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.

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.

Adult program gains access to more opportunities, arts

EPIC participants performing on stage

Our EPIC Program, Employing Partners in Community, has served adults with disabilities for over 30 years. Though one of our longest standing programs, even that doesn’t make it immune to some changes now and then. One such change—and perhaps the biggest—came this past summer of 2019 when the entire program moved from what was formerly Camden Community Center in North Minneapolis to Pillsbury House and Theatre (PHT) in South Minneapolis’ Powderhorn neighborhood.

Though physically uprooting an entire program to another location on the opposite side of the city may have seemed a little daunting, being re-located into a bustling community-based arts center has since proved to be a “really good, really awesome” change for the program according to Cheryl, who has been with the program for over 20 years. Noting better access to bus routes, resources like health fairs, and other things, she said:

“I think we have a lot more access to services for sure. We coordinate with a lot of professional residents – theatre people and Upstream Arts. I think it’s a better variety for our clients to interact with more members of the community. They coordinate with the daycare too…It’s been a good change for them. I think they all enjoy being here. I think that this is a better atmosphere for them because we’re not so isolated…There’s just more resources around here.”

Since having moved to Pillsbury House and Theatre, EPIC participants have already been involved in a variety of classes, including exercise, theatre, dance movement, and other art forms. Kari, Director of PHT’s Chicago Avenue Project (CAP), said, “I think it’s been a great way to involve them in the work that the theatre staff does because it is very much in line with other things that are going on in the building.” She recently directed two performances that EPIC participants acted in just this month. Each play was from the CAP archive and ran for about 10 minutes. While most of the participants played on-stage characters, others helped with more technical behind-the-scenes aspects like running sound and the lights.

Savannah, one of the EPIC crew members who had been rehearsing the play for three months, said she learned “how to trust people” through the experience. When asked if she would want to do it again, she replied “yes” and said the overall experience was a happy one because she had never acted before.

EPIC is still recruiting more participants. For more information, contact Vickie at VickieB@pillsburyunited.org, or call 612-787-3706.

Serving with a smile at People Serving People

EPIC program participants volunteering with People Serving People

Every Tuesday, volunteers from our Employing Partners in Community (EPIC) Program are at People Serving People to assist with building beautification. This is a partnership that has been in place since 2010. Its just one of the many places where program participants and staff volunteer each week.

The EPIC Program, based at the Pillsbury House, is all about skill building, involvement in our community and making memories. Volunteering is practice that provides program participants a chance to gain and strengthen work skills while also helping others and integrating in the community.  At People Serving People, EPIC helps with the janitorial services and that’s a big job. There are seven floors and a long list of housekeeping tasks that need to be done on each floor. Tasks include sweeping, mopping, vacuuming, and cleaning windows. After the work is completed, People Serving People kindly provides a hot meal in exchange for the work. Some of the volunteers favorites are beef nachos, tacos, and smothered chicken.

Full Cycle delivers food and more by bike

Full Cycle bicycle food deliveries

On May 23, 2019 the team at Full Cycle made their first food delivery of the spring. The weather was great, everyone biked hard, and most importantly 150 meals were delivered to transitional living programs in Minneapolis.  Food delivery by bike is just one of the many programs offered by Full Cycle, a social enterprise bicycle shop in south Minneapolis, MN that offers support and connection to young people experiencing homelessness.

Young people who have experience with homelessness can make an appointment to pick out and help fix a bike they can use for transportation. The free bikes also function to relieve stress, provide a fun outlet, and allow youth to practice being self-reliant. In addition, bike appointments are a natural way for youth and youth workers to get to know each other and how Full Cycle can be useful.

Full Cycle also offers youth a two-phase, six-month-long paid internship, which teaches a structured mechanic curriculum and imparts professional knowledge like résumé writing. The idea is to give kids a complete set of skills—not just the know-how to work on bikes.

Pillsbury House Theatre amplifies the stories of older adults

Public memoir reading at Pillsbury House + Theatre

In 2018, Pillsbury House Theatre received a grant to run Centerstage, a series of free memoir writing classes for residents of local Augustana Care buildings. Teaching Artist Jen Scott taught three separate 8-week courses, culminating in a reception at Pillsbury House Theatre in which participants and professional actors read their stories out loud. It was a joyful occasion punctuated with laughter, a few tears, and even music; one of the participants played the harp as she told her story!

This year, Pillsbury House Theatre is doing it again, this time hosting three free eight-week classes for adults 55 and up in their building on Chicago Avenue. The first class, Intro to Memoir, taught by Jen Scott, is wrapping up this month. The second class, Advanced Memoir, will be taught by Dr. Louis Porter starting in June, with a third class to follow later in the summer.

Centerstage is not just about teaching people how to write in the form of memoir. More than that, it’s about empowering people with the knowledge that everyone has a story to be told, and that telling those stories both grounds us in ourselves and connects us to one another.

Plays on the political divide, by and for women at Pillsbury House Theatre

Performance at Pillsbury House + Theatre

Every year since the spring of 2017, Pillsbury House Theatre has produced a series of new 10-minute plays called The Great Divide. Featuring five brand-new 10-minute plays by local playwrights, The Great Divide is a response to the deeply partisan political climate that has become our new normal.

