An interview with the president of MAD DADS

Dressed in green hoodies and caps, a group of men ride the bus back-and-forth or stand outside of community centers in South Minneapolis, starting serious conversations with other men. These people are the MAD DADS, an acronym which stands for Men Against Destruction, Defending Against Drugs and Social-disorder. MAD DADS is a national group of volunteers that does frontline outreach, supports incarcerated men, and helps youth turn their lives around. The volunteers are African American men who, just like the people they serve, are likely to have the personal experiences of being targeted by systems of power and the police, as well as have had exposure to gang violence. The MAD DADS may just be the critical factor that stops a community member from pulling out his gun or otherwise using violence to deal with the pressures of his environment. Continue Reading

Mayor Hodges Youth Council: The new hires

Minnesota’s achievement gap is consistently one of the worst in the country.  While policy makers have attempted to close the gap, standardized test scores show that little to nothing has changed. According to the Minnesota Comprehensive Assessment (MCAs) tests taken in 2014, white students are outperforming students of color in every subject by an average of 20 points.  Although standardized test scores do not measure the full potential of a student, they are currently one of the most important factors in determining where and if a student will attend college. In July, Mayor Betsy Hodges of Minneapolis announced that she has hired two new advisors to respond to the inequities in the childhood development and education: Angela Watts, whose position is an existing one, will oversee programs aimed at early childhood development; and Phillipe Cunningham, whose position is brand new, will serve as the senior policy aide overseeing initiatives for youth ages 5-24 such as My Brother’s Keeper. Continue Reading

Notes from America: Killing an Arab! … the tragic journey of Aylan Kurdi

Killing an Arab! “Standing on the beach
With a gun in my hand
Staring at the sea
Staring at the sand
Staring down the barrel
At the Arab on the ground
I can see his open mouth
But I hear no sound…”

The song for the British band “The Cure” was inspired by Albert Camus’s novel “The Stranger,” which published in 1946 and sold millions, causing a lot of controversy because of its tilt. However, in Camus’s novel, he was dealing with existentialism, and the title “Killing an Arab” was taken to reflect emptiness of life after killing a man on an Algerian beach. This is how millions around the world felt after they first saw the photo of the Syrian 3-year-old Aylan’s lifeless tiny body, washed up on the Turkish beach, his red T-shirt, blue shorts with his small shoes still on his tiny feet and his face down rested on the sand. Camus’s book tells the story of senseless killing of an Arab on Algerian beach. It explored what he termed “the nakedness of man faced with the absurd.” Continue Reading

Ayatollah Google

Ayatollah Google!! “The control of information is something the elite always do, particularly in a despotic form of government. Information, knowledge, is power. If you can control information, you can control people,” explained American writer Tom Clancy. If information were power, then Google would be the most powerful institution on the planet. Continue Reading

Southwest LRT: Conflict of Interest

The Minnehaha Creek Watershed District (MCWD) purchased 17 acres of land across the street from the proposed Southwest LRT station at Blake Road. The land deal was brokered in 2011 for $15 million for redevelopment investment, storm water storage and Minnehaha Creek restoration. Normally the last process hurtle before shovels break the soil is a watershed district permit. Odds are the appointed MCWD Board of Managers would vote to permit SWLRT construction. When developers take over a watershed the mandate to protect the water commons is compromised. Continue Reading

Notes From America: Arab dictators should look for a second career!!

The Arab Spring in the last four years or so forced a few Arab dictators prematurely from their jobs, where they have a heck of a time handling their imposed retirements. In a democratic world, leaders usually get a job review after a few years, then once they leave office, they have to explore their options and develop different skills. Some, like President Carter, go into humanitarian work to do all the things they couldn’t do while in office. Others, like Clinton, go on a talking circuit to recoup all the money they spent on litigation while in office, or Blair, who has gone on tour like a political mercenary. Others go back to the private sector as lobbyists or consultants to make hard-earned government experience available for a price. Continue Reading

Notes from America: Watermelon’s Summer Tales

Mark Twain once said, “When one has tasted watermelon he knows what the angels eat.” And most likely, that angel was an Egyptian.  Egyptians were the first to discover watermelons 5000 years ago and then shared them with the rest of civilization in the 10th century. When it comes to eating watermelons, there are many cultural innovations on how watermelons are consumed. The Japanese will elegantly decorate them and give them as gifts. In other part of Asia, people will pickle watermelons – a culinary violation that is very hard for Egyptians to swallow.  Egyptians may pickle their Pharos, but watermelons are higher in their food chain. Egyptians consider watermelon a live food, which should be cut and eaten fresh. No canned watermelon, or jams. I know that for most Americans, it has been customary and almost a patriotic act to eat watermelon during 4th of July picnic. Before the Al Sisi takeover, some speculate that the color of the Egyptian national flag was inspired by watermelons- with its white, red and black (seeds, remember that) look. Most watermelons in America are sadly seedless.  Americans for some mysterious reason are terrified of seeds in foods like olives, oranges, grapes and watermelons; this seed-phobia is seeded in the Americans fixation on guarding their teeth. Continue Reading

From the Golden Leaf to The Abiders

On sun-washed, Saturday May 9, the good people of Minneapolis are discovering the emerging greens and gentle breezes of spring and the soft serves at Dairy Queen. Through late afternoon, scents of lilac and freshly mowed lawn and bird song greet folks out for a neighborhood walk or a spin around their chain of lakes. I, however, am hanging out in The Golden Leaf, a tobacco and cigar sampling store on Lake Street near Bryant Avenue. I’m perched on a bar stool near a large, walk-in humidor and have a decent view of the Twins/Indians game on a flat screen TV. A helpful attendant has selected a handmade Dominican cigar for me. Continue Reading

40 and forward logo

Celebrating 40 years of Southeast Asian Minnesotans

On July 30th, the Washington D.C.-based Southeast Asian Resource Action Center will convene a special community reception at the McNamara Alumni Center at the University of Minnesota. Part of the national 40 and Forward campaign, the reception will take place from 5:30-8:00 PM and will reflect on forty years of the Southeast Asian American journey. For Minnesotans, this is a year that has led to significant soul searching as they consider the next directions to take. For the Lao community, for example, there are nearly enough Lao to form a city the size of Crystal, but only a handful of organizations in Minnesota who can meet the needs of the most vulnerable members of their community. As dialogues continue on issues of health care reform, immigration reform, and education reform, it is a time to consider where the Lao voice will fit in, especially as the 2016 election season approaches. Continue Reading