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Archive | Through their eyes

Web_Truce Center 12

How to shrink the racial divide?

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

A conversation with the Truce Center’s Miki Lewis

Miki Lewis is the founder and director of the Truce Center in St. Paul. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The first time Summit University resident Miki Lewis saw George Floyd he thought, “Now, there’s a big guy. Being from African American neighborhoods, a lot of us come up thinking we have to show aggression – but George was different. He was very peaceful.”
Lewis explained, “We met in truck driving school in 2017, when George had been in Minneapolis for a couple of years. We naturally gravitated toward each other, and got to be friends.
“We were together for three months in training. I learned a lot about George in a short period of time. He was from Houston. He came to Minnesota for a fresh start. We both completed the training, and saw each other a few times after that. I hadn’t seen George in five months prior to this happening. When I learned about it on Facebook, I couldn’t believe it.”
Lewis continued, “For a lot of us, it’s the way George was killed that is fueling the anger right now. We’ve seen officers shoot us over and over again. To a certain extent, we’ve gotten desensitized to shooting. In the eyes of our community, it was the level of non-compassion that we saw in the killing. That officer just tucked his hand in his pocket and looked down on George as if he were nothing.”
Lewis runs a non-violence initiative in the Summit University neighborhood called the Truce Center, and he is no stranger to violence himself. He said, “I’ve been stabbed, I’ve been shot, I’ve been homeless, I’ve been hungry, I’ve been cold.”
Out of these hard times, Lewis emerged with a strong faith and a commitment to assist in making the world a more peaceful place. It can often feel like an uphill battle, but Lewis presses on. He said, “I’m not scared anymore because, unfortunately, I’ve gotten used to this. There will be another unarmed black man murdered by a white officer, that’s no secret. We have a president who is inciting racial differences among us: I believe he’s trying to fuel further division, to fuel a race war. That divide is being driven even harder as time goes on. It seems like the divide is growing bigger, not smaller.”
The work at the Truce Center is to help young people develop a positive sense of self through learning African American history and conflict resolution skills.
Lewis explained, “If there’s a kid being taught since he’s little that you don’t like or tolerate certain kinds of people, and that kid grows up to be an adult who acts like that. Is it his fault? Is it his parents’ fault? Is it society’s fault? The only thing we can do is to try and educate each other about our pasts, and to try and develop empathy for what we’ve been through.”
He continued, “You can feel the energy in the air right now; racism is really coming out of the closet. It’s becoming more blatant than it has ever been before, but we can’t continue to divide ourselves as human beings. We will rebuild our cities. I guess we’ll see if the change comes then. We see what this divide has done to us.
Lewis concluded, “It’s critically important for white people to open their mouths and say when things are wrong and not fair, to stop keeping a closed mouth to the racial injustices happening around them. Somehow or other, we’re all going to have to come together.”

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Children & Family Circle 25

Through East African eyes

Posted on 09 June 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Unrest painful reminder of violence immigrants left behind

Youth & Family Circle Eexecutive Director Mahmud Kanyare helps during a food give-away for hundreds of East African families at the Al-Ihsan Islamic Center in Frogtown on June 8, 2020. (Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

