• Ezra

Growing Up Black In Minnesota

Me, my old sister and one of my younger brothers

I am from Minnesota. My development as proud Black man was seeded by my parents and then germinated from the Black community of Minnesota. I lived in St. Paul; however, my mother often transported my siblings and I to Minneapolis because there were more culturally diverse activities (translation: there were more Black folks in Minneapolis). That is not to say that there is not a rich Black community in St. Paul, but for mom, she was trying to make sure we had a strong sense of cultural identification and this meant going where she could to reach this goal.

Some of the activities in which I participated included: Imhotep Science Academy, classes at Juxtaposition Art Studio, Greater Friendship Baptist Church, and art classes at Mrs. Jones art studio all located in Minneapolis.

I say that to say, there is a beautiful black community in Minnesota. Amid current protests, the media would like to portray black Minnesotans as bandits and looters. Here is some more context to the history of black people in Minnesota, what we have done, and the light we have shared with the world.

Real black people live here.

On the porch in the winter

First of all, you might be saying to yourself - "Wow, I did not know that there was that many black people in Minnesota." Yes, there is a thriving black community in Minnesota. There has been since the great migration; many family's hail from Texas, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi and other states doting the Mississippi River. Just like many families in New York and Philly are from Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida.

Me and my siblings in the winter.

I was born in Minnesota and lived there until I was 12 years old at which point my family moved to the DC area. I learned substantial and unforgettable life lessons from my activities in Minneapolis. Imhotep Science Academy introduced me to Capoeira (an African martial arts system), Swahili, cooperative economics, science fairs, and taught me how to organize events. If that sounds like a lot, it was. But it was also fun and a collective of adults met every Saturday to make it happen.

Me and siblings (minus lil bruh)

My art lessons took place at the Plymouth Avenue Art Studio with Mrs. Jones, a phenomenally outstanding art teacher and entrepreneur that lit a creative fire in my heart and set me on my personal artistic journey which continues to this day. Juxtaposition Art Studio further provided instructions in animation and designing tennis shoes. This all occurred in the city of Minneapolis with a community of intelligent Black professionals that care about the next generation. Real black people live here. I focused on Minneapolis since this tragedy occurred there. However, the city of St. Paul is just across the Mississippi River and their close geographic proximity is the reason this region is called the Twin Cities. St. Paul has one of the strongest black communities in Minnesota. The Rondo community of St. Paul is home to numerous African-American churches, businesses, and schools which set down roots in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, creating a strong community.

Historic Rondo Community

St. Paul established its own NAACP chapter in 1913. Rondo became a hub for black culture and life to proliferate. Then of course came the construction of I-94 through the heart of the Rondo community. This had deleterious effect on the community. Nevertheless, the people and the love carry on.

African drumming performance with my brother John

I would be remised to leave out the tremendous organization that taught me about public speaking, storytelling, gardening, and a host of other culturally relevant events like Juneteenth: ARTS-US Young Storytellers. ARTS-US is the reason I know how to give presentations, perform on stage, and afforded me the opportunity to participate in summer day camps for years.

Real black people live here. Last and certainly not least, the Martin Luther King Jr./Hallie Q. Brown Recreation Center in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul was an integral component of my development. My three siblings and I literally went to the MLK Rec Center five days a week! We were there for every single sport that was in season (basketball, baseball, volleyball, softball, tae kwondo) and because of Project CHEER, we were also able to obtain piano and guitar lessons. I even learned the pain of being bullied at that rec center (I was homeschooled), how to play foosball, ate hot Cheetos, and talked junk to other kids.

Juneteenth or Rondo Days

Finally, attending the two largest Black events in the Twin Cities was a highlight for my whole family. Rondo Days and Juneteenth celebrations were absolutely required if we were not traveling during the summer. We always enjoyed the marching bands at the Rondo Days parade and even walked with Toni Carter’s car to support her campaign for county commissioner. I can remember yelling, “Toni Carter!” at the top of my lungs. Toni Carter became the first Black county commissioner in MN, her husband, Melvin Carter, Jr. founded Save Our Sons in St. Paul, an organization to help young black men find their way!

Mayor of St. Paul, Minnesota, Melvin Carter III

He also wrote a book about growing up in Minnesota as one of the few black cops on the police force and life in general. Their son, Melvin Carter III, became the first black mayor of St. Paul two years ago. I also have fond memories of the Junteenth celebration in Theodore Wirth Park. During one such celebration while my parents were visiting with other people in the park, my younger brother, John and I pushed our baby brother’s stroller down a steep hill while he was sitting in the stroller. At the ages of 6 and 4 years old, we knew that if we did not catch the stroller, there would be hell to pay. We hustled and caught the stroller in the nick of time! Real black people live here. And real black people die here. The black community in Minnesota has suffered violence against it from the hands of racist white people dating back to the Duluth lynchings in 1920 when three black men were wrongly accused of raping a 19-teen year old and taken from jail and lynched in front of a crowd of thousands. Google it if you want to see the picture. I will spare you the trauma. This is just one of the well documented cases, but trust there are more from the same period and earlier.

As a young black boy growing up in MN, my parents had the same conversations that all black parents hopefully have with their sons. Sometimes it seems like there is no safe place for black people in these United States of America. Maybe that is what Yeshua meant when he said, "Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Rest in Power Mr. George Floyd and every other martyr. May the ancestors salute you from yonder sky.


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