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.

Reimagining Education for Economic Prosperity

Graphic of a single illuminated lightbulb

The Upstream Imperative, Volume 3

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

It’s a report card no Minnesotan is proud to see.

In 2019, the Twin Cities Metro was named the fourth worst place in the country for Black Americans. It’s just one of many rankings that show the depth of our region’s racial gaps, from academic achievement to wealth. Our state ranks 44th for racial disparities in standardized test scores and in the bottom tenth for disparities in who earns a high school diploma. Median household income for Minnesota’s Black and Indigenous families is less than half of what white families earn.

These disparities have a tangible impact on people’s lives. Less able to own homes, start businesses, or gainfully participate in the economy, our families of color are stuck in a cycle of poverty that leaves them sicker, less happy, and less safe. Our young people see their dreams curtailed before they get an opportunity to try.

It’s a crisis that makes our whole state poorer. According to the think tank PolicyLink, Minnesota’s annual GDP would be $16.4 billion higher if these racial gaps were erased. As retirees exit the workforce in large numbers, our state is facing an estimated shortfall of 400,000 workers by 2024. People of color are the fastest-growing segment of our population, yet our education gaps leave us unprepared to fill these jobs.

This isn’t the progress we expect in our progressive state. We have the resources to fuel prosperity. How do we unlock them for everyone in our community?

Expanding choices

We know that when we equip people with the knowledge, skills, and connections to thrive, they seize their opportunities. But too many Minnesota students and their families are not given that chance.

Despite deliberate effort and investment, our system of academic high schools is not meeting the needs of thousands of black and brown students. Unengaged by traditional classroom-based programs and unmotivated by their prospects after high school, roughly half do not make it to graduation, and so leave the system unprepared for work or further education. Those who are prepared face additional barriers. Where once a four-year college degree was a reliable path to prosperity, it’s become unaffordable, saddling students with debt that actually limits their future prospects.

There is more than one way to be successful and prosperous in life. But the choices our schools provide leave many students out of the equation. Some, but not all, will prosper in a four-year college program. Some will embrace a professional career track. Others have ambitions that check a different box.

How do we prevent students from falling through the cracks? By providing new choices and incentives and broadening how we define success. A four-year degree shouldn’t be the only outcome. We need a learning environment that meets students where they are and lets their interests and ambitions lead them forward.

Learn to earn

For students not driven by the promise of a four-year degree, landing a good-paying job out of high school can be a powerful motivation to stay in school and focus on their future.

That’s the promise of Career and Trade Education, or CTE. Once sidelined as a lesser diploma for low-performing students, CTE is having a renaissance. Today’s CTE model lets students personalize their education around their interests and unique learning needs. Instead of being a one-way ticket, CTE keeps all the options open, preparing students to jump into living-wage jobs or go on to two- or four-year college programs when they’re ready. CTE focuses on the innovation-driven careers our future economy needs: building trades, IT, health care, clean energy, entrepreneurship, and many more.

Opening this avenue to students during high school has a bottom-line impact. According to the U.S. Dept. of Education, eight years after their expected graduation date, students who focused on career and technical education while in high school had higher median annual earnings than students who did not focus on CTE.

On recent visits to CTE schools in Denver and New York City, I saw Black and Latino youth whose passion for learning was evident. Not only were they deeply engaged in their course of study, they knew exactly how they would apply their skills after graduation. Rather than reach for a lesser dream, they saw the experience as a launch pad to a better life. And the opportunity awaiting them is enormous. Instructors told me that local employers are coming to their school to find workers. You can feel the enthusiasm in the community. I saw everyone leaning in: encouraging students, contributing skills, and creating a network to carry students far beyond graduation.

It’s our time 

At Pillsbury United Communities, we see career and technical education as an essential new option for Minnesota youth, one with the power to change the economic outlook for families of color in high-poverty communities.

Realizing this model won’t be easy. It requires parents to demand more of a system that isn’t serving them well. It means prioritizing the needs of children and parents over the demands of the system. We need the engagement of industry leaders and lawmakers to create a model that works for business, families, and teachers as well as students.

