Abdirahman Awad was shocked when he showed up at Capitol Cafe one morning in September to discover three large windows shattered, the shards of broken glass piled on the sidewalk like a heap of winter salt.
“It looked like a war zone,” said Awad, the manager.
On Friday, he and other business leaders accepted $30,000 raised by the community after a vandal attacked East African-owned shops in Minneapolis’ Seward neighborhood on the 2400 block of E. Franklin Avenue. Much of the money was raised by the Seward Community Co-op, which made the targeted businesses the new recipients of its monthly donation from customers “rounding up” their grocery bills.
“It was deeply disturbing to many of us in this community, and we decided to take action,” said Sean Doyle, general manager of the co-op.
A 36-year-old man has been charged in connection with the incident.
Jaylani Hussein, executive director of the Minnesota chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, said the organization has received three or four harassing messages a month since moving into the neighborhood. But he described Seward as a “wonderful neighborhood” and one of the most vibrant.
“What today represents is what is possible when communities come together and begin the process of healing,” Hussein said at the co-op. “These businesses are all busy doing amazing work.”
He said that while people were shocked, the episode is also the reality of what’s happening today. Hussein noted that the Salaam Cultural Center, a mosque in northeast Minneapolis, was vandalized last week, and a Muslim driver for DoorDash said he was assaulted recently near Lake Minnetonka by a man who told him to go back to his country.
“So hate is still regretfully alive, but today we celebrate what can happen,” Hussein said.
He wants the city of Minneapolis to match the donations.
Munya Bana, owner of Rochester Home Care on the affected block, praised the neighborhood as welcoming. But he said he wasn’t surprised by the vandalism, given anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim attitudes that he sees on the news.
“I really wasn’t shocked,” he said. “It’s happening a lot every day. … You become kind of numb to it.”
Awad, for his part, had always felt welcome in his 20 years in America. He arrived from Somalia as a teen. The vandalism made him question whether people thought differently of him and other East African immigrants and refugees.
“I’ve been in the community for a long time,” he said. “I never felt like somebody targeted me because of who I am or what I believe … so that makes me wonder.”
Awad estimated that it cost about $3,000 to replace the windows and more to upgrade the security system. But the damage has also come in the loss of customers who feel scared, who wonder if they will be a target if they come out to socialize. Still, he was heartened by the community’s efforts to help.
“This is really beyond our expectations,” Awad said.