Hundreds of people lined up for a hygiene supply and food distribution outside the Hennepin Health Care Clinic at 27th Avenue and East Lake Street on June 18, 2020. The clinic had filled out Rebuild Longfellow's Business Needs survey, requesting volunteer support for this event. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)[/caption]
At a spontaneously organized meeting on May 30, 2020, community activist Francisco Segovia spoke to a crowd of several hundred people gathered at Longfellow Park. With many Lake Street businesses still smoldering, he said, “Now is the time to show up and make a difference – we need to really show our heart as a neighborhood.”
Human resources specialist Sonja Blackstone was in the crowd that afternoon. She has been a block club leader since she bought her Longfellow home five years ago, and the block she moved to has been organized consistently for more than 50 years.
She said, “People were worried about immediate safety during the riots. Keeping an eye on our neighborhoods, that’s what we do as block club leaders. A lot of people were exposed to block clubs that day who hadn’t heard of them before. We started the idea of night shifts. We suggested guidelines for safety. We got people connected.”
Josh Peterson was in the crowd, too. He said, “We were all trying to get our collective feet on the ground, and figure out how to best respond to the destruction in our community.”
A former special operations officer in Afghanistan and Iraq, Peterson is used to thinking quickly and mobilizing teams. He joined five other business professionals interested in helping small businesses affected by looting and arson along Lake Street. The result of their first brainstorming session at the park, and nearly daily meetings since then, is a new grassroots initiative called Rebuild Longfellow.
“Often when there is crisis, people don’t know what to do because it’s so overwhelming,” said Peterson.
Matching business owners and block clubs
Rebuild Longfellow is trying to keep things simple. Their primary goal is to match two neighborhood groups: business owners and block clubs. Longfellow contains some 500 restaurants, coffee shops, hardware stores, beauty parlors, grocery stores, mosques, banks, laundromats, pharmacies, daycare centers, churches, libraries, doctor’s offices, dental clinics, and more. All are considered businesses for the purposes of this partnership. Rebuild Longfellow is partnering with the Longfellow Business Association (LBA), Longfellow Community Council, and Lake Street Council to balance moving quickly with planning for the long-term community work the neighborhood needs.
Peterson said, “We have already received requests from 90+ block clubs that want to adopt local businesses and help them succeed well into the future. We’re looking at both the physical damage from the recent unrest, and the economic devastation from COVID 19. Each participating block club will receive a list of 10 businesses to contact.”
In the days since that first meeting in Longfellow Park, the business group has developed a short questionnaire and sent it to every business listed in the Longfellow Business Directory, published jointly by the LBA and the Longfellow Nokomis Messenger.
Peterson said, “We’re focusing on the long term needs of our area businesses. We’ll let the business owners lead, and tell us how we can support them with our available skills.”
ENRAGED AND INSPIRED
“Many of us see this as a moment to reflect upon the broad systems that have entrenched racial injustices in our community. However, reflection is only the first step, and we are determined to take actions to ensure that Longfellow centers justice in all of its decision making. We are simultaneously enraged and inspired to create ‘un mundo donde quepan todos los mundos:' a world where all worlds fit.”
From Francisco Segovia, executive director of Communities Organizing Latinx Power and Action (COPAL)
Stepping into really long story of racial inequality
Neighbors see this as a turning point to finally do something about racial inequality.
Peterson said, “Our group isn’t about being fancy. Rebuild Longfellow is scrapped together and focused on action. We’re stepping into a really long story of racial inequality, one that was written hundreds of years ago. We’re taking these initial steps of creating a survey and a website, and connecting block clubs with local businesses. We’re hoping our partnership goes way beyond replacing buildings, but this is where we’re starting.”
Blackstone added, “Now that curfews and vigilant night watches are over, we’re still watching out for our neighbors. We’re helping to build more meaningful connections. Once those relationships are solid, we can start having conversations about fighting racism. I’m focusing my energy on deepening community connections.”
The Rebuild Longfellow website will be up and running soon at www.rebuildlongfellow.org. Email Josh Peterson with questions about how to get involved at firstname.lastname@example.org. Email Sonja Blackstone if your block club is interested in adopting Lake Street businesses at LongfellowCommunityGathering@gmail.com.
Blackstone concluded, “This process of partnering with local businesses and deepening relationships with our neighbors is going to take time. It’s going to be a marathon, not a sprint. Let’s give ourselves a full year, like the city council is doing with the Minneapolis Police Department, to look slowly and critically look at ourselves, our neighborhoods, and our city.”