Anna Zillinger shares update on East Lake Library

Posted on 21 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

By Elena Vaughn

The East Lake Library was damaged and remains closed, but a majority of books can be recovered, according to East Lake librarian Anna Zillinger. A county insurance assessment is in progress, but she believes a majority of the books can be recovered.

While some books will have to be replaced due to fire damage, the building is sound. The building will undergo reconstruction which should take six months to a year. Zillinger is grateful for the “community members, our library regulars, that kept it safe. We thank the community and the organizations who helped protect and recover our space.”
Curbside services are unavailable until the building is opened, and all holds have been transferred to other libraries or put back on the hold list. If a book isn’t available at East Lake, it will be available by curbside at another library, such as the nearby Hosmer library.
Although the building may be out of commission, the library is still serving the community. Staff from the East Lake Library will be at the Midtown Farmers Market getting library cards throughout October. More information can be found at the Seward-Longfellow Library Community Facebook page, including information about virtual programs. There are lists of educational books at and unlimited e-resources. Zillinger particularly recommends “How to Be an Anti-Racist” and “White Fragility.” E-books are available on Kindle, iPad, iPhone, or the Overdrive app.
Zillinger believes in the East Lake Library. Working in libraries since 2001, she has always focused on “community outreach in urban libraries,” she observed. Growing up on the west side of Indianapolis in what she called a tough neighborhood, she said she loved the local library and wanted to bring that feeling to other cities.

Zillinger said, “Libraries were always my home, so we’ll rebuild our library home together.”
She continued, “We have so many ways of building community in the meanwhile.” More services will be added over time as safety allows.

Clean-up crews outside of East Lake library following damage in late May/early June 2020.

Anna Zillenger brings the Minneapolis Central Library bike along on an outreach trip to southern neighborhood residents.


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‘It feels like everybody is on edge’

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


“I keep wondering if my block is safe,” said lifelong Longfellow resident Troy Houle. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Troy Houle is a lifelong Longfellow resident. His parents still live in the house he grew up in. He lives just a few blocks from them, as does his sister.
Troy has been a Minneapolis Park Board employee for more than 25 years. He said, “They call me a ‘senior man in the system’ now.” He has worked a second job at East Lake Liquors for more than 20 years, and knows this neighborhood like the back of his hand.
Troy said, “My family and friends are all from right here. A lot of the buildings that burned down, they’re what our neighborhood is about. They were part of our history. It feels like we’re starting over.”
Adjusting the brim of his fishing hat, Troy continued, “I’ve always been a strong minded person. Normally, I’m really confident about being out in the neighborhood but little things scare me now. We’re coming up on the Fourth of July and the firecrackers are really hard to listen to. I keep wondering if my block is safe, my daughter, my neighborhood, my neighbors?”
Liquor stores were hit hard in the unrest following George Floyd’s murder. Troy said, “With Minnehaha Liquors and Chi-Lake Liquors closed down, we have a lot of new customers at East Lake Liquor. I used to know most of the people who came in to the store. People are coming from outside the neighborhood now, and it feels like everybody is on edge.”
Troy credits the owners of Star Auto (and their friends and neighbors) with saving several businesses on E. Lake St. from looting and arson. He said, “There were 30-40 people every night of the curfew protecting Star Auto, ACE Hardware, the Longfellow Market, and East Lake Liquors. We have a lot to thank them for.”
Echoing what many people in the neighborhood are feeling, Troy said, “The experience has made me more vigilant, more aware of my surroundings. I check in on my parents 3-4 times a week now. Our neighbors have gotten a lot closer. It’s like that saying, ‘If you see something, say something.’ Everybody’s talking more, because we know how quickly things can change.”

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‘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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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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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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History’s push and nature’s shove

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Two Sanford students win the National History Day contest

