Changing face of Brooklyn Park

Joy Marsh Stephens moved to Brooklyn Park in the late 1990s for the promise of a safer, better community. What she found was a mostly white area that wasn’t always welcoming. Today, Brooklyn Park has growing diversity, which Stephens appreciates, but also more poverty. Stephens wishes the city would face the problems head on, rather than focusing on its current rebranding strategy.

This is one of a series of four stories, looking at the issues of subsidies, affordable housing, and segregation.

• Eagan vs. Frogtown: Should housing subsidies increase integration in suburbs or improve housing in low-income neighborhoods?
• Nelima Sitati: Make sure people of color are at the decision making table in housing discussions
• Is Frogtown going to gentrify?
• Changing face of Brooklyn Park

Secretary of the Board of Isaiah, a faith-based social justice coalition of congregations, Stephens said her work is focused in Brooklyn Park, which has recently seen a lot of development, but has a “vast wealth disparity from a racial standpoint.” 

Stephens moved to Brooklyn Park in 1998 from South Minneapolis. “There was a myth that the suburbs were better,” she said. “That the schools were better, the communities were better — all of those myths. That’s why I bought into it.”

But when she got out to Brooklyn Park, “It wasn’t all I thought it was going to be,” she said. At the time, the city was “significantly less diverse than it is today,” she said.  In an email, she noted that "the city wasn't really set up to positively respond to the changing racial demographic. That hasn't really changed all that much since I've been here. Fifteen years ago, it didn't matters as much. Today it is a much bigger deal. The people on my street, by and large, were quite welcoming. Welcoming neighbors didn't equate to racially conscious schools, however."

Her eldest daughter, who had spent first grade in a school in Minneapolis, had been doing well academically. But when she moved to Brooklyn Pak, somehow she didn’t qualify for gifted and talented programs, and the teachers focused on her behavior.  Over time, her daughter’s confidence level decreased, to the point were Stephens pulled her out of the school that was literally across the street and sent her back to school in Minneapolis. 

As the demographics changed, many people were not as comfortable. Now that Brooklyn Park has become more diverse, “to me it’s a great delight,” she said.

Today, Brooklyn Park has about 50 percent people of color, many of them African Americans, African immigrants and Asian Americans. Stephens said that many people have moved to the suburb from North Minneapolis for better opportunities, but the shifting demographics also has unintended consequences.

For example — one woman Stephens knows, who is an African immigrant, told Stephens that when she and her mother were looking for a place to live, were told by the real estate agent that Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center were the two places she should look. “She was steered away from Eden Prairie and Edina,” Stephens said.

Even within Brooklyn Park, there are different experiences depending on where you live, Stephens said. The city is divided into north and south sides, with a dividing line at 85th Street. The north side has larger homes with fewer people of color and the south side has an older, more diverse and blended community. 

Currently, Stephens said, the city has contracted a consulting company to rebrand Brooklyn Park, emphasizing the great things about the city.

“I’m very happy on the street that I live,” she said. “It is a great community.” At the same time, she doesn’t think poor PR is really the city’s biggest challenge.

Brooklyn Park’s City Council members — who  are all white — “don’t have an intentional relationship with communities of color,” she said. “Their perspective is things are great — let’s ignore the negatives.”


CORRECTION: Stephens was originally quoted as saying that her family was the only black family on her block when she moved in. She contacted TCDP to correct this, saying that there was another Black family on the street when she moved in. 

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  • I just saw that last line of this article...I know one has to be careful of taking quotes literally in the media but... I may be White, my family (including my great grandma) is not. MLK said "judge me for the content of my character and not the color of my skin." So, I very much DO have, as a CM and an activist, an intentional relationship with communities of color. Watch council meetings and see my continuous remarks and push to eliminate disparities. See my record as Chair of the HRC and that I moved that body towards real policy for communities of color. I started the conversation about contract compliance, bias complaints...check the minutes. I also investigated, as a civil rights lawyer, complaints of discrimination and worked pro bono cases on folks of color behalf in discrimination cases. I was a Board member on the League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions. You do not have to BE a person of color to be just as passionate about the cause. I've been in BP over 30 years and advocating for many of those. That statement in this article is not true, and proves politics can be very divisive. But again, it doesn't take away from the work that has been done! - by Elizabeth Knight on Sat, 02/15/2014 - 2:44pm
  • Luckily for Brooklyn Park, Joy Stephens is running for Mayor. It is awesome to have a candidate with a vision for Brooklyn Park that brings us to our rightful place as MN's 6th largest city and celebrates the diversity in people and in our many small businesses. - by George F. Greene on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:08pm
  • I also thought former mayor Steve Lampi did a lot to reach out to immigrant communities- and was very intentional about it. - by Denise Rene Wollenburg Hannah on Mon, 02/17/2014 - 1:39pm
  • So, I agree with the part about getting someone not white in the council, but you'll have degrees of difference in financial status so of course you'll have different looking neighborhoods. I wish I could live in the big houses but I can't afford it, my friends that DO live over there work really hard to get there big house. What's the point? What do you think is a better looking city? Because if we start putting cheap apts in the higher costing properties they'll be crapped on like my apt building. What I see at my apts is that People who don't have to pay very much or work very hard for their home don't take care of it! - by Krista Bouchard on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 12:53pm
  • I certainly agree with Joy that we need to face the community's problems, rather than trying to "rebrand" them away. But I have to dispute that no Council members "have an intentional relationship with communities of color." Councilmember Elizabeth Knight certainly does--but she is just one person, and is pretty much going it alone. Without doubt, we need a City Council whose members are representative of the diversity which exists in Brooklyn Park. - by Evelyn Staus on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 5:24pm
  • It is so refreshing to hear a Mayoral candidate speaking so candidly about the reality of our community! - by Mandi Studler on Thu, 02/13/2014 - 4:52pm

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Sheila Regan's picture
Sheila Regan

Sheila Regan (sheila [at] tcdailyplanet [dot] net) is a Minneapolis theater artist and freelance writer.