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.

Congrats 2020 FANS Grads!

Amid a global pandemic and an unprecedented wave of protests in Minneapolis, the class of 2020 has had a very unusual senior year. And yet despite these unique hurdles, this year’s FANS seniors have pushed through to high school graduation. We couldn’t be more proud of their accomplishments.

FANS is a college and career mentorship program for high schoolers, specifically working with students of color, recent immigrants, and other groups that have been historically underrepresented in higher education. Upon completing the program and graduating from high school, students are eligible for a scholarship to help pay for their continuing education. FANS scholarships are funded entirely thanks to donations from our network of supporters, and 100% of contributions go directly to students to help cover books, tuition, and other expenses.

Keep reading below to meet some of our 2020 FANS graduates below and hear what they have to say about their experiences in the program.

Meet: Zubeda, Roosevelt High School Grad

Why is it important for you to go to college?
It is important for me to go to college because I want to help my family and not depend on anyone else—so I want to give it back to my community, and I feel like going to college and getting an education is the only way I can do that. I also want to go to college because all my life I’ve been going to school and I want to continue to get the education that I need that my friends didn’t get in Ethiopia.

Tell us about your experience with FANS.
FANS has help me prepare for college in many ways. I remember when I first started, I wasn’t really sure about college or what college was, but this program has help me figure out why I need to go to college. I’ve seen people who have been in [FANS] go on to college and become successful, and I want to be like them. It has helped me by going on tours, looking at how I can pay for college, talking with college admission counselors, and just basically preparing me for life after high school.

Youth step up to serve community elders in midst of pandemic

Despite the challenging times we find ourselves in, there is always hope to be found in the selflessness and creativity of neighbors going the extra mile. That’s certainly the case in Cedar Riverside. Since the beginning of Ramadan, 20+ youth organized by the Brian Coyle Center have been delivering more than 200 meals every night to elders, those with limited mobility, and folks who are self-isolating and residing in the neighborhood towers. After a long day of fasting, a warm meal—and a connection with a friendly volunteer—is the perfect opportunity to bridge the social distance.

The Cedar Riverside Community Response Team was first envisioned by a local neighborhood association, the Cedar Riverside Community Council. It was a natural partnership opportunity for Brian Coyle Center, which took the lead in engaging and rallying neighborhood youth volunteers to make the deliveries. The meals are provided by Afro Deli restaurant, and Mixed Blood Theatre has generously provided supplies and space for the team.

While the meals have been warmly welcomed by those 200+ individual community members, the experience has also impacted the youth who are making deliveries. One volunteer, Zubeda, said, “I felt happy fasting and giving back to our elders. It just made me happy and I want to come do it again and again. Hopefully you guys will catch me here a lot more.”

Another volunteer, Akbal, spoke to the opportunity for cross-generational connection:

“Something that’s very important for youth is having this moment to connect with our elders. There’s a huge disconnect between the youth and elders and it may be culture or language. This is the perfect time to learn from them and show them that we care.”

We continue to draw inspiration from our youth volunteers who are stepping up each evening to serve their neighbors—to say nothing of all the partners involved in this, without whom this would literally not be possible. In the midst of uncertainty, it is our honor to stand in partnership alongside others who are committed to seeing our community through this. To all our friends and neighbors who are celebrating—Happy Ramadan!

If you or someone you know residing in the Cedar Riverside towers would like to request a meal delivery, please call 401-285-9247. Please note that this delivery program is reserved solely for elders, people with disabilities, and those who are immuno-compromised.

7 ways to stand with our communities during COVID-19

Waite House staff observing social distancing at food distribution site

Wanting to show up for community right now, but not sure how? In addition to a financial contribution to groups that are providing emergency relief services, here are some other ways you can support our communities in these times of social distancing.

1. Make masks for our essential service workers and community members. Our emergency food and childcare teams are working hard on the front lines to provide needed services to Minneapolis families. In less than a month, our food programs have distributed almost 100,000 pounds of food to more than 1,000 families! But, as with others engaging in front-line work, we are always in need of of face masks to ensure the safety of our team. Not only that, but many of the folks coming for services are also facing difficulty accessing masks, something we’d like to assist with! If you have some extra time on your hands and want to hone some craft skills, consider making homemade face masks for our direct service workers and neighbors. Contact Kim with questions and/or to arrange delivery: KimP@pillsburyunited.org, 612-302-3499.

