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She gets people talking

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Shanene Herbert of Healing Justice St. Paul engages youth through power of words

Shanene Herbert at the “Youth Will Rise” March on July 3, 2020 on the University of Minnesota Campus. Over 100 people gathered to celebrate the perseverance of youth of color, especially lifting up this year’s high school and college graduates. They carried their message through the neighborhood despite punishingly high heat and humidity, ending with a celebration at Father Hennepin Bluffs. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By Margie O’Loughlin
Shanene Herbert chooses her words carefully.
In her work as Healing Justice St. Paul Program Director, she helps Black and Brown youth find theirs. The program she leads is under the umbrella of the American Friends Service Committee: a Quaker organization devoted to service, development, and peace programs throughout the world. She works with Saint Paul Public Schools administrators, teachers, and students to build community and repair harm.
She gets people talking.
Before COVID-19, participants in her group sessions would gather in a facilitated circle to talk about race and racism. Now it happens via Zoom, but Black and Brown students still have a chance to build their knowledge and language.
They learn how to recognize racism, and they learn how to organize against it using direct action.
According to Herbert, making sure young people enter into intentional conversation around race and racism is crucial. She said, “People of color have been dealing with the pandemic of systemic racism for more than 400 years. Young people are enraged. They don’t have the patience that their parents and grandparents did. Their generation expects things to happen quickly.”
She continued, “We have to give them the tools to deal with their hurt, their anger, and their fear. Most of these kids don’t have access to quality mental healthcare. How do we keep them from self-medicating with drugs at this time? How will they function with distance learning or with classroom learning in the fall? Will they be ready to take standardized tests when they do go back to school? What words can they find to describe this moment that we’re in?”

‘When we cry for help, no one is going to save us’
In the Twin Cities, we are living in the past and the present simultaneously. Racial injustice has been happening for years on end but people, especially young people, are reacting to it very differently now – as if a line has finally been drawn in the sand.
Again, Herbert chose her words carefully. She said, “George Floyd was lynched in South Minneapolis, in what was historically a Black neighborhood. Notice that I said ‘lynched’, not murdered or killed. This is an important distinction for people of color. We need to be clear with our language.”
She continued, “When you see historical photos of lynchings, there’s a coldness in the killers’ eyes – just like there was in former officer Derek Chauvin’s. And the way he had his hands in his pockets, that was a power move. That image reminds us of all the power we do not have. It reminds us that when even we cry out for help, no one is going to save us.”
Herbert sees this as the time for changing that narrative. She said, “If you have power, you’re likely going to be comfortable all the time. If you don’t have power, you’re always living with a level of discomfort.”

Getting unconfortable is necessary step toward change
Talking about race and racism makes many white Minnesotans very uncomfortable, but feeling uncomfortable is a necessary step toward change. Herbert, who is from New York City, moved to St. Paul at 17 and graduated from Como Senior High School. She said, “Many Black and Brown people who live in Minnesota aren’t from here; they moved from Chicago or Milwaukee, or their parents migrated from the South. We’re of a different make up. We’re a more communal kind of people.”
She continued, “With the pandemic, Black and Brown people were relegated to their homes just like everybody else – but because of our communal nature, we may have found it harder. Our jobs are more likely to be threatened by the pandemic, our family members are dying at disproportionately higher rates from COVID-19, and we were doing badly in this country already.”
When Herbert looks back at her own evolution as an activist, she knows exactly when it started. Arriving at Como Senior High School as a senior, she signed up for an African and African American Studies class. To her surprise, the teacher was white. When she asked why he was teaching the class, the teacher said, “We don’t have a Black teacher here who is licensed to teach it. I wish you would go out and get your degree, and come back and teach this class.”
Herbert went on to the University of Minnesota, graduated with a degree in African and African American Studies, and has been working as an educator/activist ever since.

Name and identify
In the aftermath of the uprising, St. Paul and Minneapolis are busy picking up the pieces. Herbert said, “While the buildings can be rebuilt, we are left with the harder job of addressing race and racism where we live. This work, this emotional labor, is exhausting. I believe that one of the good things that will come out of this time is true honesty, true transparency.“
She added, “At Healing Justice Program St. Paul, we will continue to engage youth in the conversation, without talking around or about them. We will continue to help them name and identify what is happening to them.”
For more information on the work of Healing Justice Program St. Paul, visit the website of the American Friends Service Committee at www.afsc.org/office/st-paul-minn, or email Shanene Herbert at sherbert@afsc.org.

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You don’t have to leave to seek help

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Casa de Esperanza offers hope, resources to help families live free of violence

Local and national staff, along with Carmen Yulín Cruz (mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico), and Teresa Rodriguez, from Univision, who served as the emcee of Casa de Esperanza’s 35th Anniversary Gala, Adelante Esperanza in May 2018.

Need someone to walk with you as you get out of domestic violence? That’s what Casa de Esperanza offers women, children and men.
It’s hard to nail down exactly what the Midway non-profit Casa Esperanza does because they do a little bit of everything.
Teresa Burns currently manages the Casa de Esperanza shelter, and worked as an advocate before that. “I have done everything from accompany a mom for her ultrasound to registering kids for school,” she observed.
Domestic abuse overlaps with every aspect of life, she pointed out, including physical health, safety, mental health, public benefits, education, criminal court, housing, and more. So Casa de Esperanza does too.
“Domestic violence isn’t an isolated topic. It impacts someone’s entire life. So our advocacy matches that,” said Burns.
“I feel so blessed to have the opportunity to be part of an organization that has a dedicated group of advocates and other staff that give their all, each and every day. We believe community is the answer to ending domestic violence. We must all work together to make that happen,” stated Casa de Esperanza CEO Patti Tototzintle.

