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'Pursue your dreams'
Rose McGee is on vacation this month. But you would never know that by talking with her. She is busy planning for the next gathering of the Head Scarf Society, baking sweet potato pies for her weekly sale at Midtown Global Market, and helping a student she ran into at lunch who has questions about applying for college financial aid. McGee has found numerous outlets to share her time and talents with the Twin Cities community.
McGee, who lives in Golden Valley, has a grown daughter (who often helps with her projects) and son. One of McGee's passions is her dessert business, Deep Roots Desserts. She has sold her homemade southern delicacies at the Midtown Global Market since it opened in June 2006. She had good word-of-mouth sales from selling at the Minneapolis Farmers' Market, but jumped at the opportunity to move to the diverse shopping center she calls "MGM."
McGee was born in Jackson, Tenn., and raised there by her grandmother. She spent her summers in Minnesota with her dad. She ultimately ended up settling here. The concept of Deep Roots Desserts comes from her roots in the South, McGee said. "The sweet potato pie is really the sacred dessert of our culture," she said. The play on words is that the sweet potato is also a root plant. She also makes a mango cobbler, which was her own creation, a twist on popular peach cobbler.
McGee began taking her sweet potato pies to work during Black History Month. It was a co-worker who suggested she turn it into a business. She had to get insurance, rent a commercial kitchen and obtain a license in order to do it. "From a business perspective it's a lot of work and expensive," she said. But that hasn't stopped her from sharing her roots with others. It just takes a little creativity to make it work. She does the all the baking herself in the rented kitchens and takes it to the Midtown Global Market on Saturdays. Her daughter and a few other women and girls help her sell.
Each Saturday she features 85 different items, including sweet potato pies, chocolate sweet potato pies, mango cobblers and garlic sweet potato corn bread and more. "That is quite a bit of inventory, but we move it," she said. "I created a sweet potato pie on a stick during the fair season last year, and that was pretty popular," she said. She has been invited to bring her chocolate sweet potato pie to a chocolate event being held at the Renaissance Fair this September.
Although Deep Roots Desserts is growing. McGee can't commit to it full time-in her "day job" she is as an advisor with Minneapolis-based Achieve!, a nonprofit that works with high school students to help them develop plans for post-high school education or work. But the Midtown Global Market has become a second home to her. She sells her pies there, but that's only half of it. She has become close to many of the merchants there, and worries that they don't get the business they deserve because some potential customers aren't excited by the MGM's location at Chicago and Lake in Minneapolis.
Tea and scarves
Another of McGee's passions is her Head Scarf Society, which meets at MGM. "When we started Head Scarf Society, I knew I wanted something that would bring women and girls together," McGee said. Impressed by the popularity and influence of the Red Hat Society, McGee wanted to find a common thread between women, and the idea of the head scarf came up. "Practically everybody wears a scarf," she said, whether it is a bandana, a shawl, a scarf or any other head wrap.
The next meeting of the Head Scarf Society is Saturday, Aug. 25, at the Midtown Global Market, 940 E. Lake St., Minneapolis, from 3 to 5 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door. For further information or to purchase tickets, contact Rose McGee at 763-544-9366, or stop by her Deep Roots Desserts table at the Midtown Global Market on Saturdays. Deep Roots is located in front of Pham's Deli, just off the market's central plaza.
"And what I began to realize was, this little piece of rag has so much power," McGee said. "A lot of women wear the head scarf for a bad hair day, or they wear it for health reasons or religious reasons or cultural reasons or designer reasons. And I said that's it: the head scarf."
The first meeting of the Head Scarf Society was last October. At each event the women and girls drink tea, listen to speakers, eat food from the vendors at MGM and socialize. "Girls need mentoring, [some] women need mentoring ... some women may not necessarily want mentoring as much as they just want to connect with others," McGee said. "Many women and girls are in pain and they're not real clear on what to do. This is a really lovely way to bring women together to talk." McGee said the teas are also a time for women and girls to stop and relax and reflect, which are natural reactions to drinking tea because of its calming effects. "It's very healing."
The drinking of the tea has three parts and is based on McGee's master's degree project, Tea Lit. It combines three servings of three different teas with literature, the arts and service learning. "What it does is it brings people together, over tea, centered around the arts," she said. Five women, including McGee's daughter and sister, help her pull it off.
Potential to achieve
Another way McGee touches lives in the community is through Achieve! Minneapolis. Achieve! exists "to make sure each student in Minneapolis public schools has a plan after graduation," she said. Achieve! established career and college centers in each of the seven mainstream high schools in Minneapolis. Then the school system realized these centers were necessary for alternative high school students. McGee's new role, which she starts in August, is reaching out to these parents, who may not understand or think about their children's options after high school.
"The question is how do we get to these parents?" she said. She reaches out to them in the community, at basketball games or wherever they are. Her job is to inform them about the options, about financial aid, about help that is available and what they need to do to encourage their children's futures.
"Students of color and low-income, that's our key focus," she said. "For the most part, students of upper class, they're getting that information or they have access to that information. But it doesn't mean that we're denying anyone that information."
"I just believe that every student has the ability to be a success," McGee said. But she understands that working with alternative high school students has its extra challenges because there are usually outside factors that affect the students, extra hurdles these students are having to get around.
Passion to spare
In her spare time, McGee has made time to do some writing. She has published three poetry books and written three plays.
"Kumbayah the Juneteenth Story" is a popular play that she has been doing for a few years. The play is about the day that blacks were officially released from slavery, known as Juneteenth. "The Twin Cities Juneteenth committee asked me if I would create some sort of educational entertainment so people would know what this is about," she said. She also does a show called School Matters for the Minneapolis public schools, where she presents the positive things going on in the district, and does professional storytelling with Vocal Essence and the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra.
Although McGee's work in the community has made her a role model, she prefers focusing on others. "It's amazing how many wonderful people I've met," she said.
But she is open to offering a bit of advice. "From a business perspective, and to women especially, it is important if you have a dream, if you have a passion to pursue it. I don't ever want to feel like 'Oh, I wish I had tried it' and I didn't," she said. "You don't know how anything is going to work if you don't try it."
©2007 Minnesota Women's Press