2. Call in to KRSM Radio. Though we are distancing physically, KRSM Radio is working hard to keep content fresh and to keep folks connected over the airwaves. You can call 612-208-3808 and leave a message for KRSM to share with the community. Tell us about how you’ve been finding joy in these strange times; give a recipe to try; sing a song or recite a poem; share great resources available in your neighborhood; or just tell us how you’re holding up. Let your neighbors, friends, and family hear your voice!

3. Clean out your closets for Sisterhood. Feel like doing some spring cleaning while you’re stuck inside? We encourage you to take a look at your clothing closet! Located in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, Sisterhood Boutique is our gently-used clothing store that doubles as a youth social enterprise. They are always looking for clothing, shoes, and accessory donations (again, gently used please!) to add to their merchandise. So though you might not be able to make the physical hand-off until the shelter-in-place order is lifted, you can feel good knocking out this project ahead of time. Your (future) donation helps fuel a program that equips young East African women leaders with tools and skills for school, life, and more.

4. Shop at North Market. We all still have groceries to get and certainly have a lot of options from where to get them. Consider trying out our nonprofit grocery store, North Market, if you haven’t had a chance yet. It’s not only a full-service grocery store, but also a center for wellness services and a community gathering place in Minneapolis’ Camden neighborhood. It is important to note that they are taking several measures to ensure the safety of their shoppers in light of COVID-19 as well. (Plus, did you know that you can get 50% off all fresh produce EVERY Wednesday!?) Your shopping dollars help support this long sought after community food resource.

5. Read and share North News. Quality journalism doesn’t stop in the middle of a pandemic. With some extra time on your hands, grab a cup of coffee and settle in to read our Northside print (& online!) newspaper, North News. A truly community-based media outlet, North News prides itself on telling the whole stories and truths of Minneapolis’ Northside, not just the one-dimensional narratives often showcased in mainstream media. Like what you’re reading? Share it with your friends and family, and consider signing up to get a copy of the paper delivered to your doorstep each month.

6. Complete the census! Everything happening now is a reminder that our communities are in need of more resources. But did you know that those resources are often allocated based on population numbers from the census? Yep, even for recovery efforts in a crisis such as this. Not to mention housing assistance, school meals, SNAP, WIC, and so on. We only get the appropriate amount of resources if we are counted. We only get adequate political representation if we are counted. If you haven’t already, please take 5 minutes and complete the census today. This is a simple action with significant repercussions. Count your household today and encourage those you know and love to get counted as well.

7. Make a monthly gift. A financial gift is one of the best ways you can support our work during these uncertain times—and one of the best ways to support us financially is by becoming a monthly donor. We know that this will be a long-term struggle. Even after the crisis has passed, our communities will be living with the economic impacts for years to come. Help us continue showing up by signing up for a monthly gift. For as little as $5 per month, you can become part of a circle of grassroots supporters who are enabling all of our vital efforts in community.

Now more than ever, we know that no matter where we go from here, we go together. Thank you for showing up for our communities.

Exploring Minnesota’s great outdoors

Youth camping activities

Our youth programs have wrapped up for the summer in what we thought was the most fitting way possible—spending time in the Minnesota outdoors. Knowing that the summer season here is short and filled with all different kinds of opportunities to be outside, we wanted to take advantage of what the natural wonders of this city and state has to offer.

Over the past three weeks, we’ve lead over 80 youth on four different canoeing excursions—two overnight expeditions in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA), one overnight trip along the St. Croix River, and one day trip on Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes. Outdoor expeditions can sometimes be costly and strenuous, but in partnering with the group Wilderness Inquiry, we were able to provide the gear, transportation, and trained guides—all for free.

Maireni, 14, said her favorite part was “Looking at the stars and going to the waterfalls.” And for Luz, 15, it was “Being able to be with nature and talk to new people.” The least favorite part of the experience? The responses were almost unanimous: mosquitos.

While multiple hands-on skills are learned on these trips, from paddling to putting up a tent, making a fire to washing dishes outside—soft skills are strengthened too. Like Baldemar, 14, said, “Teamwork is very vital when you go camping.” Teamwork, communication, and problem-solving skills become necessary when experiencing the outdoors overnight for several days, not always alongside familiar faces, and without the comfortable amenities of home. And without the distraction of phones or other digital devices, youth find their own ways to have fun, whether it be through outdoor games, some good old-fashioned singing, or just taking life a little slower by chatting and building bonds with one another.