Rights and options
Casa de Esperanza offers Minnesota’s only 24-hour bilingual domestic violence helpline: 651-772-1611. Staff conduct an intake over the phone to help figure out what assistance is needed. In-person meetings are done at a location the caller identifies as comfortable and easy to access, observed Burns. Sometimes that is in their own house or that of a friend. Sometimes it is at a coffee shop that offers some privacy.
“The role of the advocate is to inform and to advocate,” explained Burns. The advocate gives information on options, and helps think through pros and cons. The advocate shares resources and encouragement. “Once a decision is made, our job is to help,” added Burns.
“Big picture, we make sure someone is aware of their rights and knows what their options are.”
Advocates attend order for protection hearings, accompany people to appointments, and help them navigate the various systems out there.
Staff work within the Hennepin County Domestic Abuse Service Center in the basement of the government center in downtown Minneapolis, and at the Bridges to Safety office at St. Paul City Hall.
Advocates help fill out and get copies of police reports, and offer walk-in hours at the Midtown Safety Center, 2949 Chicago Ave. across from the Global Market. (This office was damaged in the Uprising after George Floyd’s death.) They also collaborate with the Mexican consulate, the Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota, and the Tubman Center. They have staff at various high schools, including El Collegio (4137 Bloomington Ave.) and Longfellow High School in Minneapolis, and Agape High School in St. Paul.
Staff operate El Refugio, a 12-person shelter in St. Paul that is open to anyone in the state. While it is one of the smallest shelters in the state, it is part of the Day One network of service providers in Minnesota. They serve about 35 families each year in the shelter, and about 300 families overall through their programs.
Formed in 1982, Casa de Esperanza (or House of Hope) is recognized as the largest, most respected Latina organization in the country focused on ending gender-based violence and is increasing its capacity to respond to sexual assault and human trafficking. Through the National Latin@ Network for Healthy Families and Communities, they offer training and technical assistance across the country; advance public policy initiatives; and lead community-based research on the intersections of domestic violence and Latina realities.
Casa de Esperanza staff work with clients to identify goals. They base their work on the belief that each person is the expert on their own situation. “I don’t know this person that is using abuse against you. You know this person. I’m here to talk through it with you,” said Burns.

COVID-19 effects
During the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, phone calls have doubled, but most people are staying put for now. Domestic violence programs across the state are expecting an influx of calls after the order ends and people go back to work. They know they’re not hearing from people who are isolated, and don’t have the opportunity to make safe calls.
Calling for help is one of the things that sparks violence, Burns pointed out, and leaving is one of the most dangerous times for a survivor and children.
Some are using COVID-19 as a threat against their victims, which includes refusing to exchange children, and exposing others to the virus. Some threaten that if a call for help is made, they’ll say they have coronavirus so that no one will come assist the survivor.
If you’re experiencing physical abuse or property damage, Burns encourages you to take a photo and send it to a safe location such as a Google drive or a friend, and then delete it from your phone.
Police reports can be filed after the fact, and having evidence of scratches, bruising or damage can be part of that.
They can also be used when filing an order for protection (OFP), used when there is a romantic relationship past or present, the parties live together, or share children together. Another option is to file a harassment order, which has broader criteria than an OFP, or a No Abuse order.
Burns stressed that even with the Stay at Home/Stay Safe order, people can still seek shelter, and domestic violence programs are still operating across the state. Casa Esperanza has a webpage devoted to COVID-19 resources.
Organizations are partnering with hotels to offer more social distancing and to boost the capacity.
One of the most common things an abuser does is isolate a victim and block their ability to connect with friends and family, so Burns urges people to reach out to someone they haven’t heard from in awhile to check in.

‘All of us know someone’
“Statistically all of us know someone in an abusive relationship,” said Burns.
Domestic violence impacts all cultural and ethnic groups at the same rate of 28-33%, Burns said. “It looks different in every culture and country.”
For Latinas in the Twin Cities, domestic violence often has a component associated with the threat of deportation. “There are a lot of misconceptions about people’s rights, even when people have legal status and are doing everything according to the books,” said Burns. “There are a lot of fears and stories,” some related to the historic trauma migrant workers have experienced in Minnesota.
Language is also a barrier. Asking for help is hard, and asking for help in a language that is not your native language makes it even tougher. “The legal system across nations looks really different,” Burns observed, and many refugees come with a distrust of state institutions. Many people don’t know what their legal rights are, and don’t know that some things are basic human rights.
“People are able to seek protection under the law regardless of immigration status,” Burns said.

