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Pregnant and parenting during COVID-19: There are no manuals for this

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Ingrid Rasmussen and her six-week-old son Lars, carried through and delivered in the time of COVID. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Ingrid Rasmussen had everything well-organized for her second pregnancy, and the first two trimesters went according to plan. When the Stay-at-Home Order was issued, Rasmussen was six months along. With her husband and their three-year-old daughter, she settled in to being at home.
As the senior pastor of Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, one of Rasmussen’s new responsibilities was to help the church transition into lockdown mode. Sunday services and all other face-to-face gatherings were quickly put on-line. Some two months later George Floyd was murdered. She said, “The church went from being completely closed to completely open in about 10 minutes.”
Located one block from the 3rd Precinct, the most immediate need of the church was to provide space for a medic station. Holy Trinity staff welcomed teams of medics and helped them set up in the church community room. Suddenly Rasmussen was back at work, and in a COVID-19 exposure situation that could only be described as very high risk.
The medics brought resources to help with emergency needs around the clock. People coming in were treated for tear gas exposure to eyes and skin; injuries resulting from being shot with rubber bullets, scrapes and bruises; and emotional trauma sustained from being around the Third Precinct both before and after it burned.
None of this was part of Rasmussen’s pregnancy plan.
She explained, “During the unrest, it was all-hands-on deck for pastors from our church, and clergy from other faith communities, too. We assisted the medics and offered pastoral care to anyone who needed it. Frequently people came into the church just for a moment of silence.
“Not insignificantly, after fires overtook so many of the nearby buildings, we had one of the few working toilets in the neighborhood.”

A movement worth leaving quarantine for
Rasmussen and her husband agreed that supporting the Black Lives Matter movement was worth leaving quarantine for, even though they both knew that exposure to tear gas, and many other things Rasmussen would encounter, weren’t good for a pregnant woman. She remembered the restrictions of her first pregnancy: the doctor had cautioned her not to eat sushi and to limit her caffeine intake.
This was clearly a very different pregnancy.
Rasmussen said, “I did what I could in those early days of the unrest. The church community and the volunteers were so supportive of me in my obviously pregnant state. People were very kind and protected my physical health as I tended to the needs of others. It was an extraordinary experience of living through mutual aid.
“One of the refrains ringing through our church in this season is that there is enough for everyone: enough food, enough medical care, enough kindness, enough compassion, enough love.”

More tough choices
Seven days before her expected delivery date, Rasmussen was given a COVID-19 test, which is standard procedure at M Health Fairview University of Minnesota Medical Center where she would deliver. The test results were negative, and she returned home to wait for the arrival of her baby.
Rasmussen’s husband suffered a cardiac arrest five years ago, and the couple decided that COVID-19 exposure risk in the hospital was too great for him. They made the difficult decision that he would not attend the labor and delivery. He needed to care for their three-year-old anyhow. Because of COVID-19, neither set of grandparents could help.
When it was time for Rasmussen to deliver, her husband and daughter dropped her at the cul de sac of the hospital and waved goodbye.
Of that decision, Rasmussen said, “There was disappointment for both of us, but we knew we needed to take a long view. The most important thing was that my husband be part of our kids’ lives for many years to come.”
Lars Rasmussen was born at 12:36 p.m. on July 26. All during Rasmussen’s labor, the anesthesiologist held a cell phone up so her husband could be in the delivery room via Facetime. Rasmussen said, “The delivery went well, and Lars came out screaming just the way you hope a baby will.”

A moment of peace
Rasmussen’s planned three-month parental leave from work turned into a two-week leave instead. She is working part-time from home due to the extraordinary demands currently placed on the church. Her husband works from home as well, and they pass the child care baton back and forth.
The community of Holy Trinity Church participated in a drive-by baby shower at Rasmussen’s home a few weeks ago. Cars streamed by on a Saturday afternoon: one mask-wearing person at a time got out of their car, dropped a gift for Lars or the family on the lawn, and shouted “Congratulations!” as the next person pulled in.
Both sets of grandparents have come up to Minneapolis for backyard visits. Other family members have met Lars during Zoom calls. It isn’t what Rasmussen had in her original plan, but it’s the time the community is living in.
With so much on her plate, does Rasmussen have any quiet moments with her new baby? She said, “I feel most present with Lars right after he’s done eating, when he is satiated. His body is heavy and full, like he doesn’t have a care in the world. With him resting against my chest and shoulder, I’m given a moment of peace – and it’s enough.”