For this year’s installment, titled She Persists: The Great Divide III, Pillsbury House Theatre focused on women’s stories, commissioning plays from local playwrights Cristina Florencia Castro, Casey Llewellyn, Oya Mae Duchess-Davis, Philana Omorotionmwan and Aamera Siddiqui. In addition to the playwrighting cohort, She Persists also featured an all-woman production team and cast, starring Ashawnti Sakina Ford, Audrey Park, Nora Montañez & Sara Richardson.

“These are really politically driven shows, and a few of them deal with the future,” said actress Nora Montañez. “These women, these playwrights took in the theme, and then they went with it, and it’s absolutely gorgeous how different each of these plays are, and how it affects the audience seeing what currently is happening and what could possibly happen in the future.”

Written and performed by and for women, She Persists was a powerful, intersectional look at the place where womanhood and politics collide. To learn about Pillsbury House Theatre’s current season, visit http://pillsburyhouseandtheatre.org/mainstage/

New star emerges at Chicago Avenue Project performance

Chicago Avenue Project performance

Each spring, kids and their adult acting mentors star in plays written just for them by adult playwrights, and each winter, kids and their adult playwriting mentors write plays to be performed by adult actors. The most recent CAP show, Fortune Favors the Bold, was performed by kids and their adult acting mentors on April 22nd and 23rd. Among other stories, the plays included a robot uprising, a wolf directing a nature documentary, and a couple of cartoon characters having an existential crisis!

One of the CAP stars, 8-year-old Deparis, made his acting debut in Fortune Favors the Bold. He played a DJ named Mr. Peep who was on his way to the biggest show of his career, along with his trusty sidekick, Donkey. “I’ve been watching CAP since I was three years old,” he said. “I always wanted to do CAP, and now I have the opportunity, which I’m very excited about… I love CAP because I finally get to let out all my energy and I get to make things that just express me.”

Since 1996, the Chicago Avenue Project (CAP) has brought local youth together with the Twin Cities’ best adult playwrights, actors, and directors to create and produce original theatre that is heartwarming, hilarious, and infused with the brilliance of young minds.

To learn more about the Chicago Avenue Project, visit http://pillsburyhouseandtheatre.org/chicago-avenue-project/.

Learning that sparks imagination and potential

Young girl at PEEC

Birth through age five is a critical time in childhood, when little brains make more connections than at any other time in life. During this important window, children need access to age-appropriate learning — social, emotional, and academic — or risk falling behind. Yet many children in our state lack the early learning opportunities they need to arrive at kindergarten prepared. That feeds the pronounced achievement gaps in Minnesota, where our students of color rank at the bottom nationally for graduation rates, test scores, and other metrics.

The reality is, access to high-quality, affordable, and culturally-relevant preschool is severely limited in precisely the communities where it’s most needed. We see that as an urgent call to action. To give more children in our community the opportunity to succeed, we created Pillsbury Early Education Center, or PEEC.

Situated in Minneapolis’ Phillips neighborhood, PEEC prepares children to thrive in school and life with a genuinely integrated approach. More than ABCs and 123s, PEEC works to nurture kids’ curiosity, creativity, and cultural identities and support their physical and emotional well-being. Staffed by experienced teachers who know the communities they serve, PEEC brings culturally responsive instruction that responds to and celebrates diversity and difference.

Arts have the power to increase access, attachment, and agency for all. So we make creativity the hallmark our curriculum. The school is housed in a vibrant neighborhood arts center that supplies teaching artists to the program. Our teachers are creative role models who encourage children to express themselves through writing, drumming, movement, music and formal and informal performances. As part of PEEC’s theatre and storytelling curriculum, preschoolers create and act out their own stories — developing literacy, communication skills, and confidence in the process.

When families are engaged, children simply learn better. PEEC is co-located with a variety of Pillsbury United social services, making parental involvement part of families’ daily routine. Through tuition support and other resources, we help families in times of financial hardship, so kids have a stable foundation for whatever uncertainty life brings.

Around 40 children a year participate in PEEC. And the results speak for themselves. In 2017 and 2018, 100% of children aging out of the program demonstrated kindergarten readiness. 100% of younger children showed age-appropriate social, emotional, cognitive and physical development. 100% were up to date with immunizations and received well child check-ups. And 100% of parents and caregivers reported that the information and resources PEEC provided helped with positive parenting.

Of course, PEEC can’t solve the gaps in educational access and achievement on its own. Our brand of culturally-attuned education can serve as a model, in Minnesota and beyond, for how communities prepare their youngest members for a lifetime of lively learning and creative participation.

“Our family has loved the exposure to the arts — dance, singing, theatre, art and the cultural influences provided at Pillsbury. Our girls’ confidence in themselves and creative energy is a direct result of their time at Pillsbury.” — Genevieve, Parent

BY THE NUMBERS

100% success rates for kindergarten readiness over the past six years

4-STAR rating from Parent Aware, their highest rating

3 languages of instruction: English, Spanish, and ASL

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