Why don’t they just leave?
“There’s not one specific reason,” stressed Burns. It’s a combination of factors.
Finances are one barrier, especially in an economic crisis when unemployment is high. “The idea of picking up and leaving – especially with children – may just be unrealistic,” she pointed out. Within the Latina community, many people are already working two to three jobs to make ends meet. Plus it is often still expected that a woman will stay home, so she will need to build a whole new skill set to be formally employed. That might include language access, education and training – which costs money to get. Many Latinas had high-paying jobs in their home countries but can no longer work at those in the United States because they have to re-earn their certifications.
Throw in kids, school, and activities on top of the low-paying job and it can be very difficult. A two-bedroom apartment at market rate is $1,100 a month, and to afford that a person needs to make a liveable wage of $19 an hour.
Women don’t leave because things are not black and white, and there’s a lot of gray matter, Burns observed.
“Life is complicated. Abusive relationships are not abusive all the time.”
The partner who uses abuse isn’t always like that, she stressed. It isn’t that every minute has been miserable. There are genuine good times. So, the good memories and the idea that the person can change keeps women in a relationship. “We all have a desire to love and be loved. It’s normal for a person to be torn,” she said.
Burns continues to believe that people who use abuse are capable of change – if they want to and it is self-initiated.
That said, she thinks people instinctively know that leaving will be very dangerous, and they recognize there will be consequences to splitting up.
“A survivor once told me: ‘The physical stuff, the bruises go away with time. What someone has said does not,” remarked Burns.
Women are told,”You are too dumb to learn English. No one else will ever love you. I’ll kill you if you leave.”
This emotional and verbal abuse, along with the physical, financial, and sexual abuse, also work against a survivor when they try to leave.
What is abuse? “It’s power and control over another person,” explained Burns. Much of this is achieved through fear, intimidation and threats. They may be told if they don’t stay, their vehicle will be damaged. The partner may punch holes in the wall so that the other has to pay the damages, which affects their financial well-being and ability to get another apartment.
Those who do leave often suffer post-separation abuse when the children are used to manipulate and threaten the other parent. The person who uses abuse may also turn the extended family and church community against the survivor so that they are cut off from support and resources. They may harass them at work, via social media, through cyber stalking, and through text messages. Because they are co-parenting, the survivor can’t block the abuse.

You don’t have to leave to seek help
Casa de Esperanza staff are mythbusters.
One of the most common swirls around the idea of “abandonment.” If someone leaves the home in Minnesota, they will not suffer any consequences associated with “abandonment,” which is common in other countries, said Burns. In Minnesota, property is owned jointly by both married parties and remains that way even if someone leaves.
On the other hand, if a child is born to an unmarried couple, the mother automatically has full legal and physical custody.
Those who don’t want to get divorced for religious reasons can opt for a legal separation instead.
And maybe the biggest myth is that people don’t have to leave a relationship to seek help.
More at casadeesperanza.org or call the 24-hour bilingual helpline at 651-772-1611.

Domestic violence is a pattern of coercive, controlling behavior that can include physical abuse, emotional or psychological abuse, sexual abuse, or financial abuse. Some abusers are able to exert complete control over a victim’s every action without ever using violence or only using subtle threats of violence. Domestic violence is a pervasive, life-threatening crime that affects millions of individuals across the United States regardless of age, economic status, race, sexual orientation, gender identity, religion, ability, or education level. In a 24-hour survey, NNEDV found that U.S. domestic violence shelters and programs served 74,823 victims and answered 19,459 crisis hotline calls in one day alone. ~ Information from NNEDV

Bridges to Safety
>> Bridges to Safety provides personal and legal advocacy, filing of Orders for Protection, civil legal services, police and prosecution consultation, child care while participants are receiving services, and referral to shelter, permanent and transitional housing, employment, supervised visitation, personal counseling, and other community partners.

>> It is a collaborative of 18 St. Paul and Ramsey County agencies, bound together by a long and successful history of working together and by an interagency agreement.

>> It is located at the Saint Paul City Hall in the heart of downtown, 15 West Kellogg Boulevard, Room 140.

Helpful apps
Casa de Esperanza is developing an app. In the meantime, here are two others to consider:
>> DocuSAFE is a free documentation and evidence collection app recently released by the National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV).

>> VictimsVoice provides a legally admissible way for victims to document abuse incidents in a safe, secure, consistent, and complete manner through an annual subscription. Financial help available. It can’t be found in an app store but is available at victimsvoice.app.

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Chauntyll Allen

Chauntyll Allen’s big work

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

School board member and activist strives to create a village to support families

Chauntyll Allen

What is our collective responsibility of ending gun violence?
That’s a driving question for Chauntyll Allen, who joined the St. Paul School Board in January 2020. And it’s a question she challenges others with.
“It’s about creating a society where people don’t need to carry guns,” she stated.
Allen pointed out that the drive for Black kids to protect themselves starts early. “These kids are dealing with safety issues,” she said.
They set off trying to prove they’re tough, wearing hoodies and their jeans low. They connect with a few other kids to move around with safely in their community. If they win a few fights, they’ll be left alone. If they lose, next time they might bring a gun (which kids have told her is easy to buy for $200-400) to protect themselves. It’s a cycle that isn’t fixed by just telling them to put their guns down – because that leaves them vulnerable.
“Right now, we do have a gun violence problem,” said Allen. She plans to pull together a group to learn gun shot first aid so they can respond fast to plug the holes and do CPR before an ambulance arrives. “The goal is the train many people to respond to gun shots they way they respond to heroin,” she pointed out.

