The man in the photo stared ahead, an easy smile across his face and a pencil mustache lining his upper lip. Dressed in a wide-lapel suit, he leaned back in his chair, one arm slung loosely around the woman sitting beside him.
Michelle Hargrove-Sweis flipped past the black-and-white pictures of mostly black residents of south Minneapolis from the 1940s and ’50s.
“Keep ’em coming, sis,” Michael Hargrove said to his twin.
They looked for family members, but mostly reveled in the history of the neighborhood they grew up in.
“This is the most beautiful thing I have ever seen,” said Hargrove-Sweis, 55.
The old pictures, in a booth hosted by the local library, was one of many attractions offered Thursday evening to celebrate the reopening of the 38th Street bridge over Interstate 35W after being closed five months for renovations.
Not far away, City Council Member Andrea Jenkins spoke to a crowd of about 300 seated at dinner tables who were awaiting a three-course meal as rush hour traffic zoomed below.
For months, freeway construction has frustrated drivers across the city. Celebrating the bridge reopening as the sun set over the Minneapolis skyline was one way to relieve that tension, she said.
But Jenkins said meeting halfway on the bridge and inviting members of the surrounding neighborhoods also had another purpose.
“It’s a symbol that we’re trying to knit these communities back together,” she said.
When the freeway was built in the 1960s, residents like Beatriz Jackson, 67, watched as it created a stark divide in her community. “This took out houses and split the neighborhood,” she said Thursday.
In Minneapolis and other American cities, freeway construction led to inequality and lost neighborhood narratives that persist to this day, Jenkins said.
Reclaiming that history and bringing together the diverse community around the bridge was the goal of organizers of Thursday’s event, including Jenkins’ office, the Minnesota Department of Transportation and neighborhood organizations from Bryant, Kingfield and Central among others.
But they didn’t want to rehash history. They wanted to restore a sense of community.
During dinner, which included dishes ranging from vegetables platters with parsley tahini to pulled sumac beef, Elijah Fortson steered toward open and honest communication. While people often have strong ideas they’re not always vocalized, said Fortson, a brand manager with Marnita’s Table, a local nonprofit that helps people bridge communication barriers.
“I think people are fine talking about the weather or talking about sports,” he said, “but they have a lot of trouble tapping the meaty public policy and quality-of-life issues that really affect us.”
Organizers hoped residents could discuss neighborhood challenges as well as aspirations. They also hoped the conversations were a step closer to building strong relationships, said Evelyn Vargas, community organizer with the Bryant Neighborhood Organization.
“It’s not just infrastructure, it’s not just services,” she said. “It’s creating spaces where different sorts of people are given equal access to come together, experience the same sort of events and actually talk to each other.”
Events in the past have offered that same sort of connection. But many hoped this would lay the groundwork for future community events.
For Hargrove-Sweis, it was encouraging. New and old residents lined the streets they walk every day, giving her hope for a future that might bridge their past.
“We need to come together as one — not, ‘This is my neighborhood and this is your neighborhood,’ no,” she said. “We’re a bridge apart, but we’re together.”