Part One – North Minneapolis: Will bad public-policy choices continue to influence poverty, blight, and unemployment in the future?

Emerson Avenue - north Minneapolis (photo: City Pages - Fair Use 2019)

I haven’t written an editorial opinion in awhile; the reason being is the academic world keeps me writing and thinking about new and exciting ways to look at the world through a spatial – or 3D lens. So, with that said, I’m going to attempt a wrap-around of North Minneapolis, it’s people, nonprofits, and defining funding moments to ask, “Will bad public-policy choices continue to influence poverty, blight, and unemployment in the future?”

By Don Allen, Senior Editorial Columnist

          In the early twentieth century, North Minneapolis was known as a place where marginalized people came together. Restrictive housing covenants prevented both Jewish and Black American citizens from buying homes elsewhere in Minneapolis, so the Northside became an area where residents from different backgrounds cooperated, built friendships, and even intermarried. After World War II, however, trust between the two groups began to erode. As overtly anti-Semitic practices declined, housing options and job opportunities opened up more readily for Jewish citizens than for Black Americans, straining relationships between previously friendly neighbors (Marks, 2015).

          Historian and multi-media platform host Ronald A. Edwards said, “Since I’ve been here (Mr. Edwards is 80-years old), Black-Americans on the north side suffer from insufficient housing and jobs, he said. In the early days, garbage often went uncollected. That is the history of North Minneapolis (Edwards, 2019). Note: Mr. Ronald A. Edwards was the longest seated chairman of the board for the Minneapolis Urban League when they had over 200 employees, two-schools, housing, and many other functioning programs – unlike 2019.

           Civil rights leader W. Harry Davis described the same unrest in his 2002 autobiography. North Minneapolis in the 1960s, he stated, was no longer the quiet, isolated small city of his youth. The anger over racial inequality that bubbled to the surface in places like Los Angeles and Detroit was also present in Minneapolis. Though some scholars refer to the events as riots, others argue that they were a series of criminal activities. Many, however, use terms like “uprising” and “rebellion” that suggest a strategic response to social injustice; the city had two major incidents of civil unrest on the Northside in the 1960s. The first, in 1966, involved looting and arson on Plymouth Avenue. Arthur Naftalin, the city’s first Jewish mayor, acknowledged the lack of opportunities for Blacks in the neighborhood and promised change in response. By the summer of 1967, conditions had not improved, and Black residents’ frustration was stronger than ever (Davis, Sturdevant, 2020).

          This has been going on since the 1960s – why? In North Minneapolis the status quo (bootlicker’s) are encouraged and rewarded for their cheerfulness, which seems void of ethical practices in community outreach and engagement. I mean really, who do you call as a Black American in Minnesota when you need assistance dealing with race and class issues? The bottom line is that I do support the Minneapolis Urban League – but not the political posturing; less than 20-years ago, the Minneapolis Urban League was a force to recon with, but now, with allegedly taking on short-term loans from other nonprofits to assist in operational obligations, there is a systematic challenge that should be addressed.

         We are dealing with a theory – maybe two very important theories: Occam’s Broom, attributable to a man named Sydney Brenner who describe the process in which “inconvenient facts are whisked under the rug by intellectually dishonest champions of one theory or another” (2013); and Hanlon’s Razor,which at its core means tonever attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity (Steele-Raymond). It’s a philosophical razor which suggests a way of eliminating unlikely explanations for human behavior, like a mental model.

A mental model is simply a representation of how something works, or doesn’t work.

          So, is it crazy to push a citywide statute against take-out containers and straws? Well of course – but when elected officials are treated as celebrities, those who look at the world with a 3D lens have to say, “they don’t know any better, poor souls.” The mythology of banning flavored and menthol cigarettes (under the pretense that it will stop teenagers from smoking is one of the stupidest ideas ever), plastic bags, straws, takeout containers are all easy and decipherable misdirection’s – things they can “fix” – not like people challenges. If the people in the Black community are not organized and focused, the politicians know it and proceed forward with very arrogant and dismissive public policy for those zip codes.

          Simply put (not theory), in interests of a clear interpretation of a messy reality, the systems that govern North Minneapolis – poverty, unemployment, Black people, and Black sustainability have seen fit to keep this area as a Petri dish of disparities for generations on how poor people interact with advanced system-policies that are not in their best interests, geographical factors, political influences, and the lack of selectivity in picking what leader(s) to follow. North Minneapolis’ systems have been a beacon of death for Black-progress for generations.  

           The reasons why both of these theories are representative of North Minneapolis and a large majority of the situations the people are in is because someone – organizations and policy-makers are not being truthful within the systems and decisions made where in most cases are baseless and unhelpful to build human capital in that area. The media generally cites newcomers and a poor and unemployed minority in North Minneapolis as the cause of the violence. Some local press addressed systemic causes—including alienation and racism– and called on community leaders and policymakers to prevent future violent incidents (Marks).

If there are no community leaders and policymakers, what happens?

  • North Minneapolis Part Two: Searching for the “Missing Middle”


(2013, July 3). Occam’s Broom. Retrieved from

Marks, S. (2015). Civil Unrest on Plymouth Avenue, Minneapolis, 1967.

Davis, W. H., & Sturdevant, L. (2002). The autobiography of W. Harry Davis. Afton, MN: Afton Historical Society Press.

Edwards, R A. (2019). The Minneapolis Story.   

Steele, G.L.; Raymond, E.R. eds. (1990-06-12). “The Jargon File, Version 2.1.1 (Draft)”. Retrieved 2017-07-19.

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