Inside hydroponic farming at North Market

If you’ve visited North Market recently, you may have noticed a new neighbor in our parking lot. In partnership with Freight Farms, we’ve installed a hydroponic farm on-site, providing a year-round growing environment that will supply North Market shoppers with local, fresh greens and herbs.

But when we say that the Freight Farm at North Market is a “self-contained hydroponic growing environment,” what does that actually mean? What’s happening within these corrugated metal walls? What is the journey of a seed as it makes its way to the North Market produce aisle?

Step 1: Germination

The first step in the life of a plant is germination. We plant our seeds in a specialized “grow plug” made of coconut husk and peat moss. This eco-friendly growing material keeps its shape and holds water better than traditional soil, making it a better fit for our specialized hydroponic drip system.

Once the plug has been seeded, it is soaked in water and placed under red-and-blue LED lights. Our seeds require a lot of light at this stage—19 hours of sunlight every day over the next week—and the farmer closely monitors the growing environment to maintain an ambient temperature of 70° F.

Step 2: The Nursery

After seven days, our seeds have sprouted, and it’s time for their first move. Our baby seedlings are relocated to the upper level of the harvest table, which doubles as a nursery. Here, the tiny sprouts are watered every 12 hours with a special nutrient-rich solution to ensure they are free of disease and can begin to grow strong roots.

The baby plants continue to receive 19 hours of artificial sunlight per day. Depending on the particular crop, a seedling can spend anywhere between 2-4 weeks growing in the nursery before it’s ready for the next stage.

Step 3: Growing

Once a seedling has matured, it’s time to transplant. The young crops are carefully removed from their seed trays and transplanted to vertical grow towers. These grow towers take up the majority of space inside the Freight Farm. Each plant is carefully spaced out to avoid the spread of algae, insects, and plant diseases.

Although the grow towers are made of plastic, a felt wicking strip in the center allows water to drip down and hydrate the crops. The interior of the Freight Farm holds 256 vertical towers, each of which holds approximately 16 plants—meaning that the combined grow-area of the Freight Farm equals approximately 2-3 acres of outdoor field space.

Step 4: Harvest

Finally, after three weeks in the grow towers, it’s time to harvest. The farmer uses a special harvest knife to remove the plant from the tower. Although this is the shortest step, it requires very careful planning on the part of the farmer. Ideally, when one plant is harvested, a new seedling is ready to take its place in the grow tower. This ensures a steady supply of fresh produce for North Market shoppers.

After a quick inspection to ensure the plant is ready to go, the produce is packed and transported across the parking lot for sale at North Market.

Did you know?

  • The interior of the Freight Farm is climate-controlled, meaning that plants can grow year-round—from the hottest summer day to the coldest winter night.
  • The Freight Farm is slightly tilted! While it’s not noticeable to the farmer, the very slight (3°) angle allows for any excess water to drain back into the Freight Farm’s storage tanks. Reverse-osmosis filtering helps purify the water, making it safe once again for human (and plant) consumption.
  • The Freight Farm interior is equipped with 4 Bluetooth speakers, allowing the farmer and seedlings to listen to music all day.
  • “Daytime” for our crops actually takes place at night! The Freight Farm’s LED lights create a lot of heat and can damage the farmer’s eyes without special protective glasses—so it’s easier to run the lights during nighttime hours, when the farmer isn’t present. By using the majority of our electricity at night, we also reduce the farm’s operating costs.

Jimmy Loyd, MBA and MPM, named community development director

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pillsbury United Communities has named Jimmy Loyd Director of Community Development for Justice Built Communities (JBC), a community development corporation. The purpose of JBC is to power equitable economic development in the black and brown communities of Minnesota that have experienced decades of disinvestment. To prevent further disenfranchisement of these communities as neighborhoods rebuild after the recent unrest, JBC will operate as community quarterback convening community leaders and local organizations to plan and implement a holistic approach that includes direct support to black and brown entrepreneurs and small businesses.

