COMMUNITY VOICES | You really don’t want to meet the Dicks at Dick’s Resort in the Mall of America

I’m not one to cry. Truth is, I rarely cry, but during a visit to Dick’s Resort in the Mall of America I was literally reduced to tears! The bartender was abusive, abrasive, and mean as HELL. I wasn’t sure why he was in a bad mood, but later found out that it is their “niche” to be mean as spitfire. Were they really trained to treat people like this, to the point of harassment? Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | The Big E sizes up MN GOP candidates

The Big E, confessing to Minnesita Progressive Project (MPP) readers and contributers, recently wrote that his heart no longer pines to hose down right wing sparkle ponies like Michele Bachmann or even review books by the likes of a Keith Ellison.  The Big E (known to his Minneapolis neighbors as Eric Pusey), is the founding scold of the MPP lefty sentry post and appears on the current edition of Democratic Visions as he retires from political blogging. After a moment of posing as a weary blogosphere elder  (as if blogging was old enough to earn elders), the smart, liberal confederate, prompted by an actual DFL elder,  Tim O’Brien, shines with bemused and bewildered takes on the current state of the Minnesota Republican Party and its clownish, hopeful State and Congressional candidates.   Mr. Pusey, who has splashed gleefully in the rushing stream of blogs, Tweets, Facebook twerking and probably Skype, does quite well in the “legacy” medium of television where I operate.  Fox Nine News knew that and for a while put him on from time-to-time.  But the Fox 9 News producers didn’t have the cojones to make him a regular pundit.   Too bad.  Mr. Pusey has good chemistry. This ten-minute Eric and Tim segment is yours to consider.  Its “tagged” (the TV producer’s sense of the word) with an homage to the late, great, populist troubadour Pete Seeger and Twin Cities activism thanks to the air guitar wonders -The Junk Yard Democrats, a peoples’ anthem, and creative editing.  Enjoy!  Enjoy!  Democratic Visions February Segments Ex-blogger Eric Pusey and Tim O’Brien on senate and gubernatorial hopefuls.Jon Spayde as a clinically depressed motivational speaker with advice for Republican hopefuls.I report on the DFL 48 Precinct Caucuses and present an award winning short film making change. Democratic Visions is handcrafted by Eden Prairie, Edina and Minnetonka volunteer Democrats at the Bloomington Community Access Television studio by arrangement with the Southwest Suburban Cable Commission. Democratic Visions Cable ScheduleMinneapolis – MTN Channel 16 – Sundays at 8:30 p.m.; Mondays 3:30 a.m., 9:30 a.m., 2:30 p.m. Hopkins, Minnetonka, Edina, Richfield and Eden Prairie – Comcast Channel 15 – Sundays at 9 p.m., Mondays at 10:00 p.m. and Wednesdays at 5:30 p.m. Bloomington – BCAT Cable Channel 16 – Tuesdays at 2:00 p.m. & 10:00 p.m.; Fridays at 9:30 p.m.; Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. & 2:30 p.m. The entire Feburary program and 183 archived Dem Vis segments can be seen on the Democratic Visions Channel on YouTube. Democratic Visions has become the  liveliest political issues show in Minnesota.   I know.  I produce the darned thing.   Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | And I Carry – The real face of permit-to-carry holders in Minnesota

We are faced daily with stories that heighten our awareness of the responsibility we have for our own personal safety and that of our loved ones.As that awareness grows, so does the number of people obtaining a permit-to-carry a firearm for personal safety. Reports from across the country show that record numbers of permits are being issued, and that the demographics of those purchasing firearms and obtaining permits is changing also.As the number of permit holders grows exponentially and they become more visible and prevalent in society, including right here in the Twin Cities, it’s more important than ever to share facts, information and education about Minnesota’s right-to-carry law and about who permit holders are to correct misconceptions and stereotypes. Permit holders are moms and dads, sons and daughters. Permit holders are your neighbors, co-workers, friends and relatives. Minnesota’s permit holders have received required training and have passed a criminal background check. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Phillips Clean Sweep builds community while keeping the neighborhoods clean

Over 12 tons of garbage and hundreds of bags of recycling were picked up on Saturday, October 12 at the Phillips Neighborhood Clean Sweep. Over 650 neighborhood volunteers put on bright pink Phillips Clean Sweep t-shirts and grabbed gloves and bags for collecting garbage and recycling from streets and alleys. They covered every block of all four Phillips Community Neighborhoods, Phillips West, Midtown Phillips, East Phillips and Ventura Village. Minneapolis Solid Waste and Recycling trucks drove through every alley to pick up larger items.Find out more about the event and its community building aspects in this video. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Low price tags and high quality not limited to end of season sales

