Neeraj Mehta

For the past 10 years, Neeraj Mehta has been working with others to build on the strengths of north Minneapolis - first as a Program Manager with Project for Pride in Living, then as Program and Strategic Development Director with the Sanctuary Community Development Corporation. Currently, he works as a Program Officer with Nexus Community Partners. He lives with his family in the Jordan neighborhood of north Minneapolis. Read more about Neeraj Mehta.

Tornado Response

Posted by: Neeraj Mehta under Disasters Updated: May 29, 2011 - 7:35 AM



This week has been a tough one in North Minneapolis.

A week later, I’m still mad because I can’t believe a tornado stormed through my neighborhood, further exacerbating the struggles of so many in my community. I’m also inspired as I’ve watched my community come together to respond in meaningful and effective ways every single day this week.

Then I wake up this morning and read an article on by Leslie Frost, former executive director of Families Moving Forward, a shelter in North Minneapolis. Here’s what she says that makes me so angry:

“In other neighborhoods, community leaders would already have active, open lines of communication among themselves and would swing into action right now to get things moving and to get attention focused on both the immediate and long-term needs of the neighborhood. In north Minneapolis, in my experience, those lines are neither active nor open, and the community leaders are more likely to fight each other for position and resources than join together in a coordinated plan.”

I understand that she is speaking from her own experience, but nothing could be further from the truth. I watched and participated this week in a tremendous show of partnership, coordination and communication. I couldn’t have been more proud of the organizations, leaders and residents who rallied together to quickly address so many of the issues after the tornado.

What started out Monday morning as an effort to mobilize volunteers to help with clean up, quickly developed into an amazing convergence of Northside leadership, community based organizations, faith communities and others. This grass-roots collaboration has come together quickly, effectively responding to the multi-faceted needs in the aftermath of the tornado. To be in the room with this partnership of people and organizations this week was inspirational.

By the end of the week more than thirty organizations were collaborating together focused on meeting the immediate needs of our community.

• 3000 volunteers had been mobilized to help with debris clean up.

• Hundreds more volunteers were mobilized in each of the three impacted zones, knocking on every single door ensuring individuals and families were okay.

• A rapid response center was formed for people knocking on doors to communicate the needs they were encountering. From there resources like food, water and clothing were deployed to the door of families in real time.

• A strategy was developed that would provide immediate support to uninsured homeowners and prevent further displacement. It also included a plan to engage local and minority contractors, effectively keeping dollars flowing inside our community.

I’m not trying to attack Leslie Frost for her belief about my community’s inability to come together in a coordinated fashion. She is not the only one who believes this about north Minneapolis. Instead, I want to use this opportunity to lift up what actually did happen this week in north Minneapolis.

We came together. We worked together. We helped each other.

And to know north Minneapolis well, is to not be surprised by this at all.

If you want to learn more about the efforts this week, and the continued coordination that will be happening, or ways you can join in, please contact me and I’ll help you get connected to the many organizations coming together to respond to the needs after the tornado.

Road Rage

Posted by: Neeraj Mehta Updated: March 16, 2011 - 8:42 PM

In the past few weeks, in a variety of settings, the following question, as it relates to community development goals, in some form or another has been asked, "What does success look like to you?" 

Another way the question has been phrased is as follows, "What does success look like?". 

I work and live in North Minneapolis. And like a lot of other people, I care deeply about seeing our community become a more healthy and stable place to live, work and play. But when it comes to the question of, "So what does that look like?". I struggle to answer. 

I mean there's a lot of standard stuff you can talk about like employment, and health and education and public safety. There's a lot of indicators of what success, or positive change might look like. 

But this week, do you want to know what I'm fixated on?

I want to see 26th Avenue North without bumps.

Yes, you heard it, I want to drive down this main arterial in North Minneapolis without feeling like my car is going to be eaten by 1 of 1000 potholes, bumps or craters. 

Okay, I know, that may seem like a minor thing. Especially at this time of the year when many Minneapolis streets have been destroyed by snow and salt. 

What really ticked me off was driving in other parts of Minneapolis this weekend, especially more wealthy parts of Minneapolis where the roads seemed fine, one might even call them luxurious. Why do some parts of the city get a safe, smooth road, and me and my neighbors get bumpy and dangerous? And it's not like 26th Avenue North just got bad this year. It's been horrible for at least 6 years, the entire time I've lived in my house in the Jordan neighborhood. 

Maybe the condition of the road is minor thing. But maybe it's not. Maybe it's a sign. Yup, you heard me, A SIGN. Or a lamppost. Or something metaphorical like that, you get what I mean.   

Maybe it's a sign of what city or county government thinks of our part of the city. Maybe it shows that decision makers (who does decide which roads get paved and re-done?) are putting us low on the priority list when it comes to allocating resources? Maybe it's our fault for not demanding a new road? 

