More than a quarter century ago, six black women from north Minneapolis left their beloved neighborhood to attend college in the Atlanta area — where they ultimately settled to raise families and pursue successful careers.
But they desperately missed their hometown.
So four years ago, the women dubbed themselves the MinneLantan Group, and they planned an annual reunion with Twin Cities family and friends that is expected to draw several thousand people over the Labor Day weekend this year.
"We felt such a sense of community and togetherness growing up, it's the foundation of the bond we have," said Serena Nunn McCullers, a member of the group.
While the women, who describe themselves as being in their early 50s, have long remained close, "we never seemed to come back [to Minneapolis] at the same time," said Stefanie Jacobs Yelverton.
A reunion planned for the same weekend every year seemed to make sense — and the event over time has steadily grown more ambitious and popular, thanks in part to burgeoning connections made on social media. Beyond the expected fun and fellowship, the women take up a collection of hygiene products (and cash donations) for students at elementary, middle and high schools throughout the Twin Cities.
"This is our way of paying homage to the people who came before us," Nunn McCullers said. The weekend-long event takes the entire year to plan.
Setting aside a few moments before Saturday's picnic at Boom Island Park, the group reminisced about their north Minneapolis childhoods, laughing and finishing each others' sentences.
There were skating parties, picnics in Glenwood Park (now Theodore Wirth Park), afternoons at the Roller Garden, jaunts to the King Supermarket and endless activities sponsored by the Girls & Boys Club and the YMCA. There were also events sponsored by the Way, the center for Minnesota's black liberation movement in the 1960s and 1970s.
But mostly, the women recall the deep connection among families and friends on the North Side.
"Our grandparents knew each other in some cases," said Tina Brewer. "If one family needed help, another family stepped in, no questions asked."
They say the old neighborhood has changed, mostly because many of their neighbors and friends have passed on. But they've noticed diverse younger people settling in — and some gentrification.
While north Minneapolis provided a foundation, they found success in Atlanta — long a center of black wealth and economic and political power. Among the group, there's an attorney, a proposal writer for a big health care company, a bus driver, a small-business owner, a flight attendant and a hospitality executive.
What's to miss about Minnesota? The lakes, White Castle hamburgers, Broadway Pizza and the State Fair, especially Sweet Martha's cookies — some of which will likely make it into their carry-on bags on the flight home.
When asked what they like best about living in the South, the women universally replied: "The weather!"
But, as Jacobs Yelverton noted, "You can't beat the summer days here in Minnesota."