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Minneapolis, MN 55411
Connect with Us
- South Africa’s Tutu Sisters to host UMN UROC Critical Conversation on trauma and healing.
- UROC researcher Lauren Martin is working to put an end to sex trafficking in Minneapolis.
- UROC serves as a bridge for scholars to Minneapolis’ north side
- Endless possibilities
- Opening health-care doors in urban communities
- Research-based projects target literacy, school success
- Broadband Access Project labs making a difference
South Africa’s Tutu Sisters featured at UMN UROC Critical Conversation on trauma and healing.
By Meleah Maynard
Trauma is not unique to urban communities. But it is often a part of life there because the strains and struggles of everyday life are compounded by the ongoing stress of things like poverty and violence. This is the case in much of North Minneapolis where foreclosures, rising homicide rates and a devastating tornado in 2011 have left people reeling and traumatized.
Healing will take time. But talking openly about issues and feelings is a good place to start, said Heidi Lasley Barajas, executive director of the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (UROC). To help, UROC invited the daughters of South African activist and former Anglican bishop Desmond Tutu to speak at two events titled: “Trauma, Faith and Healing in the Community: Conversations with South Africa’s Tutu Sisters.”
Part of UROC’s Critical Conversations series, the conversations with race and gender activist Naomi Tutu and researcher Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe took place on April 23 at Shiloh Temple International Ministries in North Minneapolis, and April 24 at the University of Minnesota's Coffman Memorial Union. Both discussions provided an opportunity to talk about the role of consensus building, faith, and reconciliation in North Minneapolis and beyond.
UROC chose the Tutu sisters to lead the conversations because each has spent their life working in their own way for peace, reconciliation, and justice. The Rev. Mpho Tutu is an Episcopal priest and co-author, with her father, of the book Made for Goodness. Naomi Tutu is a race and gender activist who speaks frequently about her experiences growing up in apartheid. And Thandeka Tutu-Gxashe is a researcher with experience working on many issues, including the health of women living with HIV/AIDS.
Community support for the event was exceptional and turn out was strong. "Many in the community expressed a need for this type of disucssion," said Barajas adding that the idea for a series of dicussion on trauma and healing came out of dicussions with University researchers working on children’s health and trauma, members of many diverse faith-based organizations, Northside residents, and Northside health practitioners.
Bringing People Together
UROC launched Critical Conversations, a series of public discussions of urban issues and ideas, last spring. The series brings together community leaders and members, students and faculty, policy makers, advocates, and anyone else who would like to talk about pressing urban issues that fall under the broad umbrella of community health and well being.
Past Critical Conversation topics have focused on the history of North Minneapolis, as well as the impact of sex trafficking on the health of the community. Topics are chosen based on discussions between UROC and community members, and Barajas expects that a wide range of important issues will be addressed over time. “We see this as a way UROC can create a space and a way for people to come together to do important work in this community,” she says, adding that these discussions are just one of the ways in which the University is engaging with the public.
Hidden issues are difficult to solve. That’s why the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC) is hosting a series of public discussions to raise awareness about the growing problem of sex trafficking and prostitution in the Twin Cities.
Although some people were shocked when the FBI recently identified Minneapolis as one of the top U.S. cities for trafficking juveniles, the news did not surprise Lauren Martin, UROC’s director of research. Martin, who joined UROC in 2010, has been studying sex trafficking since 2006 after being hired by North Minneapolis’ Folwell Neighborhood Association for a two-year project examining the problem.
Martin developed the project in partnership with community members after talking with people about what they were experiencing. “I had just finished my Ph.D. and was between jobs when a friend asked me if I could do some filing at a North Minneapolis non-profit,” recalls Martin, who now works less than two miles from the Folwell neighborhood in University’s UROC building at Plymouth and Penn avenues.
“I said ‘sure,’ and once people in the community got to know me, they told me there