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Cunningham has two adult children and four grandchildren.
Both divorced, they met in 2007, when Hodges accompanied her friend Barrow to a goodbye party for Cunningham when he was leaving his post as CEO of NorthPoint Health and Wellness. They married four years later.
A rough start
His upbringing starkly diverged from that of Hodges, who is white and grew up in what she calls a “rarefied” atmosphere in Minnetonka with two parents.
Cunningham, who is black and the fourth generation of his family out of slavery, was raised with four siblings by a single mother on welfare in Minneapolis. He remembers workers turning off their gas in freezing weather, landlords evicting them, and cycling in and out of elementary schools. His mother moved the family to the South Side after race riots on Plymouth Avenue, but the family struggled.
“I met lots of men at home, ” he wrote later in an anthology about black fathers, “but they were typically heroin addicts passed out on the couch or shooting up in the bathroom.”
By age 13, Cunningham was staring down a grim future. He dealt drugs. He stole. He skipped school and hung out with a gang. Finally, he ran away.
His life transformed after his Uncle Moe, a Marxist and Black Panther, took him in. Moe and his friends helped Cunningham become a dedicated reader and writer and involved him in community projects. After graduating high school, Cunningham ran a co-op alongside his uncle for black residents of south Minneapolis.
Cunningham’s career took him far and wide, eventually leading him to graduate with a public administration degree from Harvard, and included leadership positions in the Minneapolis civil rights department and school system.
Connects easily with people
He has been vice president of the Northwest Area Foundation since 2007 and among other volunteer positions is on the leadership team for Generation Next, a coalition to address the achievement gap that named outgoing Mayor R.T. Rybak as its new executive director.
Those who work with him say he is constantly sharing the latest research and pouring over reports, though he also connects with people of all kinds.
“He can be in a room with low-income folks and connect with them because that’s his background, and he can be in a room with CEOs and connect with them because he’s so well- regarded and well-educated … there’s nothing he won’t do. He will try anything, ” Barrow said.
Cunningham and Hodges have busy professional lives. He spends up to a third of his time traveling for his job, while she was making calls on pension negotiations on their wedding day. But they have a standing date each Sunday for brunch, and when they do have time together they like to watch movies, work out, and spend time among friends.
While Hodges is measured with her words in public — she has joked about having an “internal editor” — Cunningham is more gregarious. But she lights up when talking about him. Hodges told supporters at her election victory party that she was so in love with her husband and that he was the light of her life.
“I am very aware that I married up,” Hodges said in an interview, “and I’m lucky for it every day.”
Maya Rao • 612-673-4210