Can ‘broken’ North Mpls be mended?

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Urban League initiative seeks community solutions to Northside woes

The Minneapolis Urban League, with the leadership of its president, Clarence Hightower, is in the midst of developing and establishing a massive community-wide program designed to have a lasting impact on Minneapolis North Side’s homicide rate and, by extension, the entire community.

The initiative is titled “Mending the Nest,” taken from an old African proverb that says, “When the nest is broken, few whole eggs remain.” The implication is that to make whole the broken conditions that fester in the community will require collaborative efforts by the entire community, along with the cooperation of the city as a whole.

Citywide support is considered necessary because cancerous conditions cannot be contained or isolated in a given sector of the city for long before they spread.

When Hightower initiated the program, he made two important acknowledgements: First, the nest (community) is broken, and second, fixing it will require new energy and a departure from the conventional civil-service, human-relations remedies.

He cited the following facts as evidence that the nest is broken:

1) There were 44 deaths due to violence in the community in 2006.

2) African American students score 20 to 40 percentage points below their White peers.

3) Homeownership among African Americans and others of color fall far below the national norm.

4) The percentage of African Americans incarcerated in Minnesota is more than 10 times that of the general population of the state.

5) Minnesota has the highest concentration of inner-city poverty of any state in the nation.
6) African American children are five times more likely to be living in out-of-home settings than White children.
Hightower sees these disparities as establishing goals for accomplishment by the collective community in Mending the Nest. He acknowledges it as being a long-range project, and for it to be successful it must start with some immediate, tangible, achievable goals.

Therefore to start with, he set forth a time period of 12 months, and within that time frame he expects to achieve the following tangible results: reduce deaths associated with violence by 50 percent; increase youth employment for summer jobs by 30 percent; enroll 25 percent more youth in post-secondary education; and reduce the number of African Americans entering correctional institutions by 20 percent.

The success, or lack thereof, will be carefully monitored and the results reported.

Hired as coordinator for this Herculean task is Todd Barnes, 29, a young man of considerable skills in public relations and mass communications. He is founder of his own marking firm, Front Street Marketing & Communications, and has had affiliations with several local televisions stations.

Barnes is enthusiastic about the challenge that the concept presents. He says, “I am proud to be a part of President Hightower’s plan, which presents to young people constructive options rather than that of blowing each other’s heads off.”

The first stage of executing the Mending the Nest program is creating an awareness of the situation and the urgent need of fixing it. The program has been staging unique and well-attended public events for this purpose.

One of the most provocative was the arrangement of a live teleconference with convicted felons in Stillwater Correctional Facility. Before a standing-room-only crowd in the basement conference room of the Urban League, young people were able to communicate with the prisoners and speak openly.

Other events included a daylong “Face the Rage Conference” held at St. Thomas College. It included workshops, local and state officeholders, and representatives of the media and law enforcement officers.

Also, a specially arranged meeting was convened between a representative group of Northside teenagers and law enforcement officers during which the young people were allowed to converse with the officers one-on-one. It gave the young people a chance to meet and have interchanges with the officers as ordinary people.

One of the largest of the crime-reduction events was a huge outdoor breakfast held in tents on the lawn of North High School. Almost a thousand students, community members, and City officials turned out to enjoy breakfast and be a part of the Mending the Nest movement. Community members, police officers, elected officials and students enjoyed breakfast and conversation together.

Another initiative of the program was an all-day summit-type discussion in which community people of all ages convened to discuss ways and means of achieving the objectives of the program. It included a wide variety of community members, from grade-school youngsters to senior citizens. According to Barnes, it was amazing the degree of agreement that was reached by the diverse groups.

The Minneapolis Urban League is proud of the fact that it has gained community and City partners in its effort. Listed as cosponsors are the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights, Northside Residents’ Redevelopment Council, Summit Academy OIC, NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, and the University of Minnesota Department of Business and Economic Development.

The Mending the Nest project has also welcomed the support of various outside, private groups interested in issues relating to the decreasing of violence. One of the recent more active groups in that category is the Twin Cities Metro Anti-Violence Coalition, comprised of more than 24 organizations dedicated to violence prevention.

One of the more high-profile organizations in the group is Citizens for a Safer Minnesota (CSM), the local handgun reduction group affiliated with the national Brady Organization. The group is poised to perform a demonstration on Tuesday, August 28, in conjunction with Jesse Jackson’s National Anti-Violence Day.

The demonstration will include a 32-person “lie-in” to represent the number of people killed every day in the U.S. by gunfire. Activities will take place at the corner of Broadway and Girard Ave. N. with speakers including Mayor Rybak, Police Chief Tim Dolan, and a videotaped message by Rev. Jesse Jackson.
The second phase of Mending the Nest will include acquiring the necessary resources to continue and expand the program. The customary sources of foundation, city and state will be included, but first the resources of the community will be sought. Barnes maintains that it is important that the community be invested both in participation and investment.

Matthew Little welcomes reader responses to mlittle@spokesman-recorder.com.