Inside a new neighborhood newspaper called Voces de South Central, one writer covers the Subversive Sirens, a local synchronized swim team that crowdfunded $10,000 to compete in the Gay Games in Paris, winning gold. Another writer interviews Tina Burnside, who grew up in Central and curates the Minnesota African American Heritage Museum and Gallery, now open at 1256 Penn Avenue N.
Every word in the paper is translated into Spanish.
“For me, the purpose of the paper is really about lifting up voices of people of color,” said Marjaan Sirdar, who writes an anti-racism column and serves as vice chair of the Bryant Neighborhood Organization board. “The whole reason which the whole newspaper idea came out of was organizing around gentrification in this community.”
“We really want to invite people to participate and to showcase what they’re interested in seeing, and to tell the stories of people who live here and things that are important to them,” said Caitlin Cook-Isaacson of the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO).
At a time when neighborhood funding is under scrutiny, a handful of groups are teaming up to try something new. The Bryant, Central and Lyndale neighborhood associations are splitting the cost of mailing about 7,400 newspapers to every address in their neighborhoods, investing more than $50,000 in the project through the end of 2019. Departing from the feel of a newsletter, writers are covering immigration, offering voter guides and highlighting dramatic changes in neighborhood demographics.
“This newspaper obviously is something that we wouldn’t do on our own, even if we had the funding to just do it for our own neighborhood, because the issues are across those boundaries and the conversations are across those boundaries,” said Eduardo Cardenas, CANDO lead organizer.
After publishing a monthly paper for many years, Lyndale staff considered cutting back the frequency of publication. But by teaming with other neighborhoods, staff said they evenly split fixed costs and divided the distribution cost based on neighborhood size, using funding comparable to their old newsletters.
Lyndale and Bryant are collaborating further. While they’re still independent organizations, the boards are restructuring staff to share an executive director and three community organizers focused on issues like housing, food access and racism. They also share office space at 3537 Nicollet Ave.
The collaboration comes in the midst of major questions about the future of neighborhood organization funding. Current funding sources are expected to end in late 2020, and city officials are reevaluating the entire program.
“We’re all nervous about a reduction in investment in neighborhood work,” said Brad Bourn, executive director of the Lyndale and Bryant neighborhoods.
City staff’s draft recommendations would award “bonus points” in funding for groups that pool services. Examples of this include Lyndale and Bryant collaborating, the Nicollet Island-East Bank neighborhood contracting staff help from Marcy-Holmes, and the Harrison Neighborhood Association sharing office space with the Lao Assistance Center, said Neighborhood and Community Relations Director David Rubedor.
“The city is recognizing they don’t need 84 people like me sitting at a desk,” Bourn said.
For Minneapolis neighborhood groups, sharing resources is nothing new. Local groups have partnered to get out the vote, hire Somali community organizers, host Nicollet Open Streets, publish newspapers, coordinate garage sales, moderate candidate forums and more.
In Lyndale and Bryant, one joint idea in development is a loan program for renters. Similar to a microloan, funds could cover the cost of a security deposit or rent payment, so new renters don’t need to find several thousand dollars to move in. Staff will also evaluate neighborhood garden spaces to make sure they prioritize residents who will rely on gardens for food. Another position is focused on anti-racism and inclusion, led by community organizer Jodi Matthews.
“Neighborhoods don’t always know what their blind spots are,” Bourn said. “A lot of Jodi’s work is helping us find those blind spots.”
Bryant board members are pushing Lyndale to diversify its organization and take up issues around policing and gentrification, Sirdar said. One recent story in the newspaper suggested ways to build safety other than calling the police.
More events are in store similar to the dinner served on the 38th street bridge over 35W last summer, which brought together residents on both sides of the highway in Lyndale, Kingfield, Bryant and Central.
In some ways, the highway divides the communities less than ever — gentrification is hitting both sides, neighborhood leaders said. A new four-story apartment project at 2nd Avenue and East 36th Street wouldn’t have happened two or three years ago, Cardenas said.
“The barrier of 35W is less and less,” he said. “…Now Central is marketed as up-and-coming, or downtown adjacent.”
In Bryant, one of the first neighborhoods where African Americans could secure FHA-insured mortgages to buy a house, generational wealth is disappearing as demographics quickly change, Bourn said. Neighborhood conversations about gentrification along 38th Street span from Nicollet to Cedar avenues.
“It doesn’t make any sense to think of just Central,” Cardenas said. “The only people that really know these boundaries are us.”
As the neighborhoods organize in response to gentrification pressure, the newspaper provides an alternative to traditional media, Sirdar said, amplifying voices of color.
“It really is the essence of moving forward, about black and brown people reclaiming part of the city as the city is pricing people out and trying to make space for middle- to upper-class white families,” he said. “This is our way of organizing and saying, look, there are people here already. This land is not empty land. And we have a story to tell.”
Neighborhoods 2020 at a glance
What: A process to recommend the future of neighborhood associations beyond 2020, when major funding sources end.
— Funding in three-year cycles would cover neighborhood administration (50 percent), community engagement (25 percent) and discretionary projects (25 percent).
— Associations must agree to audits, board term limits, aggressive outreach and diversity that matches neighborhood demographics.
— Final approval of funding would be determined by the mayor and City Council. A work group recommends $10 million per year, with 75 percent going to neighborhood groups and 25 percent going to other community organizations. Historically, funding for neighborhood groups has ranged from $4 million-$20 million annually, according to the city.
Timeline: Initial public comment and review now through March 31. Final Council approval in fall 2019 for rollout in early 2020.
More info: minneapolismn.gov/ncr/2020
Source: City of Minneapolis