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Neeraj Mehta

North Minneapolis program director

Tornado Response

 

 

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 www.mpr.org 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

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. 
 

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