Haiyen and Neeson Vang met when they were just fifteen years old, while growing up in Minneapolis off of Lake Street during the 90s.  The neighborhood was run down and crime was commonplace.  Haiyen and Neeson experienced the effects of that environment.  “We were the children from a neighborhood that was a bit forgotten,” Neeson said.   Haiyen adds, “As teenagers we both skipped school…we gave our parents a hard time and didn’t do what we should have done.”However, rather than simply accepting the barriers they faced from growing up in a ‘forgotten neighborhood,’ they began to imagine possibilities for making a better life for themselves and for their community. Haiyen and Neeson remember, “We used to sit and dream together.  We used to take the bus or drive around looking at big houses and dream about building a business where not only were we making money so that we could pay our bills and raise a family, but we’re also giving  back.” They also recall some of the challenges of growing up with very little money, “we never shopped regular price; everything was from the clearance rack!”  However, items from the clearance rack at many stores are those that are going out of fashion.   They mapped out a unique concept: a store with all new, trendy items where nothing was over $10.When they came up with the idea, Haiyen and Neeson had left high school before graduation and were working in retail.  Haiyen worked at a small business selling women’s clothing and Neeson worked in loss prevention for a major retailer.  They didn’t know where to start.  Then they heard about an upcoming small business training class near their home, in North Minneapolis.  In the spring of 2004, they applied to an early version of NDC’s Plan it! An Entrepreneur’s Guide to Success class being offered in partnership with Northside Economic Opportunities Network (NEON).  From that class, they built the foundation to start and grow The Clearance Rack.Later in the fall of 2004, Haiyen and Neeson Vang received a loan from NDC and opened their first store in the neighborhood they knew best, the Phillips Neighborhood, off of Lake Street.  Since then they have opened four additional stores throughout the Twin Cities metro area.  Today, they provide jobs for more than 20 employees and are able to offer full-time employees benefits like paid time off and training. Neeson says, “It’s a blessing for kids who grew up every day having nothing.  We beat the odds!”They continue to dream and are now discussing the possibility of expanding The Clearance Rack beyond Minnesota into other states.  Haiyen and Neeson discuss the possibility of expanding to a warmer state with laughs, stating it would be good, “just so there’ll be a good reason to visit during the cold months here.”“We came to NDC with bad credit, no education…and they believed in our idea and they believed in us—most importantly they believed in us,” Haiyen concludes. Continue Reading

24th Street Urban Farm Coalition’s Medicine Garden knits Minneapolis American Indian community together

Most community gardens are small rented plots, paid for and maintained by individuals who buy and plant the seeds and put in sweat equity for a small harvest. The 24th Street Urban Farm Coalition’s Medicine Garden (in Ojibwe, Mashkiikii Gitigan), in the Ventura Village neighborhood of Minneapolis, is different. Less a community garden and more a communal garden, it’s a place where members of the mostly American Indian community can come to help maintain, harvest fresh vegetables—sharing work, food, and knowledge.The garden, has been open since 2011, on a tract of land donated by and across from the Indian Health Board. The mission of the garden expanded this year when Christina Elias, its first farmer (yes, it’s an official title), was hired. Elias has gone beyond the garden’s original mission working, she says, to make this garden a place to come for community, art, spirit and connections to the Earth. “There’s a spiritual element,” said Elias, “that comes from making the garden beautiful and artistic. You can’t grow food without a spiritual connection.”In spiritual center of the garden is the Three Sister’s Spiral, a turtle shaped circle of corn, beans and squash plants. Continue Reading

Changes in airplane traffic could harm South Minneapolis, community forum with public officals planned for Tues, Aug 27

MSP FairSkies Coalition, an organization composed of representatives from Minneapolis and Edina, is bringing attention to planned changes in airplane traffic. Federal Aviation Administration is proposing to install new Performance-Based Navigation (PBN) technology to study the capability of flight paths to airports in the Twin Cities. This technology, which is composed of Area Navigation (RNAV) and Required Navigation Performace (RNP) methods, could redirect and significantly increase the number of flights over South Minneapolis neighborhoods.MSP FairSkies Coalition states that the potential reconfiguration of flight paths and autopilot routes would increase daily flights from less than 5% today to over 35% starting in 2014. MSP FairSkies also states “This technology will unfairly burden us with more noise and more emissions, leading to lower quality of health and lower property values for us all.”Congressmen Keith Ellison will be hosting a community forum on Tuesday, August 27 from 5:30-7:30PM at Washburn High School to discuss how these changes will impact Minneapolis neighborhoods. This meeting will help clarify the noise, environmental, safety, and economic issues of PBN implementation. Continue Reading