Guns Down, Love Up
Allen is involved in Guns Down, Love Up, a movement created after her friend and fellow activist Tyrone Williams was shot and killed on April 3, 2018 in North Minneapolis outside his mother’s home. She helped organize a set of rallies on Friday, July 10, one in front of Shiloh Church in North Minneapolis and the other along Maryland Ave. W. in the North End of St. Paul.
As she passed out flyers for the community rally and takeover the week prior at the Holiday on Rice St., she saw a man chasing two females around a car with a gun. Allen walked over to try to deescalate the situation. The man was trying to get his stolen car and tools back. Eventually, he left, still angry. Allen hopes to reconnect with him, and raise money to replace his tools and fix his ignition. She pointed out that his anger hasn’t gone away. Things haven’t been resolved, and the cycle will continue.
Marching down Maryland is an intentional move, one meant to support the family of 21-year-old Marquez Perry-Bank who was gunned down in the middle of the day on Friday, May 3, 2019 in the parking lot of the Maryland Supermarket at 444 W. Maryland Ave.
Allen was working at Como Park Senior High School last year, and was with Marquez’s sister when she saw the live feed of her brother dying. “I happened to have her mom’s phone number in my cell, so I picked up my phone and called her,” recalled Allen. “She was in a panic.” They helped her figure out what to do with her daughter while she was dealing with the murder of her son.
This is what public safety can look like, according to Allen. What would the school resource officer (SRO) have contributed to the situation?
The Como SRO isn’t a bad guy, said Allen. “His salary costs so much. We could have two or three of me.”
If they would have needed to deescalate things and hold a kid down, it isn’t going to be in the style of a police officer. It will be in the style of love with a hug, said Allen. “If you’re stronger than me, two of us are hugging you. We want that style of response as opposed to a police-officer-pin-you-down style of response.”
An SRO isn’t going to be part of the healing process for this family and offer continued support, Allen pointed out. She was part of the effort to help the Perry family pay for a headstone for Marquez, and just saw his sister last week. The family is still waiting for his body to be released.
Recently, Allen lent her support to a group of teens from Central High who asked the St. Paul School Board to remove police officers from their schools. The board agreed on Monday, June 22 on a 5-1 vote (with John Brodrick against) to remove the officers in high schools, stop contract negotiations with the city and develop a new safety plan. They join Minneapolis and Winona, Minn. in this shift. It’s a move that was a long time in coming, according to Allen.

Goal: create a village
The kids Allen worked with at Ramsey Middle School are about 20 now. “Some heard what I was saying but they’re trying to find their own way,” she said. “The bottom line is gun violence has plagued them. What is the start of this gun violence occurring? It was the lack of village in our community.”
Folks are scared of little kids, she observed. They don’t want to insert themselves and redirect.
“I am not that person,” remarked Allen.
When they see Allen walk up, the kids pull up their pants, get themselves together, and talk to her about the trade school they’re considering. She wishes the whole community had this level of expectation for kids. But it needs to be tempered with the understanding that kids need access to resources, she pointed out. Some need help filling out applications. Others need financial assistance.
At her second job, working with Learning Dreams at the University of Minnesota, Allen does street outreach centered around talking to kids about their dreams, and helps figure out what steps they need to get there.
Allen thinks the K-12 push towards four-year degrees has been lacking and resulted in many kids disengaging from school. Not everyone wants to get a four-year degree nor do they need one to get a good job. They may not want to go in the corporate world and fight white supremacy for their whole lives, she observed. Ask the kids what success looks like for them.
Allen said has seen many Black teachers, paraprofessionals, and leaders leave the St. Paul School District due to its unaddressed internal racism. Those folks are now leading the way in districts like Roseville, St. Louis Park and Robbinsdale. She’s also watching Black students get pushed out to charter schools.
Allen took a $20,000 pay cut to serve on the St. Paul School Board. She had to step down at Como in order to run.
It’s part of her goal to create a village.
Allen wants to see the “poverty pimps” cut out. Towards that goal, she’s encouraged the city to cut ties with those who aren’t really helping and put their money into programs that support kids. She supports sports programs, as they give kids a team to be part of, which also helps keep them safe because then they’re known for being a baller and left alone.
She’s watching to see how the Healing Streets Project performs this year after receiving funds from the city. Allen supports the Community Ambassadors Program of the North End, Midway, East Side and Frogtown – those folks wearing green shirts who work both in and out of schools.
“They don’t have to call the police when they see someone acting up,” said Allen. “They can call the auntie.”

Big work
Allen graduated from Central High School, and earned her degree in African American students and psychology. She worked for 10 years in child protection services (CPS) before switching to schools. She’s a fourth generation Rondo resident, and her mom is trying to figure out where to buy groceries and household items right now after the closure of shops in the Midway. She remembers when there was a bowling alley in the Midway, because that’s where they had family nights, and she wishes there was a movie theater now.
“The goal is to create a village to save my community,” she said. “No one is stepping up to do the work.”
So she decided to. She is approaching it in an interconnected way, supporting individual families, making changes within the city and school district, organizing rallies, helping distribute funds through the Neighbors United Funding Collaborative, and pushing for the interruption of systems like CPS.
“It’s a process. It’s big work.”


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Ryan Vernosh

Maxfield students, teachers wrestle with COVID-19, George Floyd’s murder

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

I Am Somebody

Maxfield Elementary School Principal Ryan Vernosh had just four days to lead Maxfield into a completely different learning environment. AT RIGHT The poem ‘I Am Somebody’ is said each day by Maxfield Elementary students to encourage them through their day. (Photo submitted)

School happening remotely has impacted students and families with more than just technical problems.
Maxfield Elementary School, 380 N Victoria St. in St. Paul, has a food pantry on site for students and families in need. They collaborate with Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, an organization that works with families and students in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to support their needs and approach the gap between education and opportunity.
Maxfield provides dental care, extra clothing, counseling, social work and mental health care to students and families. All of these have been greatly impacted by COVID-19.
“Some families lost employment, so access to healthcare became more challenging, access to food became more challenging. We’ve seen the current unemployment crisis that we’ve had in the city and our community, which was just exasperated by the pandemic,” said Maxfield Principal Ryan Vernosh.
During school hours, Maxfield Elementary would normally be bustling with 300 students going in and out of the library, gym and classrooms. Teachers would be preparing for another day of classes. Their rooms filled with colorful banners and encouragement for the students. But, for the last four months of school, the halls were mostly empty. COVID-19 had drastically impacted what Maxfield, and all schools around the state, looked like in their last stretch before summer break.

