Twin-Cities friends, advocates and allies of the homeless are inviting community members to pack a picnic lunch and join them on a Sunday afternoon in Powderhorn Park. The purpose of this casual gathering is to welcome families marching with the Poor Peoples’ Economic Human Rights Campaign (PPEHRC) who will be visiting Minneapolis and St. Paul next week during the Republican National Convention.
“A Day in the Park” takes place Sunday August 31st on the northeast corner of Powderhorn Park from 1-4pm. In addition to bringing picnic lunches for two families, attendees are also being asked to bring shoes for the families.
PPEHRC will be among thousands of activists, organizers, and demonstrators who will show up to have their voices heard and their presence felt during the convention. One unique aspect of PPEHRC is that there are lots of children involved. This caused St. Paul attorney Ted Dooley, who represents PPEHRC National Organizer Cherie Honkala, to call upon several friends to help make this Sunday’s festivities possible.
Tom Fletcher, owner of The Essence of Nonsense, a St. Paul toy store is one of the individuals asked to be involved. Recognized for his extensive experience working in Twin Cities public schools and with at-risk youth, Dooley knew that he had to be on the planning team.
This weekend’s gathering, simply titled, “A Day in the Park”, is based on a rather simple concept best illustrated by a 10-year-old boy. Fletcher recalls as he was bringing a student home one day, he found himself in a predominantly Somali neighborhood. While walking the little boy home, they encountered a group of men on a street corner. Fletcher wondered, “Who are those people?” The little boy replied, “If you don’t talk to them, you’ll never get to know them.” “Politically, adults tend to call names and not discuss problems, but children tend to ask the question,” said Fletcher.
He encourages people to bring youth and children out to the picnic for an invaluable learning experience. “Kids don’t know other kids are homeless. It’s sobering to a 12-year-old when confronted with issues of homelessness. The general public never meets people who are homeless…only those like themselves. [Through this experience] next time folks are faced with the issue, they will have new perspective,” said Fletcher.
The group expects lots of exchange on Sunday. Volunteer facilitators will introduce the incoming families to the homeless families that are visiting. Community members are asked to bring enough food for two families to share. “This is an opportunity to sit and meet with folks you’ve never met and exchange ideas,” said Fletcher.
Fletcher says he draws a lot of his experience working with diverse communities from South Minneapolis’s St. Stephen’s Catholic Church. He says their model is that “everyone is a human being first.” The ministry and outreach once conducted by their parishioners took on a one-on-one style, challenging them to ask themselves, “are you willing to fundamentally understand that we’re [here] to take care of one another?”
Another member of the “A Day in the Park” planning team, Rickey Mantley, is fairly new to the Twin Cities, but he worked extensively with homeless advocates and organizations in Los Angeles. He edited two homeless publications there as well as worked with the Los Angeles Coalition for Hunger and Homelessness.
“We’re doing this for the children,” said Mantley. Although the Coalition is here for the Republican National Convention, members of the planning team assert that this is a non-partisan cause. “There’s nothing political about it, “said Mantley. “We’re here to give [to the] children of homeless families …to make it memorable for their trip to St. Paul, “he said.
“You don’t have to be liberal or conservative. Just bring a meal and talk,” said Fletcher.
This picnic is a modest way of bringing awareness to issues of the homeless, a precursor to the more intense and intentional demonstrations that will draw media attention throughout the week. “Even though some delegates won’t pay any attention to what the demonstrators are talking about, it’s not a deterrent. There will be massive media intensely focused on St. Paul,” said Mantley.
“The plight of homelessness is almost off the radar screen in terms of media coverage these days…with the foreclosure, debt and housing crisis, [it should] bring attention to the fact that homelessness is growing. The factors that lead to homelessness are not being diminished,” said Mantley.
“There are more homeless families now than ever before and we want people to be aware of that,” he said.
“This is a picnic where peoples’ eyes will be opened,” said Fletcher.
Lauretta Dawolo Towns is a Twin Cities free-lance journalist, formerly news director for KFAI.