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Neighbors at George Floyd Square issue demands for justice

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Left to right: Amitri Hosea, Ashley Hosea and Semhara McBrayer pose with their freshly-baked chocolate chip cookies at the Reimagine 38th St. market on Aug. 22. (Photos by Jill Boogren)

It doesn’t get any more local than this: chocolate chip cookies baked in the commercial kitchen across the street and brought out fresh – still warm – for sale. These “Cookie Crumbs” cookies from Hosea Gourmet are offered, along with t-shirts, jewelry, candles, oils, face masks and other wares by entrepreneurs, at the Reimagine 38th Street market taking place on Saturdays at George Floyd Square (38th St. & Chicago Ave.).
Asked about baking and serving up cookies at the Square, Ashley Hosea said, “It just feels so good. It’s just genuine, organic, real, true.”
George Floyd Square is the focus of talks after the city of Minneapolis said it would be reopened to traffic in mid-August (the city placed barricades at each entrance to provide safe access for visitors).
In response, community leaders drafted Resolution 001, which includes a set of 24 actions they are demanding be taken by city, county, state and federal governing bodies in order to reopen either 38th St. E. or Chicago Ave. S.
“The George Floyd Memorial is first and foremost a place of protest, not commissioned by the city but by the people against the city,” states the resolution. The National Lawyers Guild of Minnesota and AFSCME LOCAL 2822 have endorsed the demands, available at,floydsquare-a, which include police accountability measures as well financial investments in the neighborhood and youth.
At an Aug. 15 press conference held by community leaders at the Square, Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO) Executive Director Carmen Means said they didn’t want to diminish calls for safer streets. “But we live in a land where they’re trying to make us choose between safety and justice,” said Means. “That should not have to be a choice.”
As of Aug. 23, the city has delayed reopening the street as talks continue (a statement by the city was posted on the Messenger Facebook page Aug. 17) Meantime, residents hold meetings twice daily in the Square, at 8 a.m. and 7 p.m., and events there continue apace. A “sit-in” by silent protesters was held on Aug. 17, and the following weekend visual artists were invited to “Occupy With Art!” by contributing a piece to the zone. Resident and Certified Balloon Artist Scott Nichols answered the call by creating a giant Prince symbol made of shimmering purple balloons (Prince spent some of his formative years in this neighborhood), and there’s now a piano on site.
The Reimagine 38th Street market, presented by CANDO, will continue on Saturdays through Sept. 5.

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Ridership was setting records… then there was a pandemic

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Metro Transit says it is a good thing fewer people have been using light rail since March


The Blue Line averaged over 32,000 riders a day last year. (Photo by Terry Faust)

Normally, a summer day in July or August would mean big business for the Metro Transit Light Rails. Twins’ games would bring in riders to Target Field or concert goers might take the light rail to US Bank Stadium or the Target Center. Even just summer activities in local neighborhoods, would bring in business to the Green or Blue Lines. Local families often use the light rail for groceries, doctor’s visits, or entertainment like going out to dinner. But, the light rail lines have been seeing fewer riders since COVID-19, and Metro Transit says that’s a good thing.
“We want people to exercise social distancing. A packed car does no one any good,” said Metro Transit public relations manager Howie Padilla.
In the last few years, Metro Transit has seen record ridership. The number of riders continued to go up until the pandemic. Last year, there were more than 14 million riders on the Green Line which averaged at 44,000 riders each day. And, on the Blue Line, there were more than 11 million riders with an average of over 32,000 on a given weekday.
Most of these were local community members in everyday use. But now, it’s common to see only five or six riders per car. Metro Transit encourages riders to find another way to get to their destination during the pandemic. If a trip is not a necessity or if there is another form of transit available to use, Metro Transit would prefer riders do not use the light rails and save the seat for someone who absolutely needs it.
“Our priority is the same as it’s always been – to provide a safe environment for our riders to their destination,” said John Humphrey, who is Deputy Chief Officer of both the Green and Blue lines.

According to Howie Padilla, there are only about 5-6 riders a car right now.


COVID-19 plan
Metro Transit also put a plan in effect to keep riders safe. Light rail cars are fogged with a sanitizing solution each night in order to ensure that every surface is completely clean. Face masks are required even on the platforms. The website instructs riders to social distance, practice good hygiene and to stay home if they are ill. More on their COVID-19 plan can be found at
“All of our decisions are made with our riders’ and staff’s safety in mind,” Padilla said. “We’re in this with the community.”
The light rails have provided the community with another option of transportation since 2004. This has caused property values to go up, pollution levels to go down, and traffic to decrease, according to Metro Transit.

