NENA Board President
By JEROME EVANS
Dear Nokomis East Community: this is a letter of gratitude. In case we haven’t met, my name is Jerome Evans and I chair the board of directors for our Nokomis East Neighborhood Association (NENA). I served on the board for a few years before becoming chair so I can tell you that 2020 has been a year of unprecedented challenge, resilience, and growth for our organization. Neighborhoods 2020, the outbreak of the coronavirus, and the killing of George Floyd have tested NENA’s organizational skills, caused us to question the way that we undertake our mission, and demonstrated that NENA is an invaluable resource for this community.
In a typical year NENA’s board and staff plan and put on community building events like the State of our Neighborhood, Monarch Festival, Bossen Renter’s Party, or Night Before New Year’s Eve celebration. This year, in light of the risks that the coronavirus poses for some residents, we are planning for food distribution for people who are isolated or otherwise unable to secure food. In a typical year we might organize around allocating the Curb Appeal Matching Grant, continuing the Green Fair, and educating residents through our Lead Poisoning Prevention Program. But this year we were called upon to organize for the safety of our entire community and to do so with little to no notice.
And we did it. On May 30 when local leaders suggested that we band together for communication and defense in light of public safety concerns sparked by the death of George Floyd while he was in the custody of the Minneapolis Police Department – NENA called and the community responded. I can only be profoundly grateful to the people of Nokomis East for putting aside their plans for that Saturday, defying the medium-term risk posed by the coronavirus, and coming together to confront a short-term and unknown risk to our collective safety. And I am grateful to NENA board members, staff, and community members who stayed up all night that first night watching for danger and then turned around and did it again the next night!
This could not have happened in a different community. And I’ll tell you another thing that I’m grateful for. The death of George Floyd has sparked conversations on racial equity and white privilege in our community that I never expected us to have. As a gay, Black man living in our once redlined community it gives me great hope to see communities that once encouraged segregation now contemplating how their actions may have unintentionally perpetuated systems of oppression for other people. That gives me great hope for our future. Perhaps the dream of equality for every American really can mean equality for every American.
On a personal level, I’m comfortable sharing that I have been challenged to rethink the way that my actions contribute to our system. For example, as chair of NENA I never questioned the community safety meetings that we’d host or how we might define the type of ‘suspicious activity’ that would prompt a call to the police. Did NENA inadvertently encourage our community to engage in racial profiling? I hope not. But moving forward we will be more direct and forthright in leading with our commitment to racial equity. We will support the community’s interest in education on racial equity, support efforts to stand in solidarity with more diverse communities, and provide space for more BIPOC residents to congregate, heal, and help lead.
Perhaps instead of or in addition to meetings with law enforcement, we can host meetings with community members who we don’t often hear from. Last week, I personally held a Community Conversation regarding Achieving Racial Equity. I hosted a law professor, an educator, and a Nokomis East community member. What struck me most from my conversation with Luis Rosario is how much he loves our community. Even when he feels that he is being racially profiled, he loves being a part of Nokomis East and all that that means. By providing him with a platform to share his experience I gained insight into the importance of NENA engaging in racial equity work that benefits everyone in our community and, perhaps, community members got the opportunity to see how damaging racial profiling our neighbors can be.
I love our community and I believe that we have risen to the challenges that 2020 has thrown at us. Thank you for committing yourselves to creating a more equitable Nokomis East. I assure you that I and NENA will be learning, growing, and supporting you grow through this challenging time. Thank you.
Editor's note: Jerome Evans is running for State Representative 63B in this year's election.