Reflections from Sondra: After Jamar, where do we go from here?

Dear Friends:

As we stand together on the stage of history living out our lives in community, I want to thank each of you for your unwavering belief in the children and families of North Minneapolis. Your partnership with the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) signals that you understand the wellbeing of our city and state is linked to the wellbeing of North Minneapolis families. The current tragic events gripping our city have made this reality even more evident.

I’d like to share with you my thoughts in the wake of the confusion, fear, and anger ignited by the police killing of unarmed Jamar Clark. I’ll also include what I believe we all can and must do.

A volcano has erupted on the Northside
The unfolding of recent events has felt like a volcano erupting in the midst of our neighborhood. This volcano has been active for decades and an eruption was inevitable, given the social condition of our neighborhood. In fact, it erupted in the same exact place along Plymouth Avenue in 1967 during the Cities’ “long hot summer” of race riots and destruction. Then, as is the case now, the intense pressure building inside the walls of this metaphorical volcano was a result of years of systemic racism, isolation, and neglect of the disproportionately brown and black people of the Northside.

The Northside is the epicenter of Minnesota’s greatest disparities. Studies have shown that our state has some of the widest racial gaps in household income, employment, home ownership, health, safety, and academic achievement. The killing of Jamar Clark and the aftermath added significantly to the pressure inside the volcano until it could no longer be contained. Nor should it be.

The importance of the protests
Movements like the Boston Tea Party, Abolitionist’s, Women’s, Civil, and Gay Rights, and Occupy Wall Street, were intended to make our country more equitable. Most are also known for giving our young people a place to stand in the history of our country, to provide leadership, and to lend their voices to issues bigger than themselves.

For me, this has been the most exciting aspect of the Black Lives Matter movement. Even for those of us who disagree with some of their tactics—I called for ending the nearly three-week occupation of the police precinct, because for me and many of my neighbors it felt like an occupation of the Northside—but the essence of the protest is a healthy and necessary response to decades of a devaluing of black life in our city and state, which has led to our egregious disparities.

I believe in supporting our youth, while helping them to direct their passion, in a way that helps them own their responsibility to address neighborhood violence, and in a way that builds instead of destroys the community. I believe that this movement should be inclusive of all people who support its mission—even those the protesters disagree with. I celebrate Black Lives Matter as part of our American tradition of using protest movements to shape, change, and expand the social geography of our communities to embody justice and liberty.

Police are not the enemy
We know that police brutality is real and it must be stopped. We must raise our voices to change laws to ensure that police misconduct is no longer tolerated. Now is the time.

But this alone is not the solution to what ails our society. The police are not our enemy. In fact, many have been my greatest allies in our quest to improve the safety and quality of life on the Northside. I thank police officers I encounter for risking their lives day and night so that my family and neighbors can live safely. For any lasting peace we must understand that we are mutually interdependent—we need the police and they need us. And at the end of this turbulent time, my greatest hope is that justice is secured and gives birth to a new more trusting relationship between the African American community and the police.

Our real enemies are injustice, inequity, and inhumanity towards one another. This is what we must fight against whenever and wherever we see it happening! In so doing, we send a clarion message to our children: their lives are valued no matter who denies them the right to life and justice. This is true even if the attacker looks like them and is from our neighborhood—which far too common.

We must hold up the value of black life by rallying against any type of community violence, and the denial of real opportunities, with the same passion, indignation and resolve exhibited in today’s protests.

We have a permanent solution
Northsiders have seen too many attempts to ease statewide inequities that lack accountability, are short-term, paternalistic and siloed. These solutions were not designed to permanently stop “social” volcanic eruptions by creating communities of opportunity for all, but to simply redirect the flow of lava to avoid immediate destruction of whatever is in its path.

The work we are doing through NAZ is a permanent solution to building a more equitable society from the ground up. Our systems approach is focused on two generations of Northsiders—parents and their children—by partnering with them as they lead community transformation.

What began as an idea over six years ago is working. We have built a partnership with over 935 Northside parents, 1,842 students and 43 nonprofits and schools that are all focused on results. Through our coordinated efforts, NAZ children are more ready for kindergarten, make accelerated academic progress each year, and firmly believe that college is possible. Their families are stabilizing their housing, improving their health, and moving toward better careers—while providing leadership throughout the community.

I’m heartened by a recent study that indicated our work will result in a healthier Northside community where families are stronger, fewer people need social services, and more children will succeed in school and in their careers. We are building a future where North Minneapolis will significantly add to the social and economic vibrancy of our entire region, while providing the workforce of tomorrow.

What you can do—moving from charity to solidarity
It has been said that charity is done to people while solidarity is done with them. Charity is often one directional: I have something you need. Solidarity is reciprocal: you and I both have a need, and we have something of value to give one another.

For those of you who are wondering what you can do in response to our current crisis, I ask you lift your voice to ensure that justice prevails, and to stay the course with NAZ. In solidarity, let’s take a long-term view by staying focused on what is working to create a more equitable community where all of our children thrive, regardless of zip code. In so doing, we will relieve the mounting pressure of past discrimination and devaluation, thereby ensuring the end to all future volcanic eruptions and guaranteeing shared prosperity for us all!

Again, thank you for standing with the future college graduates of North Minneapolis and their families!

In solidarity for our children,


Sondra Samuels
President & CEO
Northside Achievement Zone