We believe CTE is the engine of improvement we need to grow homeownership and entrepreneurship, to create better health outcomes and safer neighborhoods, and to give families a pathway out of poverty.

It’s time we expand opportunity to everyone. We have work to do, Minnesota.

Census 2020: how to get involved

This past week, a diverse group of nearly 50 community members and leaders came together at our Waite House community center for We Count: Immigrants and Refugees, an event held in collaboration with the City of Minneapolis to raise awareness on the significance of counting everyone in Minnesota. With billions of dollars and political power on the table—and knowing that the most vulnerable communities are historically undercounted—the stakes are high. To ensure a complete and accurate count, one thing became clear: It’ll take all of us.

When there’s fear—about what the government will do with peoples’ information, or if landlords will have access to the data, or about who will be knocking on our doors—it’ll take all of us. 

When there’s a barrier—like not being able to fill out the form in your language, not having access to technology, or not understanding the importance of being counted—it’ll take all of us. 

When there’s confusion—about which box to check to identify yourself, what information is required in order to participate, or when misinformation is being spread amongst our communities—it’ll take all of us. 

It’ll take all of us. It’ll take YOU. Sharing accurate, relevant, and reliable information. Having this conversation in our neighborhoods, around our block. In our children’s schools, faith groups, and workplaces. With our families, friends, and colleagues. From trusted voices. 

“Text somebody. Share the information. Post on social media. Maybe host an event. Host a dinner on your block. Bring people together and talk about these issues because in this time when we’re being divided, when we’re being pit against each other, we need to do the opposite. We need to bring more people in,” said Minneapolis city council-member Alondra Cano, one of the evening’s panelists. 

What else can you do? 

Work for the census. Positions are flexible, include weekly paychecks with competitive wages, and are a sure way to ensure your neighbors are counted.  

Form a complete count committee. Grants are currently available for nonprofits, neighborhood groups, churches, schools, or anyone working with a fiscal agent to do census work.  

Sign up to volunteer with us. Door-knock or phone-bank to spread information about the census or even assist others in our computer labs as they fill out their form.  

Collaborate. Don’t underestimate the importance of connecting with each other, building relationships, and sharing best practices on how to move this work forward. Panelist Monica Hurtado, Racial Justice and Health Equity Organizer for Voices for Racial Justice, said, “The census can be a tool for our liberation. And I think that’s key—how we are all in this together…It’s about the Latino community, about the Somali community, about the Asian community, about people experiencing homelessness, about kids who are at high risk of being undercounted. So how do we use this to sit around the table and to be together and to be united and understand that the census is in 2020, but the impact of those numbers is going to last for 10 more years?”  

We have a big challenge ahead of us. And to ensure that we are visible, that we are not erased, and that we are all counted, it’ll take all of us.

A day in the life of a community chef

Meals being served at Oak Park community cafe

For the chef at a Pillsbury United Communities community café, the work of preparing a nutritious community meal is an all-day affair. At Oak Park Center, which offers free community dinners Tuesday-Thursday, the chef’s day typically begins around 10 a.m. The chef begins their morning by looking through recent donations and taking stock of the inventory in the fridgeOnce the chef knows what they have on-hand, they can begin crafting a menu for the evening. 

With different ingredients available every day, developing the evening’s menu can require some creativity and experimentation. Every day’s menu is different. The chef has to create a balanced meal that incorporates whatever ingredients they have available, using as many fresh ingredients as possible, in a manner that minimizes food waste. “The number one thing that I look at is vegetation,” says Demetria Fuller, head chef at Oak Park. “Second, I make sure that we have a good starch and protein option. But I start with the vegetables, because we always have a lot of vegetables.” Spaghetti is a favorite with many of Fuller’s regulars; by using eggplant instead of beef in the pasta sauce, she can provide a vegetarian-friendly alternative that even the meat-eaters crave. 