Engaging youth in the great outdoors has been a Pillsbury United tradition since the founding of the first settlement houses, and we plan to continue for years to come. Next time, we might just bring some more bug spray.

Health fairs offer knowledge and connection in Phillips and Cedar Riverside

Health worker at Waite House health fair

It’s a beautiful August day: sunny, a few clouds, not too hot. Outside Waite House in the Phillips neighborhood of Minneapolis, more than a hundred of our neighbors are listening to music (courtesy of KRSM Radio), jumping in an inflatable bounce house, and catching up with their friends. Conversations waft through the air, a sampling of the hundred-plus languages spoken by residents of one of our city’s most diverse communities.

Although the vibe is casual and friendly, the occasion today is a serious one: Today is the Phillips Health Fair, and health is on everyone’s mind. Here, and at a similar event at Brian Coyle Center in Cedar Riverside earlier this month, more than 40 partner organizations have assembled to share their knowledge and resources with the community.

By connecting our neighbors to local health care resources, we eliminate barriers to access and give them the tools to take a more active role in the care that they and their families receive. But it goes deeper than that. Social connectedness is a powerful predictor of overall health outcomes; people are healthier when they talk to their neighbors.

According to Tsega Tamene, director of community health at Pillsbury United Communities, this is the critical role the health fairs serve. “We’re creating a space for people to connect, to learn, to play,” she says.

And in a space where so much of the conversation around community health focuses on the health disparities that exist within indigenous communities and communities of color, the Phillips and Coyle health fairs provide a platform for the individuals and organizations who are already working towards a solution. Rather than creating new efforts and duplicative work, Tamene says the health fairs succeed by “lifting up resources that are already there in the community.”

Tamene is quick to point out that the health fairs couldn’t happen without dedicated organizers—Jovita and Awol, at Waite House and Brian Coyle respectively—driving new partnerships at the local level and activating the grassroots energy of their friends, colleagues, and neighbors. It all comes down to the relationships our center staff have built throughout the community.

Ultimately, our health fairs are one solution within a multifaceted approach to community health. As researchers in the field of public health can tell us, the health of our communities is impacted by any number of factors, from education, to food access, to transportation. It’s hard to deny that these systems have failed many of our neighbors. But despite the complex challenges that our communities are living with, it’s clear that a dedicated effort is underway—and for one August afternoon in Phillips and Cedar Riverside, we get a brief glimpse of what a healthier and more connected future looks like.

(Click here for photos from the Brian Coyle Health Fair.)

Buraanbur builds connections, brings healing

Buraanbur at Brian Coyle Center

Taking care of your health doesn’t necessarily equate to making routine stops at the doctor’s office. Being healthy and feeling well, safe, and secure requires looking at a bigger picture—focusing on how our everyday lives, work, environment, and choices influence our well-being.

For East African women in the Cedar Riverside neighborhood, one way of fostering health and healing has been through a form of dance and poetry native to Somalia: buraanbur. From January through June of this year, about 20 women regularly attended buraanbur dance classes at the Brian Coyle Center hosted by the Immigrant Women’s Advocacy Program (IWAP). This opportunity was made possible through a special partnership with The Cedar Cultural Center and The City of Minneapolis Health Department, and was sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts. The classes served multiple purposes. Not only were they a way for women to improve their physical health by exercising, but they were also an opportunity to break isolation and build relationships—all while being rooted in their culture.

“We come together here twice a week. We socialize; we dance; we sweat; and we laugh. If someone doesn’t come to the session, we ask each other, ‘Where is so and so?’ and check up on them. We care for each other and have become more than just neighbors. We dance together whilst feeling connected to my culture like it was back in my home country,” one participant said.

Miski Abdulle, our Director of Immigrant Services, touched on how they were not just dance sessions, but also ‘healing sessions’ for some participants who are survivors of domestic abuse and sexual violence, the population that IWAP primarily works with. This type of cultural healing “heals the soul,” she said. Participants spoke to her about feeling lighter and sleeping and eating better than before. Some said:

“I get to exercise, be active. And this is good for my mental health too because I feel happy here. It’s a place for women to be together. This is just like family to me.”

“I have become good friends with the women here and I feel a sense of community support and togetherness.”

“I have been coming to these buraanbur sessions because it is a fun place to be. I get to see the same faces, people who are my neighbors. I get to laugh with them, exercise, and enjoy my culture.”

