Sisters Deborah and Jacquelyn Cooper grew up in the Rondo neighborhood and are currently members of the Rondo Avenue Board of Directors. “When I was born,” says Jacquelyn, “that’s where my parents lived, and then after the freeway came through we had to relocate to Central Avenue.”
Both are currently Rondo-area residents. Deborah explains, “Most of the people on the board grew up in the Rondo neighborhood” and continue “to volunteer and give back to the community.”
A board member since 2006 and the board’s secretary and marketing person, Deborah is well versed in Rondo history. “Rondo Avenue was the main thoroughfare that went from Western to Lexington, and when the freeway came more than 358 White and Black business were eliminated.”
Deborah said it is very similar to what is currently happening with the light rail construction. Businesses and homes were displaced, forcing residents and business owners to relocate to other parts of the city. “It kind of disrupted the community in more ways than one.”
In the past, the Rondo neighborhood had been home to many famous African Americans such as civil rights activist, U of M graduate and NAACP Executive Director Roy Wilkins and photographer and filmmaker Gordon Parks. Baseball great Satchel Paige played ball there.
The annual Rondo celebration was launched 28 years ago by two residents of the Rondo neighborhood: Floyd Smaller, a Twin City’s educator, and attorney Marvin Roger Anderson. Jacquelyn Cooper, who got involved with the Rondo board through her sister Deborah, is currently the board chair. She began by working on souvenir books that were created to get information to new community members.
“We have a lot of people that are in the Rondo community now who don’t really know or understand the history, never knew that this was a vibrant community with businesses and people really knowing each other and working together,” says Jacquelyn. This year’s theme, she says, is to “put the U back in CommUnity” by inspiring and empowering current Rondo-area residents.
Recently the Rondo Board and other community partners were awarded the 2011 Sustainable Saint Paul Award. Since 2006 they have been focusing on sustainable living in an effort to create a waste-free community.
“What we are trying to do is go 100 percent waste free… Our goal was for a waste-free environment by this year, and we are probably at 90 percent right now,” Deborah Cooper explains. The team worked with Minnesota Pollution Control and focused heavily on recycling and educating the community about sustainable waste practices.
Over the past few years, the planning committee also began focusing on health by creating ways to support a physically active lifestyle, currently a very critical issue in the African American community. What began about 10 years ago with a golf tournament started by the Rondo celebration founders expanded five years ago to a Rondo healthy lifestyle mission of “having a healthy mind, body and spirit,” Deborah says.
The Rondo celebration now includes a 5K walk and run that begins at 8 am on the morning of the celebration. For those not interested in walking or running, there’s something new this year: yoga, beginning at 8 am at the Martin Luther King Center.
To promote physical activity among children, last year’s Rondo organizers began the Urban Bike Festival. This consists of a bike safety and helmet presentation, a BMX bike ramp, and a bike derby. There will be 65 bikes given away during the celebration.
“The bikes will be raffled, [so] if you come to the event, you might have a chance to win a free bike,” Deborah says.
The Rondo parade starts at 10 am on Saturday, July 16 at MLK Park in St. Paul. There will be food vendors, and KMOJ FM radio will provide an entertainment stage featuring local talent.
There is a change this year to the dance and drill step team competition that the Rondo celebration has become famous for, bringing teams from cities like Omaha and Chicago. “We’re changing that to a first annual talent showcase,” says Deborah, “and it will not only feature [drill and step teams], but it will also feature musical talent…poetry, comedy [and] spoken word,” all at Concordia University’s Gangelhoff Center after the parade and festival.
For more information on the Rondo celebration, including a complete list of events, go to www.celebraterondo.org.
Vickie Evans-Nash welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.