I just want to know the answer to this question, "Why can one community's road be left to sink into itself and others are constantly maintained and well kept?" 

Now of course, I'm not stupid. So I could probably list 100 reasons. Some real, some couched in conspiracy, others based on issues of race, class and place.  

My point is this, 26th Avenue North sucks as a road.

I think there are a lot of things we could be doing to make our neighborhood more healthy, more safe, more beautiful. We need investments in people, we need investments in place, and we need them at the same time. 

And while we're making progress on indicators of success like employment, education and health, can we also demand that our roads are as well taken care of as in other parts of the city? I think investments into roads, parks, streetlights, public art, etc.. mean a lot and would add tremendous value to our collective efforts in North Minneapolis. 

A manifesto for the inside.

Posted by: Neeraj Mehta under Society, Government, Politics Updated: July 2, 2010 - 7:47 PM

Over the past half century a variety of strategies have been designed in search of solutions to the multiple and deeply rooted problems of America’s central cities.

“The expansion of social services, reorientation of city development policies in progressive directions, the rapid proliferation and growth of community development corporations, the enhancement of human capital investments, especially urban school reform, have all had their (urban) moment.” – David Imbroscio, Urban America Reconsidered

I had a professor in graduate school describe the myriad of strategies used to solve urban problems as “great solutions to the wrong problem”. Granted each of the above approaches has had positive impacts, some greater than others, as a whole many of the communities where these strategies have been used remain isolated and poor.

Today, a new approach and way of thinking is becoming popularized, based on the idea that central cities are too isolated (socially, economically, politically, fiscally, etc.) from the broader region. Proponents of this “new regionalism” argue that the local scale is too small and too limited to do much good. The answer, they say, is to expand the boundaries of the local, “crossing city lines”, to connect inner city communities to the broader region.

I should start by saying, I mostly agree with the framework of this theory. The broken and ineffective way we have constructed many of our communities, has essentially isolated low-income people and people of color from opportunity. Connecting communities like mine, North Minneapolis, to broader economic, housing and social opportunities would be beneficial to the overall health and well being of my neighborhood and its residents.

Here though are some of my main concerns with the new regionalism framework:

It essentially looks beyond the local to solve urban problems. Rather than being focused on finding solutions that come from inside a community or neighborhood, energy and resources are shifted to solutions more distant and external from community.

It privileges individual mobility over local community development. While enhancing individual mobility is a good thing, we must not sacrifice building the economic, political, human and social capital inside communities. We need strong regional connections and strong local neighborhoods, together.

Not everyone benefits. The universal approaches used to increase individual mobility tend flow to those most advantaged in disadvantaged neighborhoods, exacerbating rather than ameliorating place based inequalities. If we are going to ensure greater benefit to residents of poor communities, more targeted approaches must be put in place.

My concern is that if not implemented wisely, a new regionalist approach to addressing urban poverty issues will leaving us measuring success at the regional level, ignoring inequities at the local level. The region will boast an unemployment rate of 8%, while the unemployment rate of a local community within that region might be 45%. The region will boast a high school graduation rate of 80%, while the graduation rate of a local community within that region might be less than 50%.

I want to see us build up healthy local neighborhoods that are strong socially, economically and politically, and with strong connections to the broader region. I want to make sure our strategies are valuing local community and their residents and not just the region. I don’t want to see us shift our resources and energy into building a strong region at the expense of building strong local communities in all parts of that region. I don’t want to see us lift up “re-location” as the way to address urban poverty issues.

I don’t want us to sacrifice the inside for the outside.

Building a strong Twin Cities region, a strong city like Minneapolis and a strong local community like North Minneapolis, should be complementary not conflicting goals. Now granted, I’m not an expert on new regionalism, but I have to believe that there is a way where we can develop the strength and vitality of the local neighborhood and its residents while simultaneously making connections to the assets of the broader region.


Northside Women's Space

Posted by: Neeraj Mehta under Violence Updated: January 29, 2010 - 4:00 AM

A few blocks from my house there is a street where violence intersects with trauma. It’s a corner where women involved in trading or selling sex spend their time waiting. I don’t know the back story of these women, but for most I know what brought them to this intersection is more complicated than I could every dream or imagine. For most of these women I'm sure the pain, abuse and violence began far before they ever even arrived at the intersection. 

For my wife and I travelling across this intersection is by far one of the most heartbreaking experiences connected to living in our neighborhood. 

We’re often shocked at how few resources there are out there to support women and girls looking for support, healing and a way out. I think in our ignorance we too easily characterize these women as the perpetrators instead of the victims, and cast them aside as undeserved of our love and support. 

That’s why my wife and I were excited tonight to be able to celebrate with others the launch of the new Northside Women’s Space. The project is a collaboration between Kwanzaa Community Church and Lauren Martin. Together, they are developing a space where women and girls engaged in prostitution can connect.

The Northside Women’s Space will provide women in prostitution a holistic space based on the values of empowerment, respect, dignity, integrity, community and hope. 