The method customers use to buy tickets has changed over the years. Above is the original interface. Below is the new one. (Photos by Terry Faust)

Housing vouchers offered
Metro Transit is working with the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) in order to pass out vouchers for rental spaces that homeless riders can use. The LRT is used by homeless people as a place to sleep, especially in the winter. These vouchers will provide shelter for those riders in need. The decision to displace homeless riders from the trains in August of 2019 received mixed reviews from the community, but Metro Transit’s Homeless Action Team says it is still working to find more of a permanent solution to homelessness even through the pandemic. They’ve put more than 100 people into housing and have given out $1.8 million in assistance.
“The light rail is not a replacement for a bed or home. We’re working on getting people into more permanent housing,” Padilla said.

Volunteers cleaned to get light rail back up and running
The community has also given back to the Blue and Green lines. Metro Transit representatives mentioned that they would not be able to reach record amounts of ridership by the special event riders alone. Local community members have been the ones to use the light rails most throughout the years.
Another example of this is when Humphrey visited the Lake Street Station, 2310 Lake Street East, to check on the line after the first three nights of the Uprising. When he arrived, he found that community members were already there. Volunteers were cleaning graffiti and debris off of the tracks. They asked Humphrey for more ways to help in order get the light rail back up and running.
“The community was incredibly appreciative that the train was up and running the day after,” Humphrey said. “We don’t operate in a vacuum. We’re out there with the community.”
Metro Transit aims to provide easier access to essential spaces during this time, and, to provide reliable transportation even if that means less riders for the time being.


Expanded bus, light rail service coming in September
Upcoming schedule changes will provide riders more options and space when traveling on buses and trains. The changes taking effect on Saturday, Sept. 12, will mean that many local bus routes, the METRO A Line and the METRO C Line will have about as much service as they did before the COVID-19 pandemic. The METRO Blue Line and METRO Green Line will offer 10-minute service throughout most of the day.

Since opening in 2004, the Blue Line has offered folks an alternative way to get to doctors’ appointments, grocery stores, and restaurants. With the addition of the Green Line in 2014, people can travel from the airport to downtown St. Paul via downtown Minneapolis. (Photo by Terry Faust, 2004)

Because of a significant drop in demand, around 50 express bus routes will remain suspended and the Northstar Commuter Rail Line will continue to operate on a limited, weekday-only schedule.
In July, ridership on local bus routes and the METRO A Line and METRO C Line was down about 50% compared to the same month last year. Light rail ridership was down about 75%. Increases in local bus and light rail service will help riders keep a safe distance on buses and trains as more people return to transit.
Other notable changes taking effect on Sept. 12 include:
• On Route 63, bus stops will be eliminated or relocated and several new shelters will be installed.
• Route 54 will begin serving a new transit center at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport’s Terminal 1.
• Routes 7 and 68 will be extended to provide residents in south Minneapolis and St. Paul better access to services.
• A new route, Route 363, will replace routes 361 and 365 with express trips between Cottage Grove and downtown Minneapolis via downtown St. Paul.

This photo from 2004 shows the inside of a train. Riders can sit or stand, and there is space for bicycles. (Photo by Terry Faust)

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Green Chair Project helps homeless youth

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Joel Sisson (left) joins Elpis workers constructing chairs. The Green Chair project started in South Minneapolis, has been reinvented, and is now based in the St. Paul Midway. (Photo by Jan Willms)