Four days to restructure
Vernosh has been principal at Maxfield Elementary School for three years now. He’s overseen budgets and paperwork. He supports the students and staff – and makes sure they are doing well socially, emotionally, and academically. He’s never had to deal with something like this before. Maxfield was tasked with changing an entire learning environment in just four days.
“Our staff really rose to it and we did the best that we could to connect with our kids and keep them learning and supported,” Vernosh said.
The staff had meetings on a weekly basis in order to stop and assess how online learning was going, and to make any changes they felt was necessary for their students. St. Paul Public Schools has a one-to-one iPad policy, so everyone had access to online classes. The district provided hot spots for families without high speed internet, although, they still had many technology issues. Professionals came in for classes in order to instruct the teachers on how to use Schoology and Seesaw, two online learning platforms, to their full advantages.
They also had educators’ workshops and presentations. During these workshops, teachers presented what was working and what wasn’t to other educators around the school. Each teacher visited at least three other presentations in order to get ideas about how to better their online classroom. But, it was still difficult to keep students engaged with online learning.
“You just can’t mimic in person instruction,” Vernosh said, “Our teachers did the best they could to carry on instruction, but it’s just not the same.”


I Am Somebody
I am Somebody!
I am capable and loveable.
I am teachable,
therefore I can learn.
I can do anything if I try.
I’ll be the best that I can be.
Each day,
Each day,
Each day,
I will not waste time.
Because it is too valuable
And I am too precious and bright.
I am somebody.
I am somebody.

Cocreating safe places
Vernosh wanted Maxfield to continue being a safe space for both staff and students to come to. Especially after the murder of George Floyd two weeks before school ended, students began to have more questions. The St. Paul Public School District sent out information in order to support teachers, and to help guide them through questions students may have or how to go about explaining the events happening. The staff had many conversations about how best to create a community of support for their students. They needed to keep things grade appropriate, as well. Kindergartners may understand less of the situation than a fifth grader.
“Our kids are aware of what’s going on whether it’s COVID or the murder of George Floyd,” Vernosh said. “Part of our role is to listen and be supportive; to cocreate a safe space for our students and families to be able to process these things.”
Maxfield aimed to never shut down a conversation that brought up any questions about COVID-19 or the murder of George Floyd. In order to fully create this safe space, the school implemented things like a restorative morning circle. This was a time where students could sit and express themselves. It also included guiding questions, activities, or a review of what lessons would be taught that day. The school wanted to focus on community building along with mindfulness for the students. Through the Cultural Wellness Center, an organization that helps communities solve problems that come due to loss of culture, the students take African drumming and dance classes in order to make sure students see their culture in each area of the school.
“If our students don’t feel seen and heard and loved, learning is not going to take place,” Vernosh said.
They have a call-and-response over the intercom each morning to let students know that they are here and being heard. This daily affirmation poem, “I Am Somebody,” is said to remind the students that they are teachable, loveable and capable.

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Fireworks complaints rise sharply

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Abu Nayeem [middle] at one of the Frogtown Cleanup Squad events with the St. Paul Police Department. He and the rest of the Frogtown Cleanup Squad aim to work with communities directly to clean up their neighborhoods from trash and other debris. (Photo submitted)

If it makes noise or flies, it is illegal in Minnesota

With COVID-19 still prevalent in Minnesota, most community fireworks were cancelled throughout the Twin Cities. However, fireworks have still been lighting up the skies with loud booms and cracks echoing off of neighborhood houses. Nationwide, illegal firework use went up 11 percent in the last few months of quarantine, according to Patricia Lammers.
Last year, the St. Paul Police Department received 191 complaints about fireworks from June 1 to June 30. This year, in the same time span, they received 664 firework complaints.
“Most of it is not designed to be destructive, but it sometimes can be,” Lammers said, “particularly if we’ve had a really dry summer.”
Lammers has worked at the St. Paul Police Department as a Crime Prevention Coordinator for three years. It’s her job to inform and educate communities on how to reduce crime in their areas. Working mostly in the North End area, she teaches classes on things like personal safety. Lammers mentioned that these illegal fireworks were universal throughout St. Paul; no neighborhood was particularly worse than the other. However, there are no classes on firework safety or illegal fireworks at the department.
Illegal firework use normally skyrockets around the Fourth of July. And, the St. Paul Police Department expected higher numbers this year due to it falling on a Saturday and fewer professional shows. The department dedicated one squad car solely to patrol the neighborhoods in order to watch out for illegal firework use June 26 to July 4, 2020. The department does not create checkpoints coming from other states, but they do look for noise disturbances or other complaints on neighborhood watch pages on Facebook. They also hand out pamphlets including information on which fireworks are illegal in Minnesota.
“If it makes noise or it flies, it’s illegal here in Minnesota,” Lammers said.