Once the menu is set, meal preparations get underway for the evening around 11 a.m. The chef usually starts with the salad course. Whenever possible, ingredients for the salad are sourced from community gardens at Oak Park and Waite House, which are managed by the Pillsbury United urban agriculture team. Additional produce donations will also arrive from North Market, as well as other community partners. Salad can be kept refrigerated through the day, so it’s an easy task to get out of the way while the café is relatively quiet—all the better to ensure it doesn’t get missed in the commotion as dinner-time approaches. At this time, the chef also begins heating up the steam wells that keep food warm for community café patrons. 

Meal prep continues with the entrees and sides through the afternoon. Typically, a community dinner at Oak Park will serve 50-60 people over the course of a night—but just to be careful, the chef will plan for 70-100 attendees. That way, nobody goes hungry. For tonight’s meal, taco bowls, Fuller is dicing and seasoning chicken, and preparing huge quantities of rice, beans, and corn. At this scale of food preparation, the chef has to carefully manage multiple timers to ensure that nothing burns and everything is ready on time.  

At Oak Park Center, doors open for dinner at 4 p.m., and a handful of enthusiastic community members are usually waiting by the door a few minutes early. Whenever possible, the chef will greet visitors as they arrive. This helps ensure the space is welcoming to all who come through the door. “This is a safe space, with no drama,” Fuller says. “Everybody can come here [and know that] you’re somebody here.” Easy access to the chef also lets community members share their unvarnished feedback about the evening’s menu, which helps inform future meal planning. Dinner service runs until 6 p.m., with the chef remaining on-hand in case any items need replenishment or any issues arise in the dining room. 

Around 6 p.m., the chef begins to close out for the evening. They first put away any leftover food and ingredients; anything that won’t keep in the fridge gets sent home with neighborhood center staff to prevent it going to waste. Then they gather dishes to wash. Trash is taken out, and surfaces get wiped down in the dining room and kitchen. By 8 p.m., the café is cleaned and ready for the next day’s activities. 

Although the chef’s work is sometimes challenging, it matters deeply to the community members who rely on the community café for a warm meal, a safe space, and an opportunity to connect with friends and neighbors. For the chef at a Pillsbury United Communities café, every day is another chance to nourish their community. 

Celebrating 140 years at Greater>Together 2019

Historical display at Greater Together 2019

On October 2, friends and supporters of Pillsbury United Communities joined at the Machine Shop in Northeast Minneapolis for Greater>Together, our annual fundraising gala. This year’s event was particularly meaningful for Pillsbury United, as 2019 marks our agency’s 140th anniversary.

The evening’s program helped bring the full breadth of this history to life, alongside a series of historical displays and murals specially prepared for the event. Mayor Jacob Frey was also on hand to officially commemorate the anniversary by proclaiming October 2, 2019 as Pillsbury United Communities Day. By the evening’s close, attendees came away with a renewed appreciation for the past, present, and future of our work, from the earliest roots of the settlement house movement to the 21st century.

Greater>Together represented the culmination of more than a year’s worth of research and story-gathering, drawing on an extensive archive of records and photographs maintained by the University of Minnesota’s Social Welfare History Archives (SWHA). These files date back to the earliest days of our agency. To prepare the event materials, Pillsbury United staff reviewed thousands of physical photographs and drew from more than a thousand newly digitized photos from the collection. Many of these images have never before been presented to the public.

“The archives show a side of history that isn’t always included in the historical narrative,” says Sam Daub, a content strategist at Pillsbury United Communities who oversaw much of the research and content-gathering. “You get a glimpse into the lives of regular people—not just the ‘great men’ of history, but families, immigrants, the working class… the people who came together to create the fabric of our communities. It’s a fascinating story that continues to resonate into the present day.”

