A collaboration of faith

Southwest congregations are advocating a grassroots movement to improve conditions in North Minneapolis

Southwest churches have launched a grassroots movement to improve the quality of life in North Minneapolis neighborhoods.

The congregations have started meetings at various churches this summer to talk about disparities between the city's North and South sides. Church leaders say they want to build on existing relationships with North Side community groups in an effort to create momentum for positive change in the area.

More than 250 people attended a meeting at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church, 4901 Chowen Ave. S., on June 20 to learn more about life in North Minneapolis. They heard from a couple that talked about the frequency of gunfire outside their window, a mother who lost her son to violence and a peace organizer who talked about how a rise in predatory lending has led to several home foreclosures.

But speakers also talked about what keeps them in North, and why they're hopeful that conditions will get better.

Members of St. John's Episcopal Church, 4201 Sheridan Ave. S., also held a gathering in June to talk about issues facing North Minneapolis and discuss ways community leaders in Southwest can lend a hand.

Speakers urged Southwest residents to shop at North Side businesses and volunteer for community groups in the area. They also urged them to contact local public officials to make sure North Minneapolis is a top priority in policymaking.

Sondra Samuels, president of the North Minneapolis-based Peace Foundation and wife of City Councilmember Don Samuels (5th Ward), which hosts vigils for victims of violence and co-sponsored the Lake Harriet meeting, was encouraged by the turnout.

&#8220We've all come together today because it's about love, justice and peacemaking,” she told the crowd. &#8220You can quantify the morality of a society by how it takes care of its vulnerable.”

She said North Minneapolis residents want to deepen ties to Southwest. &#8220I believe that we're going to solve this problem. We'll only do it together.”

Fulton resident Denise Goldman acknowledged that Southwest has a powerful voice in steering city affairs when she spoke up at the meeting at Lake Harriet United Methodist Church.

&#8220We have a vested interest in making all of Minneapolis successful,” she said. &#8220If we don't, problems will spread to Southwest and then to the suburbs.”

An interfaith movement

Fifteen churches sponsored the Lake Harriet meeting while an interfaith collaboration called ISAIAH organized the education-based gathering that shed light on patterns of segregation in Minneapolis.

Similarly, Elliot Howard, pastor of Linden Hills United Church of Christ, said his church responded to the call because it emphasizes outreach, but it hadn't previously maintained solid relationships with groups in North Minneapolis.

Howard and nine others from the church went to the Lake Harriet meeting without any clear expectations of how it was likely to go.

&#8220We were intrigued by the idea of working with groups of churches,” he said. &#8220We came in part to hear stories and also to begin to take cues and guidance from folks who live there and who're already doing good things there.”

Howard said the topic has been on his mind since the meeting.

A place with potential

Speakers at the Lake Harriet meeting highlighted the impact of violent crime and urban blight in North Minneapolis.

But others were quick to point out the positive attributes of the area.

Kim Ellison, wife of congressional candidate Keith Ellison and a longtime North Minneapolis resident, remains optimistic about her neighborhood.

&#8220I love living on the North Side. It's close to parks and some of the activities like track and Juxtaposition Arts [an art center],” she said. &#8220It's my home and community.”

Dale Timmerman, a deacon at St. Phillips Catholic Church in North Minneapolis, along with his wife Nancy, said the neighborhoods on North Side have several standout qualities.

&#8220I'm always amazed when people discover there are real neighborhoods here. I love living here. I love the mixture of people across race, professions, educational levels and economic opportunities,” he said.

Despite the positive aspects of life in North Minneapolis, the challenges remain daunting. Many buildings remain vacant and boarded up, and violent crime has rocked many in the community.

Linda Koelman, a pastor at the Webber-Camden neighborhood's North United Methodist Church, told the audience, &#8220Seminary doesn't prepare you for working in a church on the North Side.”

She said sometimes residents of the North Side don't mind it when a house gets boarded up because that means it'll be quiet. &#8220It's sad when a boarded house is better than a neighbor,” she said.

Called to act

Norma and Bob Burton, members of Linden Hills United Church of Christ, admitted they were skeptical of how effective Southwest churches' efforts might be.

The Burtons, both 80, have been involved in numerous campaigns throughout the years to address issues facing the North Side.

But this time it's different. Norma said the Lake Harriet meeting didn't make her feel guilty. She enjoyed the mix of speakers, who came across racial lines. They had positive things to say and offered concrete suggestions for improving North Minneapolis. Above all, speakers targeted political power.

City Councilmember Betsy Hodges (13th Ward) agreed.

&#8220We need to be friends and partners to our neighbors on the North Side. Feeling bad inhibits action,” she said. &#8220We need to do what we can do and lend help on all levels.”

Hodges has already demonstrated an interest in reaching out to North Side residents through an initiative she's leading called the Dinner Network - a project where North and South residents get together for a meal. Additionally, she's organizing a taskforce to evaluate the impact of citywide policy decisions in North Minneapolis.

Rep. Frank Hornstein, (DFL-60B), attended the recent meetings and lauded the efforts of participants.

&#8220Many in Southwest are concerned. They understand their role to forge these connections across income and racial lines,” he said. &#8220You can address these issues more effectively when you build coalitions.”

Anna Pratt can be reached at 436-4391 or apratt@mnpubs.com.