Jackson Nguyen’s screen lagged a bit. He nervously awaited to hear the news of how his, and his partner, Jack Randolph’s, website had done in the National History Day competition (NHD). Due, to the COVID-19 Pandemic, the awards were broadcast online. What had started out as an assigned project for all seventh graders at Sanford Middle School, 3524 42 Ave. S., had become a long road to the NHD competition. In the past couple of weeks, there had been a Google Hangout each day with Jack and teachers in order to revise their project. But, it wasn’t long until he heard his family’s cheers come from downstairs and he knew he had won.
More than half a million students around the world participate in National History Day each year by submitting a project with research done on a history topic of the students’ choice. Of these half a million, more than 27,000 are students at the Minnesota local levels. Minnesota’s local levels are hosted by the Minnesota Historical Society and the University of Minnesota – College of Liberal Arts.
If a project is in the top two at the local levels, they move on to the national levels hosted by the University of Maryland. While the competition is usually held in Washington, D.C., the 2020 National History Day contest moved online, due to COVID-19, with the award ceremony shared live on June 22, 2020 via a live stream from the National History Day website. Nguyen and Randolph’s project won first in their category for the NHD contest; the prize was $1,000.
Randolph and Nguyen’s website, “The Four Pests Campaign: The Consequences of Breaking Ecological Barriers” found at https:\\\48608894, is 1,200 words focused on what happens when humans try and get rid of animals seen as pests. They did this through the lens of The Four Pests Campaign. This was a campaign started in China in the 1950s; the thought process being that if some pests were exterminated for good, it would boost public health. In reality, it led to the Great Chinese Famine and changed the way the ecosystem worked.
“I was interested in the idea of countries going to war with animals,” Nguyen said.
The idea of breaking ecological barriers came to him when he saw a YouTube video about The Great Emu War. This was when Australia tried to get rid of the large birds called emus in order to control their population as they were considered a nuisance to the public at the time. This “war” on the emus lasted from Nov. 2 to Dec. 10, 1932.
However, Australia’s attempts to eradicate the birds did not prevail. With a topic picked out, Nguyen and Randolph were ready to begin their website. Part of the assignment was done before schools switched to online delivery. The two were able to do research at the libraries, go to helpful informational lectures held at the middle school, and interview ecologists. But after the Stay-At-Home order began, meeting and research became more difficult.
“Once COVID-19 started, it was mostly on our own time, and in the last week, we had Google Meets every day along with some interviews. It was a lot,” Randolph said.
As the History Day competition went on and their website moved up through levels of the competition, Randolph and Nguyen revised their research at least six times. This was done with the help of teachers and judges’ feedback. Before the Stay-At-Home order was instated, they would go to the Media Center at the middle school, but later in the competition, all of the revising was done online. The Google Website Designer, a program made to guide users through steps of building a website, was so finicky that it would only save one person’s work at a time. The two would screen share over Google Hangouts and talk over ideas while one typed in the information and the other watched from the opposite side. After each level and revision, they were excited, but became more and more nervous. They never thought that their website would go as far as it did.
“We started off aiming for state, but as the competition went on, it became more nerve wracking,” Randolph said. “Our thought process became: We’ve made it this far, but now it’s time to bring it the final mile.”
Neither Nguyen nor Randolph know if they’ll do the competition next year because it’s no longer required by Sanford Middle School and will be entirely on their own time. However, they say that they’ve learned a lot from this experience. They’ve learned things not only about ecology, but also in general. They feel more comfortable with interviewing people and have gained knowledge for projects in the future.
When asked what advice they’d give to others, Nguyen said, “Always look for feedback. Ask everyone around you for open advice.”

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Being the bridge: South High Foundation helps students in financial crisis

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Judy Ayers, South High Foundation

The South High Foundation, 3131 19th Ave. South, was started in 1983 with only $75.
Their goal was to provide financial assistance to students and school programs in order to enhance the students’ ability to learn. It’s come a long way since then. In the 2017 school year, the South High Foundation funded more than $62,000 in grants for athletics, academics, fine arts and extracurricular activities.
When asked how many students were impacted by grant money, foundation president Judy Ayers said, “I would tell you that every student at South High is.”
Normally, students and teachers would be able to meet with Ayers or another member of the foundation’s board in order to request a grant. But now, COVID-19 has changed the way they are able to meet people’s needs. Staff are only allowed in the school once a month to get their mail, all meetings are done remotely, and challenges of the pandemic brought on more families with financial needs. They had to think of a way to continue giving money to South High families in crisis.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund was created. This fund is for families who have gone through financial crisis or homelessness during the pandemic and Uprising. Sheri Harris, a social worker who has collaborated with the South High Foundation for 20 years, works with a team made up of other social workers in order to run the fund.
“We problem solve to take care of whatever the need might be,” Harris said.

Sheri Harris, South High social worker

How this helps
A family that particularly stuck out to Harris was one whose members all contracted COVID-19 at the same time. They were too ill to get up and cook. They were unable to see anyone outside the family or have someone they knew come help as they needed to remain quarantined. But, they reached out to Harris and she gave them an e-gift card. This way, they were able to order in food until they were strong enough to cook for themselves once again.
“What everyone knows is the full impact but seeing it on an individual level – the challenges of COVID-19 – made the difference,” Harris said.
The South High Emergency Relief Fund serves many families like this. Donations can be made through PayPal or GiveMN on the South High Foundation’s website,; specify relief fund. Families can reach out if they are in need by contacting Harris at After families reach out, the foundation transfers money to gift cards or e-cards for rent, insurance or groceries. Harris and the social work team then work with families to see if there’s anything they can do in the long term to help them through the crisis.
“Being able to help with this [rent] just one time means that they aren’t looking at eviction. They’re looking at another month when unemployment could kick in or when the stimulus could come through,” Harris said.

