Ventura Village never gives up

BY GAIL RAJALA HAYDEN

I’ve been attending the Ventura Village Neighborhood Community monthly meetings in the Phillips neighborhood off and on for nearly 20 years. At the most recent meeting, on May 10, some of the same people were present, serving as volunteer leaders, just as they had been in 1998. They were every bit as welcoming. The same diversity is present now as then. The compassion these people have for their neighborhood hasn’t gone away.
The City Council member for the 6th Ward, Abdi Warsame, presented his monthly newsletter and addressed the group about the measles outbreak and how he was having meetings with his own Somali community about the importance of vaccinations.  He emphasized that he had his two young children vaccinated and that vaccination was key to preventing this kind of frightening outbreak.  He spoke about the formation of a transgender community commission consisting of 15 individuals to work for an end to the discrimination against transgendered individuals.  Since he is up for re-election, the creation of this commission is politically risky— some of the people from Somalia in his ward might take opposing views to his.  Yet he spoke proudly of the City of Minneapolis for being a progressive city where the plight of every minority could be made easier.
The inspector for the 6th District, Catherine Johnson, was present to give her report about the violence, especially at four trouble spots: the 1800 blocks of Park and Portland Avenues and then 24th and Bloomington, and 24th and 10th.  She had completed meetings a week before with leadership from Peace House, Aeon (formerly CCHT, Central Community Housing Trust), St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Pursuit, and Bill Cullen, the new owner of the boarding house on the corner of 19th and Portland.  Her goal was to request and secure a commitment that they would coordinate their security efforts to work against the continuation of an encampment that had begun to form behind the buildings on the west side of 18th and 19th on Portland, and behind the apartments along the west side of the 1800 block of Park Avenue. She clearly grasps the complexities of the problem.
She announced that seven new Franklin Avenue “beat cops” had begun that day to work the day shift in order to interface more effectively and personally with the homeless people in the area and those living in shelters and seeking additional help at Peace House and St.Paul’s.  Seven more new rotating shift officers were slated to begin in June.  She wasn’t just saying let’s round them up and throw them out.  She was asking everyone present to see it as a human problem needing humane solutions as well as more law enforcement.
She spoke of the gangs.  She said there were two Somali gangs, Native gangs, Hispanic gangs, and threads of the infamous gangs that had come to our city by way of Chicago.  Cameras were placed in key locations.  Funds were needed for more.  Communicators were working from the various law enforcement agencies to network the schools, and the businesses, and the neighborhood centers to achieve a safer summer.  She said Ventura Village was not safe on all its tree-lined streets.  Areas were still far too dangerous, but the awareness was there and a plan was in place.  I liked her.  And I liked Justin Young, the new officer patrolling Franklin.  He wasn’t much older than my son and I fought back a maternal worry for his safety until I heard him speak and could hear in his voice a very thoughtful tone.  Again, he knew the subject of ending the violence and law-breaking on the difficult blocks was not an easy subject wrapped up in one night’s meeting.  And he asked for everyone’s involvement, and in that room, that night, he was getting it.  The people in Ventura Village wanted to keep improving the lives of the residents … not just those with permanent homes, but those in transition, too.
Two officers were elected to the board that night.  A date was scheduled to plant the large planters along the main thorough fares, and volunteers were told when to meet to participate in the plantings.  A vote was taken to support the issuance of grant money for rehabbing homes.  It passed unanimously.
Mary Watson, the current secretary, and a decades-long resident who has spent her retirement years in constant service to the neighborhood she loves, met and greeted everyone who came and left with the same vitality she had when I first met her 20 years ago.  She looked better than ever, and I thought, as I drove my car down Franklin, so does the neighborhood. The activists are still vigorous, the neighborhood is far from stagnant, and plans are in place to weave a tapestry of newcomers with old-timers and new visionaries.  It felt good. I remember the quote from Margaret Mead about never underestimating the power of a group of concerned people coming together to make a difference.

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