Is it a gunshot or firework?
The Uprising has also been creating more tension and anxiety around whether what a citizen hears is an illegal firework or gun shot. More and more calls have been coming in as “shots fired” that actually turn out to be fireworks. However, Lammers encouraged people to still call the non-emergency number for the St. Paul Police Department, 651-291-1111.
Even though Lammers said that majority of the calls for illegal fireworks are non-violent, they can still have a negative impact. For those suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), fireworks can set off panic attacks or other stressors. Lammers said there have been cases where pets have had heart attacks or families will need to medically induce sleep for the night because they get too anxious. When these fireworks come as a shock, this can make it even more difficult.
“We try to educate people on: yes, it’s fun for you, but it’s not necessarily fun for everyone,” Lammers said.
If people do have neighbors who are lighting off illegal fireworks, Lammers encourages using a neighborly approach before calling the number above. Often, it’s families that aren’t aware the fireworks they purchased in another state are illegal in Minnesota. Using fireworks to damage property or cause harm is very unlikely according to Lammers. But, of course, if the situation seems or becomes violent or dangerous, Lammers says that people should call the non-emergency number listed above.

Clean-up crew organized in Frogtown
Abu Nayeem, a community organizer in Frogtown, St. Paul, also agrees with the neighborly approach and mitigating harm. Nayeem has recently started working on a clean-up crew called the “Frogtown Cleanup Squad.” This group is made up of volunteers from various neighborhoods around the area that keep the neighborhoods clean of trash.
Their GoFundMe page, gofundme.com/f/frogtown-cleanup-squad, states, “The true value of the initiative is not the amount of trash collected, but our individual effort in giving back to our planet and community, and building relationships with neighbors.”
This community-based organization is aimed toward empowering, connecting, and feeling community pride. They want to give an opportunity for a community to take back ownership of their own neighborhoods. Nayeem believes that illegal fireworks could harm neighbors and therefore harm the overall community. According to the Neighborhood Safety Network, 243 people attend the emergency room every day from injuries caused by fireworks in the month surrounding the Fourth of July. Nayeem also says that firework debris not properly taken care of can harm pets.
“I think what people may not understand is that the fumes from fireworks are rather toxic, and if not properly discarded, it may poison animals, such as cats,” Nayeem said.

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YMCA Child Care 030Sm

Midway YMCA: community response hub

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Senior checks, healthy meals, implicit bias trainings and more offered for free; childcare and fitness options available

Children enrolled in school-aged childcare at the Midway YMCA enjoy swimming for an hour every day, a huge plus when beaches and pools are closed across the city this summer. (Photos by Margie O’Loughlin)

By Margie O’Loughlin
When the pandemic first hit in March, it was clear there was going to be a huge need for child care for essential workers. Midway YMCA executive director David Dominick said, “We thought we were a natural to fill that void. There are several CEOs from hospitals and insurance companies on the YMCA of the Greater Twin Cities board. We knew we could count on getting the best advice for how to structure our childcare program with COVID-19 safety measures. We also worked closely with the Minnesota Department of Health, and the governor’s office.”
The YMCA fitness facilities at 1761 University Ave. W. closed before the COVID-19 Peacetime Emergency Executive Order went into effect. They quickly evolved into being a community response hub, and were among the first to offer childcare for children of essential workers ages newborn through grade six.
In the beginning, the definition of essential workers was limited to front-line health care workers, firefighters, police officers, and journalists. It would soon expand to include working parents responsible for keeping the city’s infrastructure going: grocery store clerks, sanitation workers, mail carriers, and more.
The Midway YMCA has been able to offer childcare Monday-Friday from 6 a.m.-6 p.m. for a nominal fee. There is still room for more children to enroll.
According to Dominick, “Our childcare staff is masked. We meet the kids at the curb in the mornings and bring them out again in the late afternoon to minimize social interactions with parents or caregivers. We try to practice social distancing while giving the kids age-appropriate experiences, so they can have fun together safely.”

Children enrolled in school-aged childcare at the Midway YMCA enjoy swimming for an hour every day, a huge plus when beaches and pools are closed across the city this summer. (Photos by Margie O’Loughlin)

Much more than a pool, gym
When he started as YMCA executive director 17 years ago, Dominick could never have imagined how many hats he would be wearing. He said, “Not long ago, I realized I’d been working 16 days straight without a break. It’s been very challenging, but I wouldn’t want it any other way. If there’s a chance to support our members and our neighbors, I want to be there. We are way more than a swimming pool and a gym.”
While some Midway YMCA staff are busy caring for children of essential workers, others are reaching out to older members. The stay-at-home order brought social isolation for many, especially those who live alone.
Joan Schimml, the YMCA’s senior communications and marketing director, said, “More than 130,000 wellness checks have been made to 44,000 Forever Well program participants across the metro area. We want members of all ages to feel supported. We have come to see each YMCA as a community response hub, providing multiple critical services.”
Since the start of the pandemic, the Midway YMCA has been offering fresh, healthy meals to families in need at no charge. The corporate kitchens of United Health Group are being used to prepare 300 dinners each day, as well as 120 bag lunches for the Midway YMCA. They also make meals for many other YMCA locations across the metro. The local non-profit Loaves & Fishes is in charge of all deliveries.
Dominick said, “After the unrest last month, we really beefed up our essential needs supplies: toilet paper, diapers, baby wipes, feminine hygiene products and canned goods. Many of the YMCAs from throughout the metro area, and even other parts of the state, have brought donations here because our need is great in the Midway. Bix Produce is also donating 250 boxes of fresh produce to us every week.”
He continued, “Many of the people who come here for meals and other supplies have never been in a position to ask for this kind of help before. Everyone appreciates not having to supply proof of residency or other kinds of documentation. There have been 60,000 meals distributed here since the pandemic started. We will continue distributing food and other supplies through Labor Day.”
In addition to providing childcare for essential workers, wellness checks for older members, and free food for anyone who needs it, the Midway YMCA has recently re-opened on a limited basis as a fitness facility. According to Dominick, the Midway YMCA is operating at about 30% capacity right now. He said, “Many of our members chose to keep their memberships active when we had to close. We’ll be issuing statements for the IRS at the end of 2020, making it possible to claim the money spent on memberships during the closure as a charitable donation.”