“Jimmy brings the real estate development and business acumen paired with a deep commitment to racial equity,” said Adair Mosley, President and CEO. “He shares our vision for building thriving communities, centering community’s voice, and we are honored to have him move this initiative forward.”

Jimmy is a graduate of DeVry University and Keller Graduate School of Management. His real estate planning and development experience includes four years with the City of Minneapolis during which time he was recognized for “Excellence in Economic Development” by the International Economic Development Council for the City of Minneapolis B-Tap Program. His experience also includes serving as Small Business Program Manager at Northside Economic Opportunity Network, Real Estate Director at YMCA – Greater Twin Cities, and most recently Economic Development Coordinator for the City of Brooklyn Center.

“I chose to join Pillsbury United because of the organization’s willingness to take bold action,” Loyd said. “I look forward to partnering with other CDCs, neighborhood associations, and business district councils to develop new land-based solutions that benefit the community.”

Justice Built Communities convenes stakeholders across sectors and prioritizes comprehensive approaches to neighborhood revitalization that will prevent gentrification and displacement while driving enterprise development and wealth creation in black and brown communities of greater Minneapolis. More information at justicebuiltcommunities.org.

2020 Election: Our Future Depends on Driving Safe Turnout

For many of us, this fall’s election will be the most consequential of our lifetime. The heath, safety, education, and opportunity in our communities look to be shaped for generations to come by the outcomes.

We know that justice for the most marginalized among us requires making all our voices heard in our political system. Our democracy cannot become truly representative until the demographics of voters and elected officials are reflective of all the people who live and work in our communities.

Because so much is at stake, Pillsbury United Communities is working to make voting as easy and safe as possible this year for our staff and the people we serve.

We will be closed on election day so staff can focus on casting their ballots and getting out the vote. We have also launched an aggressive, inclusive, non-partisan campaign to educate and assist voters in making a safe plan to vote between now and Nov. 3. Big thanks to our funders CAPI, Hennepin County, and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits for making this work possible.

Want to help us drive safe turnout during this election? Here are a few ways you can support our work.

  • Make sure your family, friends, neighbors, and other community members have a plan to vote safely. Voting options this year include:
    • Voting by mail/absentee: The CDC recommends voting by mail because of the pandemic. Offer to support folks in signing up for, completing and submitting their absentee ballots (by mail or by dropping them off at a ballot dropsite). FYI, you may only drop off three ballots in addition to your own in one election, according to state law.
    • Vote early at an early voting center between Sept. 18 and Nov. 2. Offer to drive people to the center if that’s possible for you. Early voting is 8am-4:30pm, Monday-Friday, with some weekend hours as the election gets closer.
    • Vote at your polling place on voting day. Offer to drive people to the polls on voting day. Look up a person’s polling place here. Polling places are open 7am-8pm. As long as you are in line by 8pm, you cannot be turned away.
  • Sign up for a non-partisan phone-banking shift with us and encourage others in your network to do the same. These are organized by CAPI and run Tuesdays and Thursdays from 5pm-8pm. Be sure to note you were referred by PUC when you sign up here.
  • We have hired seven outreach specialists to do non-partisan GOTV work in our communities between now and Nov. 3. They speak English, Spanish, Oromo, Somali, and Hmong. If you’d like a specialist to attend an event or other safe gathering of people you are involved with, email KenzieO@pillsburyunited.org.
  • Share GOTV information from your personal social media accounts. PUC has hired two community-based artists to create a multi-lingual, visual GOTV campaign for us. We will distribute digital and physical assets by email and to our centers and enterprises as soon as they are ready.
  • Donate to Pillsbury United’s GOTV efforts here.

Janis Lane-Ewart named next KRSM Radio station manager

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pillsbury United Communities has named Janis Lane-Ewart as the next Station Manager of KRSM Radio.

