A giving tradition in North Minneapolis since the 1960s

Christmas can be a tough time for low-income families, as pervasive and rampant consumerism and the expectations of getting and giving presents exert extra pressures. Children, especially, do not have the money to buy presents for their family members. In North Minneapolis, Plymouth Christian Youth Center (PCYC) helps low-income children to experience the joy of giving to others and to feel included in the American tradition of giving holiday presents. Since the mid-1960s, PCYC has put on what it calls the Gift Sale to allow low-income children a chance to select gifts for people on their Christmas list.  Parents purchase a one-dollar ticket ahead of the annual Gift Sale event – December 14 this year. Then each child gets to choose five gifts for their loved ones. Many North Minneapolis children remember the Gift Sale experience fondly. Third grader Henry Peters said, “I know my grandma likes nice soaps and stuff and she really liked the soap packs I picked for her.  Also, my dad was surprised that I presented him with three flashlights!” Second graders Maleek Powell and Austyn Doughty are excited about the upcoming Gift Sale.  Each child wants to choose gifts for at least four loved ones.  Powell said sheepishly that he chose a present for himself the first time he took part in PCYC’s Gift Sale. Fourth grader Jada Smith said she wants to pick a gift for a favorite cousin this year, which will be her fifth gift selection experience. Maleek Powell (left) and Austyn Doughty, second grade, PCYC Afterschool Education Program. Continue Reading

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