toxic stress

“I’m ready to die” Jamar Clark, school violence and toxic stress

What does it say when, within a minute of the police arriving, a young black man speaks those words? And when, within 61 seconds, that young black man lies dead? What does it say when teachers who are worried about their (and their students’) safety are labeled racist? What does it say when the vast majority of our children who grow up in worlds of “toxic stress” are low-income students and students of color? It says a lot about us, about our disregard for our children, particularly the most vulnerable. Continue Reading


McCollum, Ellison cosponsor resolution calling for end to conversion therapy

Reps. Betty McCollum and Keith Ellison are cosponsors of a resolution in the U.S. House that calls on states to ban conversion therapy for minors. The Stop Harming Our Kids Resolution was introduced by Rep. Jackie Speier, a Democrat from California. McCollum and Ellison are among 34 co-sponsors of the resolution.The SHOK resolution states, in part:It is the sense of Congress that sexual orientation and gender identity or expression change efforts directed at minors are discredited and ineffective, have no legitimate therapeutic purpose, and are dangerous and harmful.Congress encourages each State to take steps to protect minors from efforts that promote or promise to change sexual orientation or gender identity or expression, based on the premise that homosexuality is a mental illness or developmental disorder that can or should be cured.“It’s time to end this abusive quackery masquerading as medicine,” Speier said in statement. “Being transgender, gay, lesbian, or bisexual is not a disease to be cured or a mental illness that requires treatment. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Documentary film hires north Minneapolis youth to challenge dominant narratives

In September of 2013, I joined the Community Technology Empowerment Project AmeriCorps, or CTEP (“C-tep”) for short. I’ve spent the last year promoting digital access and literacy with my cohort of 30-some fellow AmeriCorps members throughout the Twin Cities. That’s where I met Adja Gildersleve. Adja has a vision. She is, among other things, a documentarist, and wants to engage our local communities in dialogue about issues she’s passionate about, like racial and social equity, empowerment of community voices, and digital literacy. She had been dreaming up this particular project for a while, and has been so excited to make it into a reality. Continue Reading

Crystal Ruiz, host of Capri Theater's Freedom of Xpression Open Mic

Capri Theater’s Open Mic offers a lab for performance talent in North Minneapolis

The young woman sauntered onto the stage, cracked a half smile then pulled the mike almost to her lips.  The lights dimmed, music piped in and the spotlight turned onto her.   The smoky voice that emerged from this girl was surprising as was the melody.  Here on the Capri Theater stage in North Minneapolis, an African American girl was singing a jazz song popularized by Billie Holiday, an American cultural icon of the 1940s.  The audience of about 50 young students, teens and middle aged folks hooted and howled encouragement when this aspiring singer ended her rendition.  She glowed with a big smile, waved, and bounded off into the wings. This performance is typical of the monthly Open Mic sessions at the Capri Theater.  Held on the first Monday evening, Freedom of Xpression (FOX) provides a free platform for emerging and amateur artists to test and hone their art form.  Anyone who wishes an audience for her creative expressions has five minutes to unleash that talent at Capri’s FOX Open Mic.  Poets, rappers, dancers, singers, musicians have come on stage to get a no-risk and free opportunity to share their craft with a diverse audience.  Any art form is allowed and the range of expressions is wide.   Immediately following a hip-hop poet, a Hmong student played the queej (traditional pan flute) and danced to rousing audience approval at a recent FOX Open Mic.FULL DISCLOSURE: Lee-Hoon Benson works for PCYC.  Poet Crystal “Azteca” Ruiz has hosted the Capri’s FOX Open Mic since late 2009. This emcee role is a natural outgrowth from Ruiz’s regular job as a student advisor at the alternative high school run by Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC). Hosting the monthly FOX Open Mic also allows Ruiz to publicly share her creative impulses.  Soft-spoken yet firm, Ruiz is passionate about giving young people a chance to develop their talents and test their alter egos on stage.  Ruiz encourages the high school students at PCYC to perform at FOX Open Mic.  She especially reaches out to female students.  Many high schoolers have taken up Ruiz’s offer; some for the first time, but many reprising or honing their earlier FOX Open Mic performances.   Since its inception more than five years ago, FOX Open Mic has drawn performers mainly from neighborhoods that surround the Capri Theater.  Many North Minneapolis performance groups have tested and refined their material here.  One such group is the “Why So Serious” hip-hop collective of North Minneapolis.  Collective member, Marquis “Eddiecane” Harris, said performing more than a dozen times at Capri’s FOX Open Mic gave them the exposure they needed.  “Why So Serious” has produced several albums since 2010. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | East Side of St. Paul is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ until a serious incident happens

