Neighborhood groups protest at the Seward Friendship Store.

Neighborhood groups and Seward Friendship store agree to agree

It was one of the last hot days of September, and an impromptu group of people gathered underneath a big “EVERYONE WELCOME” sign on the front of the brand new green and beige building for a press conference. The Seward Friendship store was set to open by the end of the week. It was the new branch of one of the largest co-ops in the country, right on the border of the Bryant and Central neighborhoods in South Minneapolis. The area is both home to a critical mass of the city’s low-income communities and long-time home to many of Minneapolis’ people of color.

The press conference was not without tension. Activists from CANDO, the neighborhood group representing South Minneapolis’ diverse Central neighborhood, had spent all summer knocking on doors trying to get neighbors interested in their petition. At the time, earlier in the summer, chances seemed slim that anything would happen.

“We don’t have any leverage,” I remember one of the CANDO faithful telling me at a meeting a few months before.

By July, negotiations had fallen apart between the neighborhood groups and The Seward Co-op. The new store on 38th Street was in the heart of the South Minneapolis food desert and along one of the city’s few historically African-American business corridors. For most of the summer, the parties seemed far apart on the key issues: hiring practices that reflected the diverse demographics of the neighborhood and discounts on food and membership for low-income neighbors. In fact, the two sides couldn’t even agree on what to call a potential agreement: CANDO was demanding a CBA (community benefits agreement) while the Seward staffers had, for a while, offered an MBA (mutual benefits agreement). Neither side was happy with the other’s position, and after a few heated and unproductive community meetings, the official word from Seward was that they were not going to sign anything before the October opening of the new store. Any agreement would wait until next year, months after the crucial hiring had been completed. That timeline did not sit well with concerned neighbors. Continue Reading

Still no clues on the West Broadway fire

In April, an intense fire devastated historic buildings on West Broadway. After a press conference raised the possibility of arson, investigators are no closer to knowing what happened, while the neighborhood is rebuilding. “You already had a press conference with the fire chief,” Marie Egbujor told me. “They probably don’t know who did it. It’s pretty dead right now, business is pretty down.”

But was it arson? Continue Reading

No Blues for Adelabu: A Mississippi Ride with Amoke Kubat

As part of the 2015 Mississippi River Revue, put on by the Mississippi River Fund, artist and community organizer Amoke Kubat gathered some friends onto a Saint Paul riverboat to share stories of African and African American river life.

Check out the sounds and sights of the two-hour trip up the Mississippi and Minnesota. The evening full of song and story ended with a pledge to protect Sweet Water. Continue Reading