Skylines; vegetables; graffiti; buzzing bees; a young girl bouncing down the sidewalk in a Hijab; The Midtown Exchange painted against the summer sky; the bells of bikers cycling on the Greenway; a medley on Spanish and Somali dancing in the air… these are some of the sights and sounds that made up my summer in the Phillips neighborhood of South Minneapolis.
Interning at Urban Ventures
This summer I interned with Urban Ventures, a faith-based non-profit with the mission to build successful community and break the cycle of generational poverty in South Minneapolis. Located at the corner of 4th and Lake St., in an area that used to be called “crack alley” and had little effective rule of law, Urban Ventures has an impressive track record of 20+ years of successful work transforming the neighborhood.
UV's holistic community development focuses on children, families, employment, and education. Targeting adults and parents, UV has a center for fathering, a center for workplace training and job placement, a Latino parenting program, and an outreach to at-risk men in the community.
Serving children, and in partnership with local public schools, UV has an after school and summer school academic tutoring program. UV also provides mentoring and leadership development, as well as soccer and basketball teams, and karate and music lessons.
In addition to these programs, UV also runs a coffee company, CityKid Java, that provides job training and employment for teenagers in UV programs and pours 100% of profits back into youth development programs; Studio180, which trains other non-profits, government officials, and community leaders in successful community development; and lastly, the team I worked with, CityKid Enterprises, a hunger and nutrition initiative focused on job creation, nutrition education, and increasing access to healthy food.
Healthy Food For a Healthy Community
One part of my job with CityKid Enterprises was helping launch the CityKid Mobile Farmers Market. The Mobile Market is a refrigerated truck that brings locally-grown produce into areas of the city where it is hard to find, areas sometimes referred to as food deserts. The Mobile Market launched in July and is the first of its kind in the Twin Cities. It was a blast to help with getting the market off the ground. However there were also plenty of challenges that came with it, such as navigating the logistics – like how to manage inventory and keep the produce fresh. Not to mention feeling the tension between wanting to create an eventually profitable and sustainable enterprise while still serving those most in need.
In addition to the Mobile Market, CityKid Enterprises also offers healthy cooking classes for children and families and educational experiences on UV’s urban farm, learning about agriculture and gardening, and with UV’s own honey bee hives, learning about science and entomology! I was able to be present for some of these sessions and it was such a joy to watch the kids’ curiosity and fascination. To see them light up when they tried a new vegetable for the first time, to watch them go from fearing the honey bees to being captivated by them… it was inspiring and fulfilling to witness!
Going Deep and Bearing Fruit
Despite growing up only a 20 minute drive from South Minneapolis, this summer has been a truly cross-cultural experience and I've learned so much. The largest take-away for me was how incredible it was to see the deep, long-term commitment some members of UV’s leadership team have made to the community, including the founder Art Erickson. As part of the intern program, we met with Art weekly and he shared with us his heart for the neighborhood, as well as gave us advice, his insights and learnings over the years, and practical tools.
Art has lived in the Phillips neighborhood for nearly fifty years. He has raised his family there and has dedicated his life to the well=being of the community. Given the history of poverty, inequality, and violence in the area, Art’s life and work is a testament to sacrifice and service – what I believe we are called to.
Observing this sort of dedication in Art and other members of the leadership team, and hearing about the progress South Minneapolis has made, in part thanks to such community leaders and organizations like UV, is nothing short of inspiring and challenging. There is a beauty in it, to know a place and a people so intimately, to give your life so wholly to service. A beauty I desire and a beauty I want for my own life. It challenges me, in the days of 1-week mission trips and a world so accessible thanks to airplanes, to go deep and commit myself to a specific community. (When I talk about desiring roots, this is what I’m referring to).
Because this is what the world desperately needs. If there is one thing I know about development work, it’s that it is really, really hard. Quick fixes and Band-Aid solutions are everywhere, but what brings holistic, long-lasting, transformational change is relationships. Relationships that are often born of a deep, long-term investment in a specific place and community.
The Richness of Diversity
When I reflect on this past summer, another take away can be summed up in one word: diversity. To start, I've always been interested in other cultures and desired to travel, and to be honest I've had quite a bit of an attitude towards the U.S. until recently (woops). Only within the past two years have I begun to appreciate the country I was raised in, and if there is one word to describe the U.S., it would be diversity. Diversity of landscape, culture, history, ethnicity, nationality, language – it goes on.
I found this diversity to be amplified while working in Minneapolis and I absolutely fell in love with the city. With the largest Somali population in the country, the second largest Hmong population, large Hispanic and African-American communities, and over a hundred languages spoken, the community of South Minneapolis couldn't be any richer. (Not that this is unique to Minneapolis – the cities of our world today are multicultural centers). There is such vibrancy, beauty, and richness in diversity that is utterly captivating, and working in Minneapolis satisfied my desire to travel and engage with other cultures – despite still being at home!
Development is Needed Here, Too
Lastly, being at UV this summer drove home the fact that community development work is needed everywhere. Although I'm studying "international" development, which often focuses on economically developing countries, development is necessary on every corner of this earth. Whether it is in the cities or suburbs of the U.S., addressing issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and homelessness, or in a village in Nicaragua, there is brokenness everywhere that needs to be addressed - it just manifests itself in different ways.
Although I'm now settling into life in Budapest (and loving it!), there is a piece of my heart already missing Minneapolis. This summer was an immense blessing, and I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to work alongside Urban Ventures and get to know this rich community more.