Resilience, collaboration, flexibility. All choice descriptions that organizations have needed to follow in these times of pandemic and social unrest. So why not bring back a project that worked before in the early 1990s?
Joel Sisson and Chris Hand came up with the Green Chair Project around 1991. It was shortly after the Rodney King beating in LA, and Sisson had recently moved to a South Minneapolis neighborhood around 31st and Pleasant.
“It was a crack neighborhood, off and on, and Minneapolis was called Murderapolis at that time,” Sisson recalled. “I got jumped and beat up by some guys, and I had to decide: fight or flight? What do I do to not be afraid of these young people who were identifying as gang members? How do I change that interaction for both them and myself, so we can get to know each other in different ways?”
And so the Green Chair Project was born. Sisson and Hand had inner city youth building Adirondack lawn chairs and painting them green. “The idea was that we would build chairs and give away two to each house on our block. We worked in the back yard that we tore up to put this project together.”
And as the chairs were being constructed, Sisson noticed that neighbors came out on the street. Normally no one came out unless there was a fight, or a shooting or a bust, according to Sisson.
The project took off, and later chairs four times the size of the original were built and placed around Minnesota and in Washington, D.C. Sisson said chairs were placed at Duke Ellington High School in D.C., and installations were done at the Washington Monument and at Congress.
After about 12 years, Sisson stepped back from the project. He was no longer working with youth, and the chair-building was placed on a back burner.
Fast forward to the spring of 2020. A pandemic unlike anything since 1918 was ravaging the country. And then, in Minneapolis, George Floyd died as a police officer knelt on his neck for more than eight minutes. This time, not just this country, but the world exploded in social unrest.
And Sisson got a call from Paul Ramsour, executive director of Elpis Enterprises, an agency working with homeless youth. Elpis, located at 2161 University Ave. in St. Paul, offers internships in screen printing and woodworking to youths who have been homeless, are homeless, or are at risk of homelessness. They also have trainees in the summer who are a part of Right Track and Step-up youth programs in St. Paul and Minneapolis.
Normally, the woodworking trainees would be learning how to build birdhouses and bird feeders and then going out into the community and teaching younger children how to build them. However, due to COVID-19, all the park and recreational center workshops for this had been canceled.

An idea that came back around
But Ramsour had an idea.
He and Sisson had met years ago in a church basement, where they had both been talking about their youth projects. And Ramsour had taken a couple of the crates used to build chairs and had hung onto them.
“Paul and I had talked over the years, and he messaged me not long after the riots,” Sisson said. “Maybe it’s time to resurrect the chair project,” was Ramsour’s message.
“A couple other people had been whispering in my ear about it, also, and so I messaged Paul back and said yes, I would like to give the project to him and help him make it happen.”
And so, inner city youth are again building chairs.
The chairs are made of 5-core cedar, the same kind of wood that is used to build decks. Sisson said they can easily last 10 years, especially if they are covered and placed inside during the winter months.
The kit for each chair unfolds into two work tables on wheels. A youth center could unfold the kit, build the chairs, then fold it up and put it away. Sisson said the kits are made to be shipped. “That’s what I want to do. I really want to open source this project, and Paul is in line with that. He has kind of taken this on, with Elpis serving as the training center.
“We are trying to develop a manual that we are putting together, with pictures and diagrams of how to build the chair, so someone might be able to take this kit and set up their own workshop.”

Staying safe while building
Sisson said the initial idea was to have three workshops in the areas hardest hit by the rioting: Lake Street, North Minneapolis and St. Paul. “We would be doing the workshops outside amidst the rubble, and building from there.”
However, Sisson said he is comfortable with shifting goals if needed as long as more young people can be put to work. So the plan now is to offer the workshops at Elpis, either outside or in an upstairs space or in the woodworking shop.
“Paul has been in conversations with Ain Dah Yung,” Sisson said. That is an organization that also serves homeless youth by providing housing and other benefits. He said the Green Chair Project has also worked with corporate training, and that is also a possibility.
“If we didn’t have COVID-19 to worry about, we would probably be doing workshops like crazy right now. But we are all trying to figure out how to stay safe and distance.”
Working safely, about four to six trainees could complete the four-hour workshop and can easily build six chairs in that time. The workshops are free, and one chair is given away for every two that are sold. The profits are used to fund the workshops. There is no capacity for painting right now, so the chairs are unpainted cedar.
Sisson said that after a workshop, the youths will have a couple chairs that they can decide what to do with: display them, paint them or sell them.
Each workshop has three stations, according to Sisson. At one station, the arms of the chair are built. At the second station, the back of the chair is built. And at the third station, all the pieces come together.
“It’s good to team up a little bit,” Sisson said. “We are using my favorite model. You learn how to build something, and then you have to teach the next person how to do it.”
At this point, Elpis trainees have already started building chairs. Sisson said with their first run of 50 chairs, 22 have already been sold.
“Our chairs have gotten so much better over the years,” Sisson stated. “The quality, the size and the longevity.”
He said the development of the product has been a result of some of the people who have been involved over the years with the project. Tim Schwietzer helped design the big Adirondack chairs, which weigh over 2,000 pounds. And Mike Hoyt was involved with running the project for many years and is still involved in community art projects.
“We have the ability to extend this through the fall to the end of the year,” Ramsour added. “We would like to do that, selling the chairs to help fund the workshops we do. We have an opportunity this fall to have more interns, and they can learn to build the chairs and can then teach workshops. We are excited about the process.”
He said Elpis is also excited about helping bring back the Green Chair Project and that interns have the opportunity to work on a project that has been happening for a number of years.
“We have talked to a number of people about it, and people are interested. I think the challenge is figuring out how this works in the COVID-19 ecosystem. I think it can.”
Ramsour explained that COVID-19 can be a reason to build the chairs. “You can have the chairs out and about so people can sit and space and talk, and the chairs are good for doing all that.”
To purchase a chair or have a group sign up for a workshop, contact Elpis Enterprises at or call 651-644-5080.