Although much of this work was publicly unveiled at Greater>Together, followers of the Pillsbury United Facebook page have been receiving a preview every Friday since the start of 2019. Using the hashtag #pillsburyunited140, our agency has spotlighted key moments and fun facts spanning the entirety of our 140-year history. Some of these highlights include:

Although we are nearing the end of our 140th anniversary year, plans are already underway to continue exploring this rich and varied history into our 141st year and beyond. A new podcast, currently in pre-production and slated to begin in 2020, will highlight the impact of the tumultuous 1960’s on Minneapolis settlement houses. A series of planned talks at each of our neighborhood centers will also delve into the hyperlocal histories of the communities in which we’ve lived and worked.

“This history lives on in the communities and the people we serve,” Daub says. “By sharing these stories, we’re able to provoke new conversations about the scope and impact of our work since 1879. Ultimately, it’s all in service of sustaining and enriching the work we’re doing today.”

Click here to view photos from Greater>Together 2019.

An Upstream View of Population Health

Graphic of a single illuminated lightbulb

The Upstream Imperative, Volume 2

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

If you’re like me, you want to solve the stubborn disparities that exist in our community. It can be daunting to talk about, and there are no easy answers. But I believe the change we want is possible if we are willing to zoom out. Only by tackling the root causes that brought us to this place can we get past them as a society. 

This is what I mean by the Upstream Imperative: elevating our strategy to engage the systems — not merely the symptoms — that hold back people’s lives across generations. 

Facing the factors

Nowhere is this upstream response more needed than in population health. We know that the health of our community is shaped to the greatest extent by social determinants: factors including neighborhood livability, housing, education, and economic prosperity. These factors influence people’s lifelong wellbeing more than any hospital, doctor, or medication. 

Why does Minnesota have some of the largest racial disparities in the nation? Because life in black and brown communities has long been adversely impacted by systemic racism and inequity. This context affects everything: people’s access to nutritious food and health education, their exposure to environmental hazards, and their likelihood of living in substandard housing. It imposes extra costs and barriers when they access healthcare and produces toxic stress that puts people at risk for lifelong health problems.

If we’re serious about closing these gaps, we need to think at the scale of this systemic challenge. That means bringing all stakeholders to the table to innovate with an inclusive approach. 

Assessing root causes

We can’t solve problems we don’t clearly understand. Which is why the Affordable Care Act mandated that non-profit health systems conduct health assessments in the communities they serve. Such assessments can unite payers, providers, and policymakers around the same goal — be it care access, nutrition, housing, education, or all of the above — and guide a coordinated response. 

Without a mandate to address social needs and root causes, the efforts of health systems to date have been largely reactive and disconnected from the people they’re meant to help. As that mandate changes, organizations like Pillsbury United have an essential role to play. As a connector between healthcare systems and our communities, we can help produce a truer picture of life and health in our neighborhoods — the first step in creating an effective response based on the community’s real needs and assets.

Human connections

Foremost among these assets are people. In communities of color, there have always been navigators — people who deeply understand their neighbors’ perspective and help them navigate their critical social needs, from health care to housing. The role they play is usually hidden and seldom compensated, but their impact is no less important than that of doctors. They guide people to overcome cultural and economic barriers to better health in ways the traditional healthcare model cannot. 

That’s an opportunity. By investing in the capacity of these navigators and elevating their role as true Community Health Workers, we can empower our communities’ human resources to do even more. They deserve better tools and support and to have a voice in matters than affect their families and neighbors. Despite proof that such a model works, it is not as well funded as it should be. Policymakers, payers, and healthcare systems can help change that. 

Convener and conduit

Health has been at the center of our work for over 140 years. Supporting whole people in whole communities is part of our Settlement House roots. We understand the importance of working in, for, and with community, listening to people most affected and giving them tools to create solutions relevant to their lives.

As healthcare systems begin to embrace more encompassing, community-based solutions, agencies like Pillsbury United are poised to make them successful. As intentional partners, we can ensure an intersecting regional response big enough to create historic change aligned with the goals of stakeholders and needs on the ground.

We envision a future where people achieve greater personal health and wellbeing together. For the communities we serve, this future can’t wait.

X