“At Kwanzaa we share our stories, we’re called to make the world a better place. You can preach to people or you can help people, we are Christians doing Christ’s work,” said Deborah Isabelle a 3M employee and Clerk of Session at Kwanzaa Church Tuesday night, April 26, 2011. She was one of the many church members who joined community members, advocates, and sponsors at the open house of Northside Women’s Space. Kwanzaa Church in North Minneapolis is transforming their place of worship into a safe space for women and girls who are in the business of prostitution.
Kwanzaa’s Northside Women’s Space is the brain child of University of Minnesota Researcher Lauren Martin, Ph.D. and Kwanzaa co-pastor Rev. Alika Galloway. After hearing many women tell their stories in her past six years of research, Martin was urged to find a solution. Pastor Alika and her husband, Rev. Ralph Galloway, were also looking for a way to help the women they saw from their church windows. After hearing positive words about one another through mutual circles, the two finally connected to create what Martin says is “a space designed for women and girls to rest, think and find connections to services and supports to ultimately get from where ever they are right now to where ever they want to be in their lives”.
They want everyone to know that Northside’s Women’s Space is not a shelter, but an area for thinking, meditation, and transition. Martin and Galloway have enlisted the help of various community organizations to ensure the women who enter the Space not only get a chance to share their story but are provided with adequate counseling and healthcare.
Artika Roller, director of the PRIDE program knows firsthand the importance of providing service to women and girls in prostitution: she is a product of one her mother’s regular customers. “The children are secondary victims when the mothers have no place to go.” Roller thinks things would have been different for her mother if she had a place like the Northside Women’s Space to receive advocacy and counseling.
Martin and Galloway know that it is going to take the help of the community to make this program a success. It is a collaborative effort that will take the city and its leaders to create true change. Along with Roller, they have enlisted Doris Johnson, HIV outreach coordinator at Broadway Family Medicine; Erin Mehta, Nurse Practitioner at the Center for Victims of Torture; Joy Friedman, program director of Breaking Free; Mary Jo Meuleners, Community Health Program Supervisor at Northpoint Health & Wellness Center; Monica Nilsson, director of Street Outreach and Community Education at St. Stephen’s Human Services, Inc.; Lt. Nancy Dunlap, Sex Crimes Unit at the Minneapolis Police Department; Sarah Gordon HIV Counseling, Testing, and Referral Coordinator at the Minnesota Dept. of Health; Shantae Holmes, Northside business owner; and Trudee Able-Peterson, National Expert, Youth and Street Outreach. All of these women sit on the community advisory panel and will be providing services within the Space.
Solomon’s Porch, a holistic missionary Christian Community of builders, artists, architects and constructors have also extended their hands by painting and transforming Kwanzaa’s sanctuary, offices and class rooms into living spaces, counseling rooms, showering rooms, kitchen and cooking physicality. The main meeting area being renovated for Women’s Space has sentimental value for Rev. Ralph Galloway who spent many evenings preparing his sermons in what use to be his office. The Space has a good view of North Minneapolis and Broadway says Galloway. He would often look out the window and see the women soliciting. Galloway is proud to know that now that space can serve as a safe haven and a place where these women and their families can receive services.
“The variety of issues that are going to come through this door will need a variety of services to help each and every one of the individuals who come here,” said Joy Friedman. She appreciates the trust factor and non-judgmental environment at Kwanzaa. She also appreciates the fact that Kwanzaa is reaching out to agencies who are experts in the field to help with the planning and implementation of this program. This is a community collaborative with a strong foundation and partnerships with agencies and community people committed to making a difference.
Kwanzaa has not received any special grants or funding to develop this initiative. Persons interested in donating funds, materials, services or volunteer time can get more information about the program by contacting www.kwanzaachurch.org or www.northsidewomen.org . Their doors will officially be open in May to provide full service to the community.