A Huge Day for North Minneapolis and our Kids


Saturday morning I was at the graduation for parents in the Northside Achievement Zone’s (NAZ)FamilyAcademy


Shortly after getting her “diploma” while Pomp and Circumstance was being played,  north Minneapolis parent Lucretia Gibbs came to the microphone to tell what this meant to her.  She talked about the struggles in her life as she tries to raise a young family.  As she told about how the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) has surrounded her with support, she began to cry and couldn’t go on.  Two young boys lept from their chairs in the audience and ran to the podium to hug her.

Those of us in the audience smiled to see her young sons comfort their mother.  Except they weren’t her sons.  They weren’t her relatives at all and in fact, they didn’t know her.   


At that moment when two very young strangers embraced a parent who needed support we saw exactly what the Northside Achievement Zone is all about.  The Zone, which we call “NAZ”, is about having every single parent and every single child surrounded with support.  When any one of us sees a parent in need of support, we step up to help….even if we are a stranger barely old enough to go to school.


Those values are what has given so many of us hope about the promise of NAZ,  and it’s why the Obama Administration today awarded NAZ a $28 million Promise Neighborhood grant so they can reach hundreds more parents.    This is a monumental grant that can help transform the neighborhoods in north Minneapolis and the families that live there


Minneapolis received this astonishing grant in large part because of the groundbreaking work led by Sondra Sameuls, NAZ Executive Director.  She and the many, many people who have spent several years forming this partnership are winning the future, one child and one parent at a time.


We also have to remember that one of the reasons we got this grant is that we have one of the largest achievement gaps of any city in the country.  This grant is the wind in our sails to attack this problem but it should also be a challenge to see this state of emergency as just that.   Until every child is thriving we can’t move forward; every bit of energy in our community has to be brought together right now.


Along with this fantastic news today that is much more happening here. 


  • Friday Minnesota received a federal Race to the Top grant to focus on early childhood development in areas of the state with the highest achievement gaps, including northMinneapolisand parts of St. Paul.
  • Mayor Coleman and I have joined our school superintendents, the Presidents of the University of Minneapolis and the Community College Network, leaders of foundations and many others to implement a “strive” partnership to bring all the collective energy of all these partners to attack the achievement gap.
  • The Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board is bringing all our partners together —city, parks, schools, teachers, parents, children—to sign a “compact” that will hold us all accountable for specific steps we will take in the next year to help our kids.
  • The Minneapolis Promise, which includes our STEP-UP Summer Job Program, will continue to expand efforts to get our young people on career tracks that lead to college.
  • We have also had a coalition of foundations who continue their long term commitment to investing in north Minneapolis, including General Mills, McKnight, United Way, Minneapolis, Cargill, Carlson Family, Northway and Northwest Area, and many many others.


Much more is happening and much more needs to happen.  This is a crisis and we have to treat it as one.    But I am more confident than ever that we will win the battle for the future of our kids.  


Sometimes things are tough in north Minneapolis but the people are resilient.  Together we have faced down the economic collapse, the foreclosure crisis, an epidemic of youth violence, a tornado, and much more.  Problems remain, certainly, but we are winning the battle on all fronts.


All eyes now turn to north Minneapolis again, from all over the country.  Once again they will see what we are made of, and we know that this next generation will be successful because we proved we are all in this together.


Congratulations Sondra Samuels and the Northside Acheivement Zone.


Congratulations to many hundreds of people who have been part of helping the northside.


Now let’s get back to work!





I want to add a final word about my friends Sondra and Don Samuels.   I met them about 9 years ago in the midst of a horrible few evenings when it seemed north Minneapolis was coming apart.  As community activists they stood up and challenged everyone to put more of ourselves on the line to make the northside a better place to live.

They talked about what needed to be done, but they also dug in and made it happen.  Don got elected to the city council and started the Peace Foundation.  Sondra took over the Peace Foundation and started the Northside Achievement Zone.   While they were doing all that they were everywhere in the community, including holding a vigil every time a person died in north Minneapolis, an amazing action that has put a human face on what too many people wanted to ignore.


When my wife Megan and I are asked about who we see a heroes we often say Don and Sondra.  


We believe deeply in their work and today we know that the President and others inWashingtonbelieve as well.


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