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“Before, life was simple. It was, ‘You can’t. No. You have to live over there,’ ” Ellison said. “Even though there was no Jim Crow segregation here, there were things you couldn’t do.”
Now, “the opportunities for sociopolitical advancement have opened up,” Ellison said. “So you have more ways to offer leadership, and they don’t offer leadership only to African-American people but to the community. ... There’s no single recognizable leader who gets to weigh in on everything.”
Among the coalitions at work in the Twin Cities is the African-American Leadership Forum, which has brought together leaders from all fields to get at the persistent gaps.
And in north Minneapolis, a multimillion-dollar, multiyear public and privately funded effort to end poverty called the Northside Achievement Zone is underway. It’s using federal money to try to lift more than 550 North Side families out of poverty by improving their children’s educational opportunities from cradle to college.
In the corporate world, many programs now exist to train younger members of the community to take seats on corporate and philanthropic boards, Cunningham said. He readily rattled off a list of young African-Americans leading organizations working on housing, transit and jobs.
“They’re going to take these issues in a whole different direction than the civil rights generation,” he said.
Shawntera Hardy, a former St. Paul city planner who is now director of transportation at Fresh Energy in St. Paul, said it can be more difficult to get people fired up in Minnesota because of its more reserved culture and because problems aren’t as overt as they were in her native Youngstown, Ohio.
“The fight is not as universal,” she said. “You have individuals who have the education and skills needed to be in the upper echelon.”
‘All hands on deck’
With more opportunity and more avenues, there’s a sense that change could come on many fronts.
“Anybody can shout, but it takes a real leader to execute. I see that happening more and more, and it’s heartening,” said Sondra Samuels, president of the Northside Achievement Zone.
“What’s changed is the African-American community is looking at the issues and saying, ‘All hands on deck.’ ”
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747 Twitter: @rochelleolson