By MARGIE O’LOUGHLIN
The civil unrest that followed the murder of George Floyd is unlike anything most Twin Cities residents have experienced or imagined. For the East African community that has made Minnesota their home however, it is all too familiar for those of a certain age.
Mahmud Kanyare lives in the Midway neighborhood and has run a program called Youth & Family Circle since 2012. He said, “We serve East African families across the metro area. Many of them are under-resourced, vulnerable, and tend to ‘fall through the cracks’ for a number of reasons.”
The clients he sees are breaking under the combined stress of the pandemic and the recent unrest in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Kanyare said, “Our organization is one of the few in Ramsey County that is fighting for culturally appropriate resources for the families we serve.”
Ramsey County is home to a large East African community. According to Kanyare, the key components his organization is addressing right now are food insecurity, coping with trauma, and addressing racial equity through collaborative efforts.
The majority of East African people are Muslim, and most of the food they eat is certified halal. Halal is an Arabic word that means “permissible.” In terms of food, it means food that is permissible according to Islamic law. They cannot eat pork, any food product to which gelatin has been added (because it often contains pork), and certain cuts of other meats. This can make it difficult to receive culturally appropriate food assistance.
In East African families with male heads-of-household in their 50s and 60s, the men tend to be the wage earners and they often have limited English skills. Kanyare said, “Many of these men lost their jobs when the pandemic began – and most were not successful in applying for unemployment benefits. Youth & Family Circle is partnering with an organization called The Food Group this week to make culturally appropriate groceries available to an estimated 500 East African families. This will help in the short-term. Drivers are needed on an ongoing basis to help bring food to families who don’t have transportation.

(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

Large numbers of Somalians began arriving in Minnesota in the 1990s, fleeing the violence of the Civil War in their country. Kanyare said, “During the Civil War, no matter where you lived in Somalia there was unrest. His own family fled from Somalia to Pakistan in 1995, where they waited five years before being admitted to the U.S.
Many East African community members are experiencing trauma from being exposed to the fires, looting, and civil unrest following George Floyd’s death on May 25. It is a painful reminder of the violence they tried to leave behind.
Youth and Family Circle is scrambling to set up an online education forum that can help address the fear and frustration people are feeling. Kanyare and his staff will eventually each take a group of 20 families and work with them online throughout the week: moms, dads, and kids all together.
He said, “We hope to offer them a calm, peaceful conversation – but there are technical hurdles to overcome, as many of our East African families don’t have access to computers or internet service. It is a work in progress.”
The Quran is the central religious text of Islam, and contains a passage that rings true to these times: “Whoever kills one human being innocently, it is as if he has killed all of humanity.”
Through East African eyes, there is deep solidarity with African Americans in this struggle and there is anger. Kanyare said, “We have seen throughout the years how African Americans have been shot or abused by some members of the police. When is it going to stop? One can only be patient for so long.”

(Photo by Margie O’Loughlin)

For more information about Youth & Family Circle or to make a donation of time or money, visit www.yfcmn.org.
* Editor’s note: Check our web site for articles in this series published between editions of the newspaper at www.monitorsaintpaul.com, tagged Through Their Eyes. The series focuses on letting people tell their stories as it relates to the uprising following George Floyd’s death.

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ValerieCastilleJustice

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There’s only one race, and that’s the human race

Posted on 30 May 2020 by Tesha Christensen

Valerie Castile (photo courtesy Philando Castile Relief Foundation)

By Margie O’Loughlin

Valerie Castile became known to the wider world when her son Philando was murdered by a St. Anthony police officer almost four years ago.
In a recent phone interview, she said, “This has been been a really emotional time for my whole family, since George Floyd was killed. If someone does something wrong, it’s their civil liberty to have their day in court. There’s no reason to take a human life unless you are sure that person is trying to kill you. I mean, really trying to kill you – and George Floyd was lying handcuffed with his face in the street.”

Learn more about the Philando Castile Relief Foundation here: http://www.philandocastilefoundation.org/

In the years since her son’s death, Castile has built a foundation to help victims affected by gun violence and police violence. The Philando Castile Relief Fund helps families of victims with funeral attire and resources for grief counseling, among other things.
Castile, who talks regularly with elected officials about issues related to policing, community relations, and use of force spoke with Governor Walz the day after Floyd’s murder. She told him, “People are going to rebel. I was so angry. Somewhere there’s a piece of paper 30’ long with all the names of people killed by police in this city. It’s too much to take.”

She continued, “Everybody is trying to understand how things got so out of control with the riots. It seems like when the anger comes in, common sense goes right out the window. We’ve got to remember that there’s only one race, and that’s the human race. If enough of us continue to work on this together, something IS going to change.”

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