At the event we heard from a variety of individuals, including a woman, a survivor, who found freedom years ago. She emotionally shared with us the uniqueness and the importance of this space and all that it will provide for the women and girls in our community struggling to find freedom from prostitution. Her courage, her commitment and her hope for the women and girls still out on the street was inspiring.  

Over the next few months the Northside Women’s Space will be continuing in its development, both of the space and programming. I would encourage you to support this important work financially by emailing to learn how. 






Posted by: Neeraj Mehta under Society, Crime, Violence, Disasters Updated: January 23, 2010 - 9:30 AM

Last week my wife and I had the grand opportunity to leave our two kids in the care of her parents and spend five days on vacation in California. Afterwards we both agreed that it was probably the most enjoyable vacation we’ve had. We walked the streets and hiked the hills of San Francisco and spent time with friends and family at a wedding of one of my childhood friends.

Yet, with all of the fun that we had there was still a dark cloud that sat over us for those five days. It seemed overindulgent to be doing what we were doing when hundreds of thousands of victims were still suffering through the aftermath of the great earthquake in Haiti. Then three days into our vacation we found out that a young teenager was killed in the middle of the street, in the middle of the day, just down the block from our house.

While on vacation I was reading some of the writings and speeches of Martin Luther King Jr. and was struck by the power of his words and “fierce urgency of now” as he led others in breaking down the racial injustice that was pervasive in his time. Reading his words brought to life the intensity of the Civil Rights movement, the commitment of its’ supporters and the evil of the injustice they fought against. All together these things created a deep uneasiness in me.

In a speech given in 1957 in Berkley Dr. King talked about the need to be “maladjusted” to the injustice in our world.

“Now we all should seek to live a well-adjusted life in order to avoid neurotic and schizophrenic personalities. But there are some things within our social order to which I am proud to be maladjusted and to which I call upon you to be maladjusted. I never intend to adjust myself to segregation and discrimination. I never intend to adjust myself to mob rule. I never intend to adjust myself to the tragic effects of the methods of physical violence and to tragic militarism. I call upon you to be maladjusted to such things.”

I wonder sometimes if we have become too adjusted and complacent with the suffering and pain that exists around us (both near and far), allowing things to feel normal that should never be made to feel normal.

Wouldn’t you agree that there are some things that we should all get angry about? When a country brutalized by poverty like Haiti is hit by a natural disaster, we should be angry. When a teenager walking down the street in the middle of the day is shot dead, we should be angry. No matter where we live, no matter how comfortable our life is, no matter how rich or poor we are, these realities should shake us, should affect us, should push us to live for and strive for something different.

But instead of journeying to that more difficult place, a place that asks something of us, we push answers too quickly (see the stupidity of Pat Robertson), or too quickly blame others for their plight (see poverty in Haiti and the US). Too often we live our life on the circumference, fearful, unwilling or unable to journey to the center, where things are messy, dangerous and uncomfortable. It is safer to live on the edges, more dangerous to live in the middle.

And more than the anger and beyond the emotion we need to find ways to act, individually and collectively. As I read through more of Dr. King this weekend, I struggled to know what in our world today will move us the way his fight moved so many?

What injustice, what oppression, what evil will we unite around and fight against? Will we come together to alleviate poverty in a developing or recovering nation? Or fight for the human rights of all people in our own country? What does it look like to love our neighbor? Should we work less and spend more time with our families? What is our social and moral responsibility?

In a lot of ways I think that we’ve become brainwashed. Brainwashed into thinking that this is it. Brainwashed into believing that we’re stuck with what we’ve got. This is the way the world is. Work hard, follow orders, stay in line and you’ll get what you deserve we’re told. But is that really it? Is this the road we want to be on? Is this really the best that it is going to get?

I don’t think so. And I hope you don’t either.

I think we need to again hear the words of Dr. King and wonder what it means for us to be maladjusted today. When hundreds of thousands of people can see their lives destroyed in a blink of an eye, or when a teenager can be shot in the middle of the day, we need to ask more questions, wrestle more with what we have and what we give.

Let us together be serious about transformation.

“I call upon you to be as maladjusted as Amos who in the midst of the injustices of his day cried out the words that echo across the generation, ‘Let judgment run down like waters and the righteousness like a mighty stream.’ As maladjusted as Abraham Lincoln who had the vision to see that this nation could not exist half slave and half free. As maladjusted as Jefferson, who in the midst of an age amazingly adjusted to slavery could cry out, ‘All men are created equal and are endowed by the Creator with certain inalienable rights and that among those are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.’ As maladjusted as Jesus of Nazareth who dreamed a dream of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man. God grant that we will be maladjusted that we will be able to go out and change our world and civilization. And then we will be able to move from the bleak and desolate midnight of man’s inhumanity to man the bright and glittering daybreak of freedom and justice.“



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