Are Asian Americans benefiting from NAZ and Saint Paul Promise Neighborhoods?


As I reported on the Twin Cities’ two recipients of Promise Neighborhood grants — the Northside Achievement Zone in Minneapolis, and the Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood in St. Paul — a question came up for me about the demographics of families served in these programs. Both of the areas have significant Hmong and Asian populations, although perhaps they are not in the majority. I wonder what the two programs are doing to reach out to those populations.

The area that NAZ serves — bounded by 35th Avenue on the North, West Broadway on the south, I-94 on the east and Penn Avenue on the west — has about an 18 percent Asian American population, with 47 percent African American and 20 percent white population. The area also contains an eight percent Hispanic population, with seven percent comprised of “multiracial, American Indian, or other ethnicities,” according to NAZ’s website, which was drawn from the 2010 census. 

The Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood has an even larger Asian American population. The area, containing about 22,214 residents, contains a 39 percent African-American population and a 26 percent Asian American population. 

In both of the targeted areas, the African American populations were larger than the Asian American populations, and so I wondered — how would NAZ and SPNN reach out to all groups that might benefit from their services?

In their pilot year, which NAZ conducted without federal Promise Neighborhood funding, NAZ’s pilot families were 98 percent African American, according to the organization’s 2011 annual report. When I spoke with Andre Dukes, who runs the parenting classes, he said they had one Hmong family this past year, and were making efforts to increase that, especially in terms of staffing. About eleven days ago, they had a listing on Minnesota Council for Nonprofits for a Hmong Navigator, which is no longer posted.

SPNN received federal dollars for the planning stages but didn’t receive an implementation grant for the current year. (They just applied for next year.) I recently stopped by the Freedom School that is run by SPPN. Of the 186 children that participated, 118 were African American, 20 were Asian, 15 were white, 12 were multi-racial, three were American Indian or Native Alaskan, and 18 were “some other race” (14 were Hispanic, which is calculated separately from race). 

So it seems that, at least in terms of the SPPN’s Freedom School and  the first year of programming at NAZ, the percentage of African American children reached is proportionally greater than the population as a whole, and the substantial Asian American populations haven’t been engaged in programming in the proportion that they exist in the neighborhoods. I bring this up not in any way to say that African Americans benefiting from these programs is a bad thing, but I wonder why the Asian populations haven’t been engaged as much. Perhaps it has to do with social networks, or outreach methods, or that somehow African American families are more interested in the programming that’s offered that Asian American families.

I think it is relevant to the broader discussion about the achievement gap in general. Statistics have shown that African American and American Indian students are the most affected by the achievement gap, but that’s not to say that Asian American and Latino students aren’t affected as well. In looking at solutions for the achievement gap, there has to be a way at including all children who are affected — not just the ones that are affected the most.