Business and philanthropic leaders are buying what Sondra Samuels is selling at the Minneapolis Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ).
“We can’t ‘government’ our way out of this,” Samuels said.
She met last week with private investors behind a $35 million capital campaign that has raised $25 million so far.
NAZ was seeded in 2011 with a $28 million, multiyear federal grant that has expired.
The organization is a partial response to studies that found that the Twin Cities has huge education and income gaps between black and white residents. Ground zero is about 1,000 mostly impoverished black families on the Northside.
NAZ is starting to see success in metrics such as education and employment.
Samuels and her staff mostly work with families. They also work with 40 schools and organizations that provide housing, health and skills training.
NAZ provides a customized support package for each family that focuses on parent education, counseling, getting kids ready for kindergarten and through high school — and whatever else is needed for their success.
Many families are products of multigenerational poverty. It will take years for some to achieve “success.” For NAZ, it starts with parent engagement.
NAZ received a big boost last week from Stanley Druckenmiller, the legendary New York investment manager.
Druckenmiller was in Minneapolis to discuss why, over the past 20-plus years, he has donated hundreds of millions of dollars to help impoverished kids, much of it through his work as chairman of the board of the Harlem Children’s Zone.
The HCZ evolved from a small, after-school program 30-some years ago to embrace thousands of families. It has produced academic test scores among mostly black Harlem students that rival the New York state average.
The HCZ supports 900 college students annually.
As family success and pride rose, crime declined and a once-blighted section of Harlem saw redeveloped housing and business nooks.
Druckenmiller, 66, and Geoffrey Canada, 67, founder of HCZ and a Harvard graduate school graduate who returned to his old Harlem neighborhood, talked about how the neighborhood renaissance stemmed from the after-school program.
Druckenmiller, a confident but humble billionaire, has been the board chairman and chief finance guy. He has invested hundreds of millions in HCZ and other causes so far.
“I’ve lived a charmed life,” Druckenmiller told a breakfast group at the Minneapolis Club. “I had advantages. The neighborhood you come from has the most influence on your outcome than any other factor.”
He said the money he gives to the organizations run by Canada and Samuels do important work and are well worth his money.
“The kids growing up in Harlem today don’t know what a mess it was 20 years ago,” he said. “Now, our kids in Harlem are recording the test scores of white kids in New York.”
Druckenmiller is best known for two huge, international investment bets during a stellar 40-plus year career that made billions for investors. Today, he manages family money and works in philanthropy.
He is conservative on economics. He noted it costs about $5,000 annually to get a poor kid ready for kindergarten and supported during the primary school years to prepare for a successful high school run.
A more expensive investment, he said: up to $100,000 annually to keep an inmate in a New York prison.
Most people in jail suffer from a mental illness, a drug or alcohol problem or a disrupted childhood. Or a combination of the three.
Studies show that Harlem Zone families also improved health as they did better, cutting the huge costs of obesity, asthma and diabetes.
Most of NAZ’s $11.5 million annual budget now is from businesses, foundations and individuals. The state contributes $1.3 million a year.
Samuels’ supporters include Ken Powell, the retired CEO of General Mills who co-chairs the NAZ capital campaign with Target CEO Brian Cornell. Others on the list are Phil and Margie Soran, Jay and Page Cowles, Al and Kathy Lenzmeier, Tom Borman and dozens of others who donate time and money to this long-term investment.
“To have those partners who believe in us, including Stan Druckenmiller and Geoff Canada, that’s what any leader in the nonprofit sector has as our dream,” said Samuels, 53, a veteran businesswoman and nonprofit executive who lives on the north side with her family.
“We are not doing rocket science, and we have to keep getting better. Like anybody who has kids, we know what it takes for them to be successful,” she said.
“One parent must be home or you get them into quality day care and preschool. Help with homework. Make sure you know what they are doing after school,” she said. “We have concentrations of people who didn’t have support. And they are concentrated in the same ZIP codes.”
The choice is to let them stagnate or help them.
This is a moral as well as economic-uplift argument, proponents note. We need these kids on the job.
Powell noted at the breakfast last week that the labor-hungry Minnesota economy will be short 300,000 workers by 2024.
And we all do better when we all do better.
Neal St. Anthony has been a Star Tribune business columnist and reporter since 1984. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.