passion for social justice. I had to learn how to stay in the game without burning out, getting sick, or damaging my primary relationship. If my occupational goal was to help other people find balance in their lives, I had to get some balance back in mine.”
According to Johnson, burnout as a workplace phenomenon is an outgrowth of unmanaged stress. He said, “Your mind and body are under unrelenting pressure. The symptoms are similar to depression: fatigue, loss of motivation, high levels of cynicism, irritability, and an overarching sense that you just can’t get it right. Over time, chronic stress can manifest into insomnia, memory loss, immune system decline, heart failure, and more. It’s not something to take lightly.”
One of the many challenges people are facing right now, is that burnout isn’t just happening to community activists. Anyone who lives in the neighborhood is susceptible, just by virtue of living here.

Suggestions for work, home, neighborhood
Johnson has some suggestions that can help. He said, “One of the things I do in trainings is to have people think about their triggers. What is something that pushes your buttons every time it happens? Start with something small. For me, an example is getting cut off in traffic when I’m driving or biking. If I know that it makes me angry, I can practice thinking through a reaction that’s more effective than honking, yelling, or ‘gesturing’. With training, a person can learn new ways of responding to small and large stressors – but it takes practice.”
“With enough practice, habitual neuropathways in the brain start to re-wire and that changes everything.”
The bulk of the work Johnson does is aimed at mid-career professionals who identify as activists or change-makers. The following suggestions are aimed at the workplace, but have application on the home front, and in neighborhoods, as well.
• To be effective, it is essential to build in times for rest, self-care, and exercise throughout the day.
• Consider blocking those times off on your calendar. They matter.
• If you work from home, mark the beginning and end of your work day and adhere to that schedule.
• The typical person is distracted in the workplace every three minutes. For someone who works from home and has young children, it’s probably more often. Try to minimize distractions. Let calls go and return them when you’re able.
• Everybody has tasks involved with their work that they find more or less meaningful. Identify how you relate to the different parts of your job using an energy inventory: which of those parts are energy giving, energy neutral, or energy draining? Try to spread the good stuff out to help balance your work day, or whatever other strategy works for you.
• Are there tasks you can eliminate, delegate, or automate?
These are tough, tough times and there is no shortage of issues that need addressing. Johnson is not advocating for diminished passion and commitment. He said, “Burnout is a common thing in social justice work, because many of us are working toward solutions we may never see – and right now every problem seems inextricably linked to every other problem.
“How can you say ‘no’ to housing the homeless, when your core issue is fighting against systemic racism? Sometimes, in order to avoid burnout, you have to develop the ability to set limits. You have to narrow your focus to be effective in the work you have taken up. Knowing your dominant strengths can not only keep you from getting burned out, it can help you to stay healthy and optimally effective.”
For more information or to sign up for a Strengths Finder Assessment, email Paul Johnson at

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Homeless encamp in city parks, MPRB policies shift and adapt

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

For more than a century, the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) has not allowed camping or other overnight activity in the parks between the hours of midnight and 6 a.m. This changed on March 27, 2020, when Governor Tim Walz issued Executive Order 20-20.
The original Shelter-in-Place order restricted local units of government and law enforcement officers from removing people from public spaces because of COVID-19 risk.
The order stated that encampments should not be subject to sweeps or disbandment by local officials, as such actions increase the potential risk and spread of COVID-19.
MPRB Communications and Marketing Director Dawn Sommers said, “The Executive Order greatly changed the dynamic in our park system, though the full effect wouldn’t be felt for months.”
On May 17, Executive Order 20-55 was issued, stating that there could be exceptions to people being allowed to shelter in city parks. It said, “If a local government entity is providing sufficient shelter, or if an encampment has become a threat to the health, safety, or security of residents, state or local government may restrict, limit or close encampment spaces.”
Prior to June 12, there were scattered tents throughout the park system. On that day, 100+ people experiencing homelessness were evicted from temporary shelter at the Midtown Sheraton Hotel. They moved themselves to Powderhorn Park and other locations throughout the city.
On that morning, there were approximately 25 tents set up in Powderhorn Park, and MPRB Superintendent Al Bangoura said they had to go. Based on Executive Order 20-55, he felt the encampment was too large. Bangoura was contacted by the state with concerns that he had violated the executive order, and by dozens of Minneapolis residents demanding that he let the people stay.
Five days later, MPRB commissioners approved a resolution that the parks be declared refuge space – because that was already being done with the support of the state and residents of the Powderhorn neighborhood.
Jeremy Barrick is the Assistant Superintendent of Environmental Stewardship for the MPRB. He said, “In hindsight, we see that housing people experiencing homelessness in city parks is not a solution. The MPRB charter does not include housing people. We have a $126,000,000 budget this year. We have the smallest budget of any department in the city of Minneapolis. Most of our budget is designated for human resources and salaries.
“To give an example of an unexpected expense, and this is just one line-item of many, we’ve spent $38,000 on hand washing stations and portable toilets since the park homeless encampments began. That’s the equivalent of paying 12 seasonal part-time park employees for the summer. We can’t both manage our parks for the homeless and staff our parks adequately.”
Barrick continued, “The park board just wrapped up our master redevelopment plan, in which we set forth a vision to guide long-term development and improvements for all of the city parks. Our months of planning engaged individuals, groups, other community partners, and government entities.
“None of the planning and visioning included having homeless encampments in the parks. The core function of the MPRB is to separate the park land use from city politics.”
Encampment permits required
At the last bi-weekly MPRB board meeting on July 15, park board commissioners unanimously approved a resolution that will reduce the number of parks with temporary encampments for people experiencing homelessness to 20. At its highest point, there were encampments of various sizes in 39 Minneapolis parks. The resolution will limit the number of tents per encampment to 25, and establish a new encampment permit requirement for each encampment.
The resolution provides direction for the design and facilitation of temporary encampments in parks that supports the health and safety of individuals experiencing homelessness. Any given encampment may occupy no more than 10% of available parkland, with reasonable access to recreational features of each park for visitors.
MPRB acknowledged that it will take time to de-concentrate tents across the park system. It will likely be a fluid situation while outreach continues, encampment permit applications are processed, and park spaces are delineated. The priority for the MPRB will be first addressing sites with a documented threat to the health, safety, or security of residents. Toward that end, the encampment on the east side of Powderhorn Park was removed on July 21.
The locations of the 20 refuge sites for encampments is yet to be determined. MPRB is not pre-selecting the sites, but rather is allowing those who apply for a temporary encampment permit to request the park they want to stay in.
Like other MPRB permit applications, the temporary encampment application will be reviewed by staff and the site will be approved or rejected based on staff’s analysis of the park’s capacity to support an encampment and other guidelines outlined in the resolution. If approved, the MPRB will provide restrooms or portable toilets, hand washing stations (as vendor supplies allow), and trash/recycling containers to a permitted encampment within 48 hours of issuing a permit.
To view the video from the July 15 board meeting, start at 1:51 (one hour and 51 minutes into the meeting) to hear Commissioner Londel French state concerns for MPRB taking on encampments in the parks; see video on City of Minneapolis YouTube channel. For more information, including regular updates, visit