Racial equity and systems change
Lastly, the YMCA has just received a $5,000,000 grant from United Health Group to expand the work of their Equity Innovation Center of Excellence. Located in downtown Minneapolis, their educational experiences provide information and insights to advance racial inclusivity and system change.
Registration is currently open for three free online training sessions being offered in the next month on implicit bias, authentic community engagement, and transforming workplace culture. There are other educational experiences available for a fee as well as customized trainings for organizations.
For more information about the upcoming online sessions, contact equity@ymcamn.org or register at www.ymcamn.org.
Schimml concluded, “At the YMCA, we believe that, in partnership with our communities, we must eliminate racial disparities and injustice. Toward that end, we offer programs that build healthy spirit, mind and body FOR ALL. For nearly 165 years, we’ve been listening and responding to our communities. We’re committed to pressing on with that – now more than ever.”

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Uncertain futures

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Firefighters were still working at the back of the Sports Dome on Friday, May 29. Over 170 businesses were damaged in the Midway following the murder of George Floyd. (Photos by Tesha M. Christensen)

Midway area business continue to sort out their futures in the wake of late May 2020 unrest after George Floyd was killed. While many business have reopened and others are pulling construction permits, some still face an uncertain future. That’s especially true for small business that leased storefronts and didn’t own their spaces.
Bole Ethiopian Cuisine and Lloyd’s Pharmacy are two of the highest-profile businesses that were destroyed. Lloyd’s has opened an interim location at 694 Snelling Ave. N., while Bole seeks a new home. Both had successful fundraising campaigns.
But it’s a different story for the Midway Center tenants. They are being forced to move out, receiving word June 25 that their leases were terminated. About a dozen business remain in what originally was the eastern part of the shopping center. A letter from property owner Rick Birdoff and RK Midway said that businesses must have items out of their stores by July 17.
The letter indicated that there may be opportunities for businesses as the Midway Center block is redeveloped, but whether business owners can wait months if not years to reopen is a question mark.
City fire officials in June revoked the occupancy permits for the shopping center. When the St. Paul City Council voted in June to make changes to Midway Center’s tax increment financing plans, demolition plans hadn’t been finalized.
The lease terminations affect longtime businesses including Golden Gate Café and Peking Garden. Golden Gate had been in business for about 40 years. Peking Garden had relocated to the strip mall in 2005, after losing its previous location near the University of Minnesota.
Businesses sustained varying levels of damage. Foot Locker and its immediate neighbors sustained the most damage due to fire and water damage, with businesses at the north and south end of the center only sustaining smoke damage.
Businesses had remained closed since late May. MidPointe Center had canceled all events. Family Dollar had moved some employees to other locations. Bank of America, which had small storefront with ATMs, was already preparing to open at University Ave. and Fry St.
Other area businesses have slowly reopened or prepared to reopen. What could become controversial is that Taco Bell at 565 N. Snelling Ave. is seeking approval to replace its building, which was damaged during the unrest.
The longtime restaurant needs a new conditional use permit before that can happen. The St. Paul Planning Commission Zoning Committee is to hear the request at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, July 16. Meetings can be listened to virtually and the public can present oral or written testimony.
This will be the second time in a year that restaurant owner Border Foods has sought permission to build a new facility. Hamline Midway Coalition and city staff recommended against the request in early 2020, and it was withdrawn by the applicant.
Neighbors raised concerns about ongoing noise and patron behavior.

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Ax-Man Surplus reopens in Midway

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen


Ax-Man has reopened for business at 1639 W. University. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

It’s been a tough few months for Ax-Man Surplus, but the longtime University Ave. business is back up and running.
“We’re excited to be reopen,” said Ax-Man Surplus Store owner Jim Segal. “We’re seeing familiar faces coming back. The boards are coming off.”
He added, “Hopefully people come back to the Midway. Folks may have some negative feelings about the area – until they come and see everything is good. We’ve got great neighborbors. It’s a really diverse mix of businesses. Our business and a number of businesses that are unique draw folks to the area.”

‘A painful stretch’
Ax-Man Surplus was birthed in downtown St. Paul in 1965 when Jess Lieberman bought some second-quality items and sold them in his father’s tailor shop. It took off, and he kept selling salvage deals for cheap. David Gray started working for his relative at Ax-Man when he was in college in the early 1970s. He was a real creative type, recalled Segal, and earned equity ownership in the business. When Lieberman died in 1994, Gray bought out the rest from the estate.
Segal bought Ax-Man 20 years ago. Today, there are three locations, with the others in St. Louis Park and Fridley. Segal has roots in Highland Park, where his mom grew up and where he previously owned the GNC health food store. He lives in the western suburbs where he was raised.
Segal was working in the office at 1639 University Ave. W. on Thursday, May 28 when looters came in and began damaging the store. The 53-year-old stayed locked in a bathroom until police responded and got him out of there.
“The police said there was nothing they could do to protet the facility, so I left,” recalled Segal. “I came back later in the evening and it was pandemonium.”
The store wasn’t boarded up until Friday.
“It’s taken about a month to get things back together,” said Segal. The damage amounted to $150,000. He’s hopeful it will be covered by insurance. However, some of the inventory was unique and will be challenging to replace.
The past few months have been “a bit of a painful stretch,” said Segal.
Ax-Man Surplus closed on Friday, March 27 due to COVID-19. While he applied for PPP funds as soon as he was able, Segal choose to sit on the money until he was able to reopen on May 18. He lost nearly 100% of his business while closed, as very little business is done online. “You’d think getting quote-on-quote free money from the government would be a blessing, but there were elements of a curse,” stated Segal.
While preparing to reopen, employees deep-cleaned the store. “No question the store is as clean as it has ever been,” said Segal. While closed, they went through every bin. Plus, they’re cleaning in between customers as a precaution against COVID-19.
He is hopeful businesses in the Midway will come back stronger and physically better than before.
“Hopefully, we’ll see some real change as it relates to racism,” stated Segal. “At the end of the day, I think we need to see positive changes in policing and community involvement. I hope that’s what comes of this.”

