Asha Bashir sipped lemonade under a tent with her friends in a park northwest of downtown Minneapolis on Tuesday night, as a group of kids danced to music blaring from a coral-colored Prius parked on the grass. Rows of white chairs and tables were arranged for attendees while others readied face-painting tents, food trucks and a vegetable dessert giveaway.
This was just one of more than 2,000 block parties across the Twin Cities for National Night Out, a nationwide campaign aimed at fostering relationships between neighbors and community-police partnerships. Minneapolis and St. Paul have some of the highest attendance rates in the country, with thousands turning out each year to enjoy food, fun and friends.
Most of the Heritage Park neighborhood event was organized by young people, said Bashir, who is 15. She said they want locals to connect, catch up on what’s happened since the last block party and revitalize a deeper sense of community.
“Even if you live right next to each other you might not always know each other,” she said. “This lets us do something together.”
In the Lind-Bohanon neighborhood, Rosalind Blake had bouncy castles and a grill on this shady north Minneapolis block. Her party was only a few blocks from the alley where Thurman Blevins was shot earlier this summer, something Blake said didn’t go unnoticed as she prepared.
Hundreds of Minneapolis and St. Paul police officers were out among the crowds. Blake asked for canine units, mounted officers and fire trucks to come and interact with neighborhood kids. The grandmother of seven said she hopes it instills a positive relationship with police.
Officers might not always be in the right, Blake said, but better policing is a two-way street that requires communities and officers to meet halfway.
“That’s why it was so important for me to have all those items coming together,” Blake said. “So our kids can see that.”
In northeast Minneapolis, residents prepared for the festivities at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church by tying colorful balloons to the courtyard fence, which bobbed in the light summer breeze to welcome in friends and strangers alike.
It’s fitting that the neighborhood’s event was right next to the church, said Michael Rainville, 64, because the ornate stone building has been in the area pretty much as long as people have.
“It’s kind of a center of the neighborhood,” he said. “It’s been here for more than a hundred years, and it will be here for another hundred.”
Rainville is part of the fifth generation in his family to live in the area. He and his 23-year-old son, Michael Rainville Jr., have volunteered at the event for the past few years because it’s a way to support the community they’ve called home for so long.
“This happens so neighbors can know who their neighbors are,” the elder Rainville said. “People who just moved here, we want them to feel like they belong, too.”
Houston White said he wants to flip the North Side’s narrative with events like the block party outside his business, HWMR — a barbershop, coffee shop, retail store and community space under one roof at the intersection of 44th Avenue and Humboldt Avenue N.
At their first event last year, community organizers brought music, art and food to showcase the rich culture that, they worry, many don’t associate with north Minneapolis. Holding celebrations like this lets Northsiders paint their own pictures. So far it’s working, White said.
“The smiles on people’s faces,” he said. “That doesn’t lie.”
Otis Moran, 56, said his favorite part of the day was just watching everything unfold. After the time he spent coordinating the event for the Loring Park neighborhood association, he said it was nice to see people smiling, dancing and enjoying themselves.
Moran sported a gold stick-on junior police officer badge — a souvenir from officers who stopped by the gathering.
“It’s just a good reason to bring everyone together in a community,” he said.
In Loring Park, the neighbors live in stacks more than blocks, Moran added, pointing to all the apartments nearby where he advertised National Night Out.
“The only bad part at all is I’m competing with these other block parties,” he said. “They’re everywhere.”