COMMUNITY VOICES | Dog Soldier Mixed Martial Arts: Making a difference

Tan, rust, brick and mortar walls stand tall in the historic south Minneapolis building where Dog Soldier MMA lies tucked away.  Peer into former stable windows and you can see into a world within a world where learning to stand tall is about much more than physical fitness. Vaughn Lodge opened Dog Soldier MMA in March 2013, but the story started long before, in Little Earth.  Little Earth is an urban housing complex in south Minneapolis which provides affordable housing with Native preference.   Over a year ago, tension was building among different groups within the Native Community.  Lodge remembers, “People were coming to me and saying my daughter has been attacked, or my granddaughter has been sold into the sex trade…and for me it was like, what can I do to make a difference?  What can I do to make a difference?” It didn’t take long for Lodge to decide—He had years of experience in mixed martial arts and knew that this was something he could share, something that would help.  He volunteered to teach self defense classes at Little Earth and, from there, the classes blossomed into a structured, disciplined program for more than fifty young people.  Lodge realized he wanted to do this full time: to open a gym, but keep it community based.  A friend told him to check out the Plan it! entrepreneur training program happening at BiiGiiWiin in partnership with NDC.  BiiGiiWiin is a branch of the American Indian Community Development Corporation.  Lodge applied and shared his idea: “We come from a warrior culture where, culturally, we fight.  We fight all the time.  You go to a reservation, trust me, you’ll see fights—all the time.”  Lodge wanted to deconstruct the modern trends that commercialize gangsterism and objectify women.  “How do we change that back to our traditional values?” asked Lodge. Thus came Dog Soldier MMA.  Dog Soldier was actually a Cheyenne warrior society from the plains, “They were the most feared warriors in all the plains…because they had a code,” Lodge stated. BiiGiiWiin and NDC welcomed Lodge into the Plan it! program.  He learned fast, developed a business plan and found a location to lease.  With NDC’s help he accessed pro bono legal assistance to review his lease and worked with his landlord to convert the space into a gym.  He now has three different payment plans for classes offered twice a day.  Dog Soldier MMA is growing but Lodge has not forgotten his roots.  He continues to waive tuition for his high school students who cannot pay on the condition that they maintain a 2.5 GPA, 80% attendance and complete 20 hours of verifiable community service.  “It’s a fine balance between what you give the community and then what you take for yourself,” Lodge noted.  Lodge is learning to manage the balance well!  Continue Reading

How one couple made a difference in a troubled Minneapolis neighborhood

The day before they bought their big stucco house in the Phillips neighborhood in 1990, Joani and Tim Essenburg dropped by for another look.The former kindergarten teacher and the college professor thought they knew what they were getting into. After all, they’d made a conscious decision to buy in a low-income, high-crime Minneapolis neighborhood to try to make a difference.Only what they encountered that day gave them pause: the neighbor’s garage was still smoking from a fire intentionally set the night before, the house they intended to buy had been broken into and defaced with gang graffiti.They hoped in a small way to build community and change lives in Phillips and they wanted to live in the neighborhood to do it.More than 20 years later, they’re well along that path.What started with Joani bringing cookies and friendship to 12 families on her block has developed into Banyan Community, a non-profit organization that provides after-school tutoring, mentoring and summer youth programs to 120 children and social support to 75 families.Community Sketchbook focuses on the economic and social challenges facing communities, especially low-income communities and communities of color, and how people are trying to address them.It is made possible by support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Minneapolis Foundation, and some Minneapolis Foundation donor advisors.Community Sketchbook articles may be republished or distributed, in print or online, with credit to MinnPost and the foundations.Today, Banyan kids are graduating from high school — 21 so far. Some are the first in their families to do so. Most go on to college.Banyan adults are rallying together in block clubs to fight street crime in their neighborhoods.Banyan families are staying put because they see this Christian community development program with its web of community connections as their ticket toward a better life. Banyan provides the educational and social supports families need to see their children graduate from high school and go on toward post-secondary education and, hopefully, enter the middle class.“We moved with the intent to live in a low-income neighborhood and live out our faith…The big vision grew over five years living there, maybe seven years,’’ explained Tim Essenburg, co-founder with Joani of Banyan and an economics professor at Bethel University in Arden Hills.Their motivation is to love God and love their neighbors, said Joani Essenburg, who changed careers, picking up a degree in the non-profit field to become Banyan’s executive director.Teacher Bethany Theobald helping students fashion a volcano. Continue Reading