A sense of belonging and community. Cultural connectedness and healing. Artistic expression. These are all pieces in our vision for thriving communities. Because we don’t just want our communities to be healthy; we want them to be well. And that requires looking at the bigger picture.

Summer K-5 program launched, despite cuts

Children in youth program

For the first time since the summer of 2017, a no-cost summer K-5 program is up and running at our Brian Coyle Center. From June through August, kids will have the opportunity to participate in a vast range of activities—literacy and geography lessons, getting hands-on with gardening, cooking, technology and organized sports, going on field trips, and engaging in projects that help foster self-expression and ignites them to think about their community in different ways. Programming like this is essential during this time of year to prevent ‘summer slide,’ otherwise known as the learning loss that happens when kids are out of school and not academically engaged as they are during the school year. In the past week, some highlights include planting peppers in the garden, learning about Brazil and the greater South American continent followed up by making some delicious Brazilian limeade, getting outdoors at the Dodge Nature Center, learning about the environment, recycling, and how to save energy from Community Action Partnership, and enhancing reading skills thanks to a partnership with the Cedar Riverside Opportunity Center.

Though this programming is happening now—unfortunately in the past two years, our K-5 youth have not had the academic and social supports needed due to funding cuts. Our agency along with many others serving this population were forced to cut both our summer and afterschool K-5 programs out entirely, which has had significant impacts on the families we serve. Older middle and high school-aged youth have often had to step up and stay home to care for their younger siblings, forcing them to no longer participate in their own summer/afterschool programming. Parents were faced with the difficult decision to change their job(s) or adjust their work schedules. And then there’s the K-5 kids themselves who are no longer receiving the academic and social supports that are critical in laying the groundwork for academic success and confidence in middle school.

This has been a real community need these past couple of years, and because of demand from our Cedar Riverside neighbors, we pulled as many strings as we could to make a summer K-5 program happen at the Brian Coyle Center. However, the future of K-5 still looks uncertain until there are more funds allocated to this population. If you are passionate about the future of our young people, we encourage you to follow both Ignite Afterschool and the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board, two groups who are determinedly working to secure more youth funding from the City and State. Our kids deserve better.

Do you have a story of the power of K-5 programming, or want to share your experiences with the lack of it? Contact Julie: JulieG@pillsburyunited.org, 612-455-0365. We want to help uplift these stories to ensure we get the resources needed for our young people.

Sisterhood Boutique celebrates diversity with style

Models at the Sisterhood Boutique fashion show

On March 5, 2019 Sisterhood Boutique celebrated its fifth anniversary with a fashion show. The boutique was started by Somali and east African girls as safe space to learn skills like financial literacy, leadership and sewing by running their own business selling secondhand clothes.

“We do a lot of things and the fashion show is a way to show the community what we’ve been doing. We’ve had over 200 people go through the process,” said store manager Amal Muse.

The fashion show is part birthday party, part fundraiser and features models of all shapes and sizes wearing looks designed by students from the University of St. Catherine’s Advanced Construction Class to reflect the diversity found in the West Bank neighborhood where the boutique is located.

“We have women wearing traditional hijabs and burkas; there’s everything. It really runs the gamut of what you would see walking around in a very fashionable Minneapolis,” said Julie Graves, Director of Career & Future Readiness.

For some of the girls involved with store, the show is a chance to strike a pose, while for others, it’s one more example that the Sisterhood Boutique lives up to its name.

“It’s very family-like. You feel like you are part of a sister family. I don’t have sisters, so I gained sisters,” Ali said.

Students graduate from FANS, 30th program year

Graduation of FANS scholars

This is our 30th year running our free college, career, and life preparatory program for high school students known as FANS. Through the program, students participate in workshops and seminars, are introduced to various career options, go on college tours, develop their leadership skills, get civically engaged, and prepare for the and ACT/SATs.

This Spring, we were honored to gather our FANS grads and their families together for our annual awards ceremony to celebrate their accomplishments and wish them well as they take big steps towards their futures. This Fall, graduates will be off to: Augsburg University, Metro State University, Minneapolis Community & Technical College, Saint Paul College, and more!

Students that successfully complete the FANS Scholars program are eligible to receive a small scholarship to assist with college expenses and have their FANS Advocate support them through college graduation. Since its inception, FANS Scholars have received over $1,000,000 in scholarships to assist with college expenses.

X