A united community
Even during the challenges the pandemic and the Uprising have brought on, both Harris and Ayers mentioned that the community has still been incredibly helpful and banded together for a greater cause. Normal fundraisers for the South High Foundation like the pancake breakfast or the golf tournament were cancelled, but donations have still been coming in. Teachers at South High held a food drive and graduates, even those who now live in other states, have continued to donate to both the Emergency Relief Fund and the Foundation itself. But, they still hope to grow even more.
“With all of the cuts that schools seem to face every year, there’s more and more need. I see the Foundation being able to fill those needs,” Ayers said.

Moving forward
Looking toward the future, the foundation wants to be able to fill more of the gaps between families or students in financial need and how to help them get an education. They want to get to the root of what causes struggles for families. Ayers is aiming to get more donations from outside companies to pay for bigger programs students may need. Ayers works as a volunteer and does not gain any money from donations, but believes that if people are able, then they should be helping.
“My goal is to continue doing this until I can’t anymore,” Ayers said.
The foundation also aims to create more relationships with students, teachers, staff, and families. They want to directly ask the community what it needs and will do whatever they can to meet those needs in order to give students access to a better education. They don’t want to let the gaps of a financial crisis impact how far a student can go.
“The needs are there and the needs have always been there; the goal is to be the bridge and support in order to help students be the best student that they can be,” Harris said.

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Athena award winners honored in shortened school year

Posted on 29 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

High school sports evaporated with the spring thaw due to COVID-19 but recognizing top student athletes didn’t.
Three area seniors received Athena award honors, capping their high school careers in May. Named by the Minneapolis Athena Awards Committee, the annual honor goes to a female senior student athlete at each participating high school. The committee considers athletic achievement, volunteering in the community and other school extracurricular participation in addition to academic success.
Awards went to Emily Mulhern of South, Marie Peterson of Roosevelt and Kate Pryor of Minnehaha Academy.

Emily Mulhern
Emily Mulhern had a duffel bag of supplies handy for teammates in addition to being a strong competitor for the Tigers.
“Each athlete plays a different role on the team, and I was known as the ‘team mother,’” Mulhern said. ”I was the one who had the extra pair of gloves, the bottle of sunscreen and a huge bag of trailmix to share. If someone was having an off day, I could be counted on for moral support.”
Mulhern led Nordic skiers as team captain her junior year and made a splash as rookie of the year for Tigers cross country in the eighth grade. She also helped the ultimate frisbee club team reach nationals.
“For me, the (Athena) award itself acknowledges the important role participation in athletics can play in girls’ lives,” Mulhern said. “I am also very grateful to my coaches and teammates who helped form supportive communities for all of the athletes.”
Outside of athletics, Mulhern volunteered at Minneapolis Children’s Hospital and environmental service projects in Central America. She also performed with Project Opera and played flute in wind ensemble.
Her academic achievements included being the valedictorian, an AP Scholar with Distinction and National Honor Society treasurer. She also earned a certificate of recognition for the Academics, Arts and Athletics Award.
Mulhern will attend St. Olaf College to study psychology and play for the Ollies ultimate frisbee team.

Marie Peterson
Marie Peterson excelled at sports with Roosevelt, but her biggest success came in club wrestling.
She won a state club title in 2017 and took runner-up in 2018. She also competed on a national level.
“To win state was one of the proudest moments of my high school athletics career,” Peterson said. “Competing nationally was definitely eye-opening because I was introduced to so many amazing wrestlers.”
Peterson also succeeded in tennis and track and field for the Teddies as she won Minneapolis City Conference all-conference awards in both sports. She helped the Teddies rugby club team take runner-up in state.
“I have been dreaming about the Athena award for my whole time at Roosevelt, and so it means everything to me as an athlete,” Peterson said.
Her volunteer involvement included serving as president of the Asian Club at Roosevelt, math team captain and as a student ambassador. She also volunteered with the National Honor Society.
Peterson also received the Smith Book award, academic all-state, academic achievement award and made the honor roll. She hopes to major in biology for college and play rugby but hasn’t decided on a major yet.

Kate Pryor
Kate Pryor went from losing a baby tooth in her year of high school softball as a seventh-grader to holding school records in home runs, RBIs and hits.
“I don’t even remember the play I made at third,” Pryor said about the game. “But apparently people were impressed by it and one of my teammates yelled from the dugout, ‘she just lost her last baby tooth today’ and everyone started laughing.”
Her softball prowess will lead her to Boston University next where she will also study health science, but she leaves Minnehaha Academy as being much more than a softball star. She helped the Redhawks girls basketball team win a state title as a junior and won Independent Metro Athletic Conference all-conference honors twice. In volleyball, she also earned all-conference honors and all-section honors once.
“I feel really honored to be selected as the Athena Award winner because there are a lot of really talented female athletes at Minnehaha,” Pryor said.
Outside of sports, she volunteered as a retreat leader for Minnehaha’s middle school. She also served as a camp counselor for Covenant Pines Bible Camp.
Academically, she earned AP Scholar and Academic Letter honors. She also participated in the National Honor Society.

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