In recent weeks, a devastating incident occurred on the Eastside of St. Paul where several teens allegedly beat a passerby until he was unconscious. This is a circumstance that no person should have to endure. One of the notable pieces of information that has surfaced is the fact that the passerby was white and the teens were African American. Although some within the broader community argue that the attack was based on race, the reality is that in light of the circumstances under which the attack occurred, the victim could arguably have been any individual who was within the vicinity of the young people in question. Actually, a similar severe beating of an innocent Black man, Edwin Daniel, by five young Somali men occurred on the Eastside just a few years prior to this most recent incident.The factors that contribute to these types of horrific episodes, including shootings by young people against other young people, may revolve around underlying issues at the intersection of race and poverty that are pervasive on the East Side of St. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | The Brian Coyle Center Brotherhood Program: empowering young Somali men to lead and inspire

On the 19th of August 2013, 11 young men who grew up in the Cedar-Riverside neighborhood of the West Bank in Minneapolis, and who completed high school this year, will have an opportunity to travel to Atlanta, Georgia. This opportunity was realized through the Brotherhood Program at the Cedar Riverside-based Brian Coyle Community Center. The Brotherhood Program emphasizes the need to be inspired, to educate and to be empowered to do better for oneself and community.I am an out-of-school educator and advocate with the Brian Coyle Community Center of Pillsbury United Communities (PUC). I have several roles within the community center: I supervise teens who are employed with our agency during the summer, help tutor in the fall, mentor kids aged 6-18 in our youth program, and I am one of the leads for the Brotherhood Program. In the Cedar-Riverside community, which is home to a large base of African immigrants — mostly Somalis — young men and women are constantly challenged by exaggerated tales of their community being drug infested and violent. Continue Reading

The red srore catches your eye as you drive by.

NEIGHBORHOOD NOTES | Venture North: A favorite Harrison destination for bikers and coffee lovers

Looking for a great destination within a short bike ride of downtown Minneapolis? Head down Glenwood Avenue and in about 10 minutes you will find a bright red building with a mural on the side. As you walk into the cozy shop you will hear the beats coming from vintage records; then your eye drifts over to the left and you find the coffee bar, where among your options are a cold smoothie, hot tea, or the pour over, which is a cup of coffee made one cup at a time just for you. Then you see the bikes for sale, and now you know you are in one cool place.Venture North has a unique position in North Minneapolis; it is one of the few coffee shops on this side of the city, where bike repair and sale businesses are even more rare and they tie it all together with a youth empowerment service. The youth programs are the heart of Venture North: the staff take in youth and train them as bicycle mechanics and toss in some sales and customer relation skills as well.The empowerment programs and classes include the following: All About Bikes is the bike mechanic apprenticeship program for youth ages 15-23; Pedal Power is a special program for girls ages 10-12; Earn a Bike is a safety and basic repair school for ages 6-12, and upon completion of the program the youth get to keep the bike they fixed. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | An open letter to the faith community: A call to action

“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” – Matthew 25:40We are a nation divided.Nothing illustrates that more than the cascading protests, rallies, and ardent cries for justice in the aftermath of the “not guilty” verdict in the George Zimmerman trial. Those outcries and the concurrent spirit of indifference on the part of many privileged Americans tell us all we need to know about how far we still have to go before we see each other the way God would expect.Indeed, the murder of Trayvon Martin, an unarmed teenager, painfully reminds African Americans as a community that in spite of possessing the unsurpassable worth granted by Christ, black life is without value to the broader society.While many of us expected to hear words of comfort, hope, and a renewed call for love and justice in our respective houses of worship, instead most of us encountered a resounding immoral silence. Although this silence has been most pronounced and identifiable recently, it is not new. It has been a hallmark of our hasty acceptance of a supposedly post-racial nation, and has contributed to the suffering of the most vulnerable, and “the least of these” within our society.Poor people in general suffer from limited opportunity and access to basic necessities. However, poor boys and men of color – especially African Americans – not only suffer in ways that degrade their humanity, but they are systematically excluded from equitable participation within our society, are denied access to equal opportunity, and are blamed for conditions that have been constructed to disadvantage them.These young men are often feared, viewed with suspicion, criminalized, harassed, and treated with contempt. Continue Reading