North Minneapolis leaders, kids work to heal from recent trauma

Break the glass, pull the alarm.

That is how one community leader described the moment we’re in with the kids who call north Minneapolis home.

“We [have] to be serious around doing what we know can be done for their wellbeing,” Sondra Samuels, chief executive officer with the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), said about the youth of the north side.

If the last few years haven’t been hard enough for them, 2022 has not eased up: students at North Community High School lost a classmate after he was shot, their teachers held a strike for days — adding to an already disrupted education due to the hurdles with distance learning because of the pandemic — to most recently when a 14-year-old was shot in the McKinley Neighborhood.

That teen is expected to survive, but that doesn’t mean he’ll be OK.

“I caught myself saying, ‘what else can North High take this year,’” Jaton White, director of NAZ’s Community Wellness, said.

The NAZ works with dozens of community organizations to provide an array of services for families including:

  • Education
  • Housing
  • Health
  • Jobs

It also provides an avenue for people to reach out to who may be struggling to find ways to better their lives.

“We start with the emotional wellbeing first, let’s talk about where you are and why you’re there, and what things are keeping you stuck,” White said about their work, adding “Then, who can we plug you into that makes sense to provide you those resources beyond your home.”

While they have several partners in this work, there are two resources that are in high demand: tutoring and mentoring.

During the ‘Community Conversation With Our Youth’ at the Harold Mezile North Community YMCA on Tuesday night, some of that mentoring continued.

The Y said young boys and girls were invited to, “participate in a community conversation to proactively discuss how together they can build a city focused on safety, prosperity and opportunity.”

Community groups — several that have been on the streets during this trauma, working to prevent more from happening and provide guidance — were there to lead the conversation. Members of the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD) were also there.

“We are looking out for you,” MPD Chief of Staff Christopher Gaiters said during the meeting in his uniform.

“Do not be afraid to come and talk to us in a uniform, do not be afraid to walk up and ask for advice,” Gaiters added. “You’re going to get real answers, and real truth, and real guidance.”

There are other opportunities for anyone — no matter where your address or demographic — to help with that mentoring and tutoring.

Right now, Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities says there are 50 kids — or ‘Littles’ as the organization calls them – in North Minneapolis that are waiting to be matched with their ‘Big.’

“We look at mentoring as this larger picture — it’s an investment in our community,” said Chief Executive Officer of Big Brothers Big Sisters Twin Cities Sat Sukhum.

“We’re building a stronger community, a stronger workforce, connecting potential and possible to opportunity that might not have been connected before,” Sukhum said, adding: “And through that we all grow.”

There are several different ways in which you can be a ‘Big’ — learn more here.