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Remember to care for the trees

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Minneapolis asks homeowners to water boulevard trees

Lend a hand and water boulevard trees. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

This spring, 9,400 boulevard trees were planted in the city of Minneapolis.
According to Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Forestry Director Ralph Sievert, “The new plantings include river birch, Kentucky coffee tree, buckeye, tree lilac, alder, ornamental pear, honey locust, linden, hackberry, gingko, larch, and more. These are trees that do well here, but haven’t been planted in large numbers before. This year we went for a big mix.”
The trees got in the ground in record time. In response to the pandemic, the park board had to come up with a new tree-planting strategy. Instead of sending several staff out together, crew members worked individually from small utility vehicles. One person dug holes, the next person planted trees, and the last person mulched and watered them. Sievert said, “It worked so well, we might stick with this method in the future. We got the whole job done by Memorial Day, which was weeks ahead of schedule.”
The park board has five large capacity trucks for watering, but they focus on trees that homeowners can’t get to: those planted on medians, in parks, and in front of apartment buildings. If your home or business has received a new tree, it is up to you to keep it watered – and the first year that a tree is in the ground is critical.
Every new tree comes with a slow release water bag zipped around its trunk. The bag should be filled by hose or bucket once a week. Its contents will release slowly over several hours, allowing for better water absorption into the roots.
Sievert has been in the forestry department long enough to see several dramatic tree events hit Minneapolis since the invasion of Dutch elm disease in the 1970s.
American elm had been the dominant species across the city, and the loss of the nearly 100-year-old shade canopy was devastating. Realizing that monoculture plantings had failed, the city changed gears and planted dominant species block by block instead.
When the Emerald Ash Borer arrived a little more than 10 years ago, Minneapolis began to suffer another huge loss of its boulevard and park trees. Sievert said, “We’re in year seven of our eight-year plan to remove all of the ash trees from Minneapolis boulevards and parks. By the end of next year, about 40,000 ash trees will have been removed and replaced. The only ash trees left on city boulevards will be the ones residents are paying to treat themselves for Emerald Ash Borer.
“In light of all that, we’ve revamped the way we look at boulevard trees once again. The latest rule is that if a block has more than 10% of any one kind of tree already established, we won’t plant any more of that species. The key is to diversify.”
It is unusual for a municipality to provide boulevard trees at no cost to homeowners. The park board also removes sick or dying trees and grinds their stumps free of charge.
The tree canopy in Minneapolis is currently about 29%. The higher the percentage of tree canopy, the better off city residents are. Trees increase energy savings by providing shade; they decrease storm water run-off by mitigating rainfall; they increase property value with their beauty.
Sievert said, “The pandemic has hit us hard this spring and summer, just like it did everybody else. In a normal year, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board would receive significant revenue from events held in parks like weddings, concerts, fun-runs, and the like. This year, that hasn’t happened. We’ve kept our public spaces open, but we aren’t hosting events to discourage people from gathering.”
That has created a predicted budget deficit next year of approximately $6,000,000.
Sievert said, “The 2021 planting season is going to be tricky. Maybe there won’t be money for trees in the spring? Let’s take care of the trees we already have, by remembering to keep them watered, and by being careful with lawn mowers and weed whippers when working around the base of trees. Any damage to their bark is an invitation for pests and disease enter.”

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