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Will Midway Center be demolished?

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

City’s first step preserves use of TIF for redevelopment


Tenants at the Midway Center, damaged by fire and vandalism on May 28, are being forced to move out. Their leases have been revoked effective July 17, 2020, but it is unclear what will happen to the building. Over 170 businesses were damaged in the Midway following the murder of George Floyd. (Photo by Tesha M. Christensen)

Before fire-damaged building at Midway Center can be demolished, steps must be taken to preserve possible use of tax increment financing (TIF) for redevelopment. The St. Paul City Council, acting June 24 as the Housing and Redevelopment Authority (HRA) Board, got that effort rolling with two actions.
The HRA approved a demolition and development agreement with Snelling-Midway Redevelopment, LLC, the partnership involved in redeveloping the superblock bounded by Pascal St. and St. Anthony, Snelling and University avenues. Midway Center owner Rick Birdoff and Bill McGuire, who has led Minnesota United FC’s efforts to get Allianz Field built on the southwest part of the property, are the development partners. The soccer team starts its second season in Midway this month.
When the TIF request would come forward isn’t known. City officials this summer are already waiting for the developers to request amendments to the redevelopment master plan. Any plan amendments will go to the St. Paul Planning Commission for review and a recommendation, and then to the city council for final action.
The superblock is governed by a master plan that won city council approval few years ago. It calls for a mix of uses including commercial/office, hotel space and housing. The plan was developed with input from a community/St. Paul Planning Commission task force.
McGuire met earlier this year with Union Park District Council to discuss mixed-use development in the form of two buildings west of the soccer stadium. He also described how plans for a movie theater likely won’t occur, but that a hotel and housing are still in the mix.
Metropolitan Council June awarded the United Village Midway Block B $125,000 for cleanup on a 2.4-acre site that is currently a surface parking lot. Plans call for 234 market-rate apartments and 15,500 square feet of commercial space over structured parking.
But how those plans for redevelopment are affected by the fire damage isn’t clear. One finding required under state TIF law is that structures be deemed “substandard” before a district can be implemented.
The HRA on June 24 also made certain findings, including the determination that the Big Top Liquors and Midway Center structures are substandard. The liquor store located in the former Perkins restaurant building at 1544 University Ave. and the northeast section of the shopping center at University and Pascal were extensively damaged during the unrest after George Floyd’s death in May.
TIF is a mean of public financing that is used to pay for redevelopment costs including infrastructure, demolition and other development-related costs. Cities divert future property tax revenues that would be gained through redevelopment back into specific project costs. TIF districts can only be in place for a set number of years. It is controversial because it takes away potential property taxes for other local units of government. But in the face of fewer development tools, TIF is one of the remaining options.
TIF for Midway Center redevelopment has sparked controversy among city council members in the past, but the June 24 actions passed unanimously. Council members Dai Thao and Mitra Jalai spoke to the need for redevelopment, and community members’ eagerness to see something happen.
Interim St. Paul Planning and Economic Development (PED) Director Kristin Guild emphasized that the actions taken June 24 simply preserve the option to use TIF in the redevelopment project. It’s not a commitment that the financing tool will be used. If the developers choose to use TIF, a separate application would be brought before the HRA and city council.
Nor is it even a commitment to demolish or restore the structures, Guild said. As of late June demolition permits for the properties hadn’t been pulled. The sites are fenced off.
“The Big Top Liquor building is really severely damaged,” Guild said. So too is Midway Center, with the worst damage centered on the former Foot Locker store. Fire, smoke and water damage spread to adjacent stores
In September 2017, the HRA made findings to qualify parcels within the Snelling Midway development site as a “renewal and renovation TIF district.” That allowed for demolition of the first structures to move ahead and make way for the stadium and its nearby green space and parking. The longtime Big Top building on Snelling between Shields Ave. and Spruce Tree Dr., the former American Bank building at Snelling and University, and the western portion of Midway Center that included Cub Foods, Midway Pro Bowl and other businesses came down.
But the damage in June to Big Top and the rest of the shopping center meant that a new analysis and new findings should be prepared, Guild said.

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Vote in party primary election Aug. 11

Posted on 15 July 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Absentee voting is available through Aug. 7 in the party primary elections. To vote in person:
• Weekdays 8 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the county elections office, 90 W. Plato Blvd.
• Weekdays 10 a.m.-4 p.m. at the Ramsey County Library in Roseville, 2180 Hamline Ave. N.; or at the New Brighton Community Center, 400 10th St. NW.
To request an absentee ballot, go to the Secretary of State web site.
To complete the application online you must:
• Be eligible to register and vote in Minnesota
• Provide an email address
• Provide your identification number: MN-issued driver’s license, Minnesota ID card or last 4 digits of Social Security Number
There is also the option of printing the application form out and mailing it.

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2019 Midway Chamber Directory