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New life for used plywood

Posted on 28 August 2020 by Tesha Christensen

ReUSE Minnesota focuses on plain boards that will get reused in building projects and more


ReUSE Minnesota Board President Jenny Kedward said, “We are leading the effort to collect, store, and distribute plywood used in the Uprising for reuse. We respect all artwork and murals. We are working with several organizations to preserve those pieces, and to get unmarked boards back out into the community where they can be used again.” (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

In the wake of the Uprising, Minneapolis was flooded with a reusable commodity that residents weren’t used to seeing everywhere: plywood. Within four days of George Floyd’s murder, plywood covered hundreds of businesses and organizations along Lake Street from end to end, and just about everywhere else. If one business owner chose to cover windows and doors, it seemed like everybody on the block followed suit.
ReUSE Minnesota Board President Jenny Kedward is a recycling educator by trade, a professional trash talker who has been taking the message of recycling to schools, businesses, and neighborhood groups for 14 years. She said, “ReUSE Minnesota stands with our communities advocating for systems change and pursuing justice for George Floyd.”

ReUSE Minnesota is a member-based network that promotes Minnesota’s reuse, rental, and repair sector. As the only organization of its kind in the state, ReUSE Minnesota highlights the benefits of reuse both for people and the environment.
Kedward reflected, “The main thing on everybody’s mind is, ‘What can I do now?’ As a reuse organization, we are committed to keeping as much of the used plywood out of the waste stream as we can. We don’t want this stuff going into incinerators. Toward that goal, our board started a new initiative called Twin Cities Plywood Rescue.”
So far, ReUSE Minnesota has collected 642 pieces of plywood and strand board. Their volunteers have made 46 pick-ups from local businesses and organizations at no charge.
Kedward wants to keep spreading the word that Twin Cities Plywood Rescue is alive and well. She said, ”We’re in the phase now of getting those materials back out into the community to be used in new ways.”
St. Paul’s Mano a Mano (which means Hand to Hand in Spanish) received 40 boards to use in shipping recycled medical materials to underserved people in the mountains of Bolivia. Pillsbury United Communities used 30 boards to protect the floor of their newly expanded food shelf in South Minneapolis.
Non-profits or individuals may request boards for free, if it’s a hardship to pay. If possible, ReUSE Minnesota requests $3 for a full sheet of strand board and $4 for a full sheet of plywood. A full sheet measures 4’ X 8’.  The fee offsets disposal costs for reclaimed boards that aren’t usable.
A full sheet of strand board normally costs about $15; a full sheet of plywood costs about $25.

Board with murals treated
Kedward said, “When people hear about Plywood Rescue, their first concern is for the murals. We’ve separated out the boards we’ve collected that have graffiti on them. We’re offering those boards to BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) organizations and neighborhood museums first. Then we will reach out to larger institutions like the Minnesota History Center. We understand the emotions associated with artwork and controversies in working with larger institutions.”
ReUSE Minnesota is interested in plain boards for community redistribution. To donate strand board or plywood, visit their website at (minimum size 2’ X 4’).
The vision of their organization is to build a strong Minnesota reuse economy that leads the nation in well-paying reuse jobs and sales, and is driven by citizens and institutions who support a circular economy aimed at reducing waste.

“ReUSE Minnesota is a network of people led by a volunteer board of directors. We facilitate connections in the reuse, rental, and repair sector. Our members are from both for-profit and non-profit organizations of any size that are part of this sector. We welcome government partners whose works focuses on waste reduction and reuse – and we welcome individuals who are passionate about reuse.”
~ Board President Jenny Kedward


Another local initiative focuses on plywood with artwork.

According to Plywood for Good organizers: The plywood covering Minneapolis and St. Paul businesses following the killing of George Floyd is a grassroots art project. It captures the cries emanating from the people of our cities and nation to combat police brutality and systemic racism. We want to connect with the artists and businesses owners and learn their stories. Our goal is to help preserve and protect the art of this movement, to make sure art doesn’t get tossed out when taken down.”

Get in touch by emailing

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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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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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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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