Lane-Ewart is an award-winning cultural activist who has been working to strengthen and enrich Minnesota with her commitment to the arts and arts education since 1989. She was Executive Director of KFAI Fresh Air Community Radio for 12 years, where she also produced the longstanding jazz show, The Collective Eye. Since 2014, she has served as Development Officer for jazz station KBEM – Jazz88. She has served as a board member of Intermedia Arts, Ananya Dance Theatre, and American Composers Forum.

In November 2019, Lane-Ewart was honored with a Sally Award at the Ordway Center for the Performing Arts. The Sallys are based on the First Trust Award given in 1986 to Sally Ordway Irvine. Winners are nominated by the arts community – people whose lives they have directly affected. Lane-Ewart’s award was for commitment.

“We are delighted to welcome Janis to the team. Janis shares our passion for amplifying the voices, stories, cultures, and conversations happening in our neighborhoods,” said Adair Mosley, president and CEO of Pillsbury United Communities.

“I am honored to have been selected to lead the station into the future,” Lane-Ewart said. “Brendan [Kelly] and the whole KRSM team have built a powerful platform for change.”

KRSM Radio is a low-power FM radio station based out of the Phillips neighborhood in South Minneapolis, broadcasting at 98.9 FM across South Minneapolis, and streaming live at krsmradio.org. It is an independently operated social enterprise of Pillsbury United Communities. Its mission is to provide a platform for elevating the voices, narratives, and cultures of those communities with a history of being marginalized, misrepresented, and erased by traditional media and to serve as an on-ramp to jobs in the fields of broadcast media.

Intersecting People, Place, and Prosperity

The Upstream Imperative, Volume 5

This article is part of “The Upstream Imperative,” a series exploring the challenges and opportunities facing the social services sector.

By Adair Mosley, President and CEO, Pillsbury United Communities

What future do we see for our neighborhoods in the Twin Cities?

Will they be places where everyone can raise families, build wealth, and live full, healthy lives? Or will they be exclusive enclaves where newcomers prosper and long-term residents are pushed to the margins?

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder, this dilemma is stark. The damage to large sections of our city is further stressing a population — largely Black, brown, and indigenous — that was already in danger of displacement. Decades of systemic racism and inequity sparked the destruction. Now these pressures threaten an even greater crisis for our community.

We have a choice. We can prioritize rebuilding with and for Black and brown residents. Or watch as these neighborhoods rise again, but without those who have lived and labored there for generations.

A History of Erasure

We didn’t arrive at this point overnight. Starting a century ago, redlining and exclusionary lending practices shut Black and brown families out of many Twin Cities neighborhoods and the wealth-building opportunities they enabled. Black people built thriving communities in spite of these restrictions, only to see their neighborhoods bulldozed and cut off by interstate construction.

In the intervening decades, Black neighborhoods in the Twin Cities have been stuck with “lesser than” status. They are continually passed over for public and private investments — with devastating social and economic consequences. Now we see the pendulum swinging back. As outside developers move to “revitalize” areas of the city they long ignored, “white flight in reverse” threatens to erase the people and culture in these areas.

To be clear, we want investment in our neighborhoods. But unless Black, brown and indigenous people are driving the change, Minneapolis will continue to grow less equitable at their expense.

The Rise of Community Development

In a difficult moment, we see reasons for hope. Across the U.S., community development corporations are proving that inclusive neighborhoods are possible when communities work together.

These projects don’t arise from shallow or short-term community input. Developers must be willing to see vulnerable residents, meet them where they are, and center their voices and needs before and after ground is broken. Equitable development has to start from a place of deep understanding and connection.

That’s where we’ve lived for over 140 years. Pillsbury United Communities is committed to ensuring every person has personal, social, and economic power. Through a focus on solving big, upstream challenges, we create enduring change toward a just society.

That mission puts equitable economic development squarely on our agenda.<

Owning the Solution

Pillsbury United is making moves to prevent gentrification and displacement of marginalized residents with the creation of Justice Built Communities (JBC). A new community development corporation for the Greater Twin Cities and beyond, JBC acts as a community quarterback to prioritize integrated, inclusive approaches to neighborhood revitalization.

Our process starts by identifying underused buildings, vacant lots and other assets that can anchor neighborhood redevelopment. Then we bring together the partners, capital, and vision to realize their potential. JBC banks and secures these assets until properties are developed and Black and brown-owned enterprises take over.

Instead of outsiders telling people, “Here’s what you need,” we ask, “What can we do together?” JBC ensures the voices of our communities are heard alongside businesses, builders, and banks in the service of a shared agenda. Working together, we advance many priorities critical for our community, from neighborhood investment and beautification to education and job creation.

Arts and culture are central to that effort. Through artist-driven engagement and creative placemaking, we empower residents to define what thriving, beautiful neighborhoods look like to them. Artists and residents continue to collaborate as developments take shape to create spaces that honor the unique history and culture of the place.

Transformation from the Inside Out

Pillsbury United is not new to this work. In 2017, we led the development of North Market, a grocery store and wellness center in one of the country’s largest food deserts. Created with North Minneapolis community members and partners including North Memorial Health, our solution addresses multiple needs in one place, from fresh food to accessible health services.

The impact goes beyond essential services. North Market provides career-track jobs, buys from local businesses and entrepreneurs, and feeds the vitality of the neighborhood as a whole.

JBC works in the same way. We use the tools of community development to promote quality education, workforce training, small businesses investment, and land ownership, while awarding contracts to local people and organizations that will reinvest in the community. Our encompassing approach spurs the creation of generational wealth and helps put communities on the path to self-sufficiency.

To that end, JBC is advancing equitable policy side by side with equitable development. We use our access and partnerships to advocate for measures such as Renters Bill of Rights legislation and Community Benefit Agreements that protect local residents before and after projects open their doors.

Our goal is transformation from the inside out. We are banking on the creativity, talent, and energy that have always existed in our Black and brown communities. By amplifying their voices and letting their vision lead ours, we can eliminate racial disparities, remove urban blight, and help our communities of color equitably share in the vibrant economy of our state. JBC is how we reimagine not only our cities, but the systems that shape people’s lives here.

If we want strong neighborhoods that include everyone and work for everyone, we can’t leave it to outsiders. It’s up to us to build them.

What we need from you now

Community member carrying kid on shoulders at Open Streets on Broadway Ave

The compounding effects of intersectional oppression are prominently on display right now. We have an uncontrolled pandemic, on top of the longtime public health crisis that is institutionalized racism. Our democracy is under threat. People are unhoused in record numbers. Gaps in wealth, health, and educational outcomes between the haves and have-nots in our communities are widening even further.

Reimagined systems are desperately needed, and Pillsbury United Communities is heeding that call. Through the lens of people, place, and prosperity, our leaders are aggressively advocating for upstream change that will build long term power in our communities. Additionally, our agency has launched a public policy team and a community development corporation to reimagine the structures that govern our day to day lives.

While we use our institutional power to lay a foundation for long-term change, we remain committed to immediate and short-term relief for those who’ve long borne the brunt of our country’s violent and inequitable systems. We must be responsive to the needs of today without settling for them as permanent fixtures of life in our city.

We hope you’ll join us in seeking justice. For advice on where to start, we’ve asked a few of our leaders to share their wisdom.

Tsega Tamene, Senior Director of Population Health

Tsega Tamene

COVID-19 has been a truth teller. It has exposed what was already in plain sight to many of us. Black, Indigenous, and communities of color have experienced the disparate economic, health, and psychosocial impacts of racism well before, starkly during, and very well likely after this pandemic—unless we choose a different world.

We must reimagine, redesign, and transform systems toward health justice. In doing so, we must fundamentally shift how we think, speak, and act about health and health inequities. Namely, we must shift from treating health as a commodity to health as a human right. Shift now by:

  • Supporting frontline workers like ours who everyday disrupt health inequities that are driven by social and structural harms rooted in racism (not naturally occurring biological difference or individual behavior).
  • Lifting up local wellness and healing justice practitioners who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color (BIPOC).
  • Joining policy advocacy efforts calling for the transformation of our healthcare payment system to prioritize the health of all people. Amplifying the voices of community health workers, doulas, and other critical roles who are lesser valued by existing payment models.
  • Learning more about the history of medicine and racism’s impact on health.
  • Studying yourself to heal yourself. Exploring your racialized trauma and your role(s) in social change.

Faye Price & Noel Raymond, Co-Artistic Directors, Pillsbury House + Theatre

Faye Price - headshot

Faye Price

At Pillsbury House + Theatre, we employ roughly 300, mostly-BIPOC artists every year. Those folks, and the entire creative workforce, are extremely economically unstable right now because of the pandemic. This is a workforce that has been decimated like the restaurant industry.

Our artists are often activists who highlight systemic inequities and cast visions for liberation. They are called to do that imagining regardless of compensation. We need them right now more than ever, and many are being asked to do cultural labor unpaid. There is an expectation that they will always be here, but they won’t if we don’t act. Act now by:

Noel Raymond - headshot

Noel Raymond

  • Hiring an artist. Pay them generously for their time.
  • Donating to a nonprofit’s commissioning fund, so that they are able to hire artists (we have one here at PHT). If you run a nonprofit or work for one, create a commissioning fund and embed artists into your work, minimizing arduous reporting requirements and maximizing compensation.
  • Contacting your member of Congress and tell them to support the Mixed Earner Unemployment Assistance Act of 2020.

Julie Graves, Senior Director of Youth & Future

Julie Graves headshot

Julie Graves

We have built our systems and models of youth programming to complement school models. For better or worse, we live in the tangled webs of integrated systems. When Minneapolis Public Schools change their offerings, we have to pivot too. With school not returning to the status quo this fall, these structures that we’ve played off of always, don’t exist anymore. We have to figure out new ways of engaging our young people and supporting their families in the process. We have to do so in the midst of so much uncertainty about the future of school day education—this year and beyond.

Funding for youth programming in Minneapolis, particularly K-5, has been decimated in the last decade. Our stressed, barebones system of out-of-school youth programming is now being asked to completely reinvent the way it operates to support entirely new needs. We need to return to a system where every child and family has access to a community center that offers a holistic, integrated model of support—tutoring, entertainment, meals, space to just be together.

Support this work by donating to the chronically underfunded community centers, like Waite House, who provide whole-family support. Advocate for more out of school time youth funding in the 2021 Minneapolis city budget—and the state budget. This is violence prevention work. This is an investment in the future of our city.

Antonio Cardona, Director of Office of Public Charter Schools

Antonio Cardona on stage at Greater>Together 2019

Antonio Cardona

Resources are not scarce. They are inequitably concentrated. If we are serious about reimagined systems, we have to question and tactically change what we value and where we direct resources. In public education, we have a simple, yet fundamental challenge: funding for public education is rooted in property taxes that are a result of decades of purposeful housing and employment discrimination. We need to change this system.

Secondly, just as we have been talking about social determinants of health for the last two decades, there are also social determinants of education. COVID-19 and George Floyd’s murder has laid bare the ways in which the most marginalized are the first effected by societal change. Think of a tsunami. First, the water recedes, exposing the gunk just beyond the shoreline. Then, the water slams that same shoreline, throwing everything into disarray. Those on higher ground are able to escape the worst effects. This exposes what kids and families need in order to grow and learn. Stability, food, housing, health care, family businesses—all of the things that have been decimated during this time.

Take action by supporting and participating in the civic institutions that push population-level work forward; voting; completing your Census; and paying attention to city council meetings, school board meetings, and commission decisions. Support and hold your officials accountable while trying to avoid a descent into unhelpful or uneducated dialogue.

“Reimagine Public Safety” teaser video released

George Floyd memorial outside Cup Foods

We’ve been here before. But out of our pain rises the stories of how to heal, how to evolve, and how to build.

Coming later this summer, Pillsbury United Communities will be releasing the first installment of “Reimagine Public Safety,” a new docuseries exploring policing in the city of Minneapolis, and the possibilities that exist to reimagine and transform our systems of public safety. This series is one of the first initiatives from our new Policy & Advocacy team.

Don’t forget to connect with us on Facebook to see future installments and continue the conversation with our Policy & Advocacy team.

We’ve always figured out a way through. It’s time to find a way forward.

Justice can’t wait

Pillsbury United Communities policy team: Azhae’la Hanson, DA Bullock, Kenzie O'Keefe

By Adair Mosley, President and CEO

We are resilient. We are resourceful. We are responsive. And we are ready to respond in new ways.

George Floyd was murdered three weeks ago. In response to this tragedy, we have a duty to transcend the boundaries of what we previously thought possible. We must design a more just world for all.

Here at Pillsbury United Communities, we are doubling down on our commitment to co-create that new world. Today, we announce two new initiatives emerging from our strategic framework. Both are aimed at dismantling white supremacy and centering BIPOC prosperity in this place we all call home.

  • Policy as a tool for social change. Together, with the black, brown, indigenous, poor, and queer communities we serve, we will reimagine the systems that govern and oppress us. Policy has shaped community. It’s time for community to shape policy. Kenzie O’Keefe, former editor and publisher of North News, will lead our new policy team. Visionary filmmaker DA Bullock will document community truths, challenging the false narratives that have stood in the way of meaningful change. In the coming months Kenzie and DA, along with youth intern Azhae’la Hanson, will finalize a long-term policy agenda for the agency while actively supporting and amplifying efforts already underway. They are already collaborating on a short docuseries about the possible futures of public safety, prototyping a more just solution to cash bail, and partnering with Hennepin County on the reduction of racial disparities through county policy.
  • Powering equitable economic development. Black, brown, and indigenous neighborhoods have been chronically disinvested in, and residents have been intentionally blocked from opportunities to create generational wealth. That ends now. We are partnering with our communities to plan, fund, and actualize community-centered neighborhood development. Our new community development corporation, Justice Built Communities, will prevent gentrification and displacement while driving enterprise development and wealth creation in BIPOC communities of greater Minneapolis.

Our policies and communities can be reimagined so that every person has the opportunity to flourish, regardless of zip code. This is justice.

Justice for George Floyd

Mural for George Floyd at 38th/Chicago, photo credit: Lorie Shaull

By Adair Mosley, President and CEO, Pillsbury United Communities

This has been a traumatic week. Once again, a black man was brutally murdered by police. We grieve George Floyd in the midst of our fresh grief over Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. We mourn the many other victims of white supremacy for whom our systems have never produced justice.

We are heartbroken. We are enraged. We are resolved to make this a turning point. The black, brown, and indigenous communities we serve (and come from) deserve so much more than has been delivered.

As we reflect on the week that’s been and the days, weeks, and months to come, we are clear in our commitments:

  • We are centering justice for George Floyd in everything we do. We must not lose sight of how we got here, and we must ensure it never happens again. We are hopeful to hear that Attorney General Keith Ellison is taking over the Floyd case. We stand with the local civil rights leaders and national figures who spoke at our downtown press conference and rally last week in demanding that all four Minneapolis police officers involved in Floyd’s death be arrested, tried and convicted of murder. We expect justice to be served, and we will be content with nothing less.
  • We are continuing to meet basic needs amidst the challenges of this moment. Our communities are suddenly without vital resources in the midst of a global pandemic. Our food shelves and community meal programs remain open and responsive to new needs. We are tending to those in our network.
  • We are telling our communities’ true stories. Our media sources, KRSM Radio (98.9 FM) and North News, have been diligently working to amplify on-the-ground voices in a moment where simplifications, stereotypes, and outright falsehoods persist. We are bringing context, nuance, and lived experience to our coverage.
  • We are tracking toward systems change by investing in long-term policy work designed to dismantle racial disparities. We believe our communities have the answers to our greatest challenges. Please be on the lookout for more information on this in the coming week.

As we move forward, we will continue to celebrate the resiliency and connection of our communities. In this devastating moment, we are witnessing and experiencing love that transcends and persists despite the circumstances. We have been blown away by our North Minneapolis neighbors, for example, who have spent long nights protecting North Market. Because of them, the only remaining full-service grocery store on the Northside has remained open.

We hope you will join us in the vital work this moment calls for. Examine what you are feeling. Learn what your discomfort, your rage, your heartbreak, or your apathy has to teach you. Examine the power you hold and imagine how you could wield it in direct service of dismantling white supremacy. Risk more. Invest in transformative ideas. A just future requires it.

Please consider making a gift to Pillsbury United Communities to support our work today. You can also sign up as a monthly donor to truly sustain this work in the crucial months ahead.

(Photo credit: Lorie Shaull)

Responding with Resilience

Graphic of a single illuminated lightbulb

The Upstream Imperative, Volume 4

This article is part of “The Upstream Imperative,” a series exploring the challenges and opportunities facing the social services sector.

By Adair Mosley, President and CEO, Pillsbury United Communities

We are in a difficult moment.

For some in our community, COVID-19 is an uncomfortable disruption. For others, including many we serve, the pandemic threatens their livelihoods and lives. At Pillsbury United, we see the impact firsthand in the surge of people facing job loss as well as food and housing insecurity across our community.

Emergency support is desperately needed, and we are heeding the call. But this moment raises another urgent question. What can we do to reduce the inequities and disparities that compound the harm to our community — and emerge from this crisis more resilient than we were before?

If we are serious about preparing for the next emergency, we need to talk about systems.

Seeing the systemic

As extraordinary as events feel in this moment, we know that disasters are inevitable. And when they occur, they reveal our vulnerabilities. Whether it’s a tornado, a fire, a foreclosure crisis, or an epidemic, disasters do not affect us all equally. Some are inconvenienced while others are devastated.

Why is that? One narrative has it that some people choose not to prepare, that they should have more foresight or more financial cushion. But we know differently. Because of choices we make as a society, many in our community are more vulnerable to disaster, a judgment borne out by the numbers.

Here in Minnesota, we know more black, Latino, and indigenous low-wage workers are exposed to and contract the virus because they do a greater share of essential jobs. What’s more, COVID-19 most threatens people living with chronic diseases like asthma, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease — conditions that disproportionately impact black and brown communities due to a history of food insecurity, lack of access to healthcare, and adverse environmental impacts.

Systemic health care issues also contribute. Beyond barriers of cost and access, cultural disconnects and mistrust lead many in our community to delay care and let chronic conditions go untreated. When a crisis like COVID-19 arrives, they are often hit first and last to get proper treatment..

That’s why I say that emergency remedies are not enough. We need to address the systemic factors that make a bad situation worse.

A strategic policy push

As COVID-19 persists around the globe, we are deeply focused on the local impact and how our agency can help. While we can be consumed with the acute needs, we also need to claim this moment as an opportunity to rebuild a more just and inclusive society — for all.

Systemic challenges are complex and intersecting. Addressing them takes concerted action on many fronts: housing affordability; healthy mothers and births; school stability and early education; criminal justice reform; healthy food access; and many other priorities. When we engage the full picture, we start to remove the multi-dimensional barriers that leave people vulnerable.

In times of crisis, I choose to pursue an unconventional goal: strategic planning for the future. Last year, we released a bold and disruptive strategic plan. As we revisit our thinking and approach in this moment of challenge, we see our plan stands strong. Everything so far in this pandemic validates our focus on upstream systems that exacerbate downstream inequities.

Our plan lays out several strategic priorities that include forming cross-sector partnerships focused on social determinants of health to improve community outcomes and investing in students of color as an engine of equitable and sustainable economic prosperity. Critical to the success of these initiatives is advancing policies that promote, protect, and galvanize the community we serve.

Addressing root causes begins and ends with addressing policies and their consequences, intentional and unintentional, on our community. We know the disparities of our communities are strongly linked to the oppressive policies of our past. Through a catalytic investment from the Kresge Foundation and Target Foundation, we are investing in policy change in a way never before possible in our 140 year history. We are moving from a supporting role to a leadership role in shaping critical policies at the city, county, and state level. We fully understand that policies are the accelerating force to move more individuals and families to social and economic wellbeing.

We will use the proven tools of active listening, co-creation, and ongoing feedback to inform matters of planning and prioritization because policymaking for a just society must be driven by community. People, place, and race are too often treated as abstractions in policymaking but we need stakeholders to understand the humanity of those affected by policy choices. To that end, we will increasingly use multimedia to illuminate people’s lived experiences — to bring the faces and voices of our community into the discussion and to positively influence policies that affect them.

More resilient moving forward

We applaud the outpouring of effort and resources we see easing people’s hardship during this disaster. Now we challenge everyone to think beyond the crisis. Good conversations are happening at the media and policy levels, but we need to shift into action.

As an agency that’s built trust with our communities over generations, we have a central role in advancing their voices, hopes, and solutions in policymaking. We are fighting for a community that drives its own agenda, has real input on decisions that affect them, and enjoys equal representation in institutions that touch their lives.

This is what I mean by responding with resilience. Let’s use this opportunity to meaningfully engage our community in building a more equitable future post-COVID.

Another crisis is inevitable. If we make resilience our priority now, disparity is not.

Harry Colbert, Jr. named next North News editor

Headshot of Harry Colbert, new North News editor

MINNEAPOLIS, Minn. — Pillsbury United Communities has named Harry Colbert, Jr. as the next editor of North News.

Colbert is an award-winning journalist, has contributed as a reporter, columnist/commentator and editor for such outlets as the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation’s The Village, Suburban Journals (St. Louis), St. Louis American, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Joplin Globe (Mo.), Metro Networks (St. Louis) and KDHX (St. Louis).

Colbert joined Insight News in Minneapolis as a contributing writer in 2010. While at Insight, he has covered Barack Obama on multiple occasions during his presidency, interviewed countless dignitaries and celebrities and won awards for writing and photography. In June of 2016, Colbert was named Insight’s managing editor.

Colbert’s journalistic accolades include four Minnesota Newspaper Association awards (first place for General Reporting, two second place for Columnist and one third place for General Excellence), three National Newspaper Publishers Association (NNPA) Merit Awards (2018 Best Column, third place, 2017 Best Special Edition, second place [as both writer and managing editor] for an edition dedicated to the passing of Prince and 2016 Best Use of Photography, third place, for his coverage of the North Minneapolis uprising following the killing of Jamar Clark by Minneapolis police officers) and three National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Salute to Excellence nominations (two for Best Commentary [2018, 2019] and one for Best Business Reporting [2019]).

“We are ecstatic to welcome Harry to our team. Harry intersects a deep commitment and passion for the North Minneapolis community, and we believe he will continue to authentically tell the stories of this resilient place,” said Adair Mosley.

“I’m both humbled and honored to have been selected to lead North News in its next phase of news gathering and sharing,” Colbert said. “Kenzie [O’Keefe] has done an outstanding job piloting the ship in its inaugural phase under Pillsbury United.”

Colbert will begin officially in his role May 11.

Colbert is a proud resident of the Cleveland neighborhood of North Minneapolis.

Colbert replaces Kenzie O’Keefe who will now lead Pillsbury’s policy and advocacy work.

North News is a grassroots print and digital community news source and youth journalism training program in North Minneapolis. It is an independently operated social enterprise of Pillsbury United Communities. North News seeks to deepen understanding, empathy, and appreciation for the Northside through its coverage, expanding perceptions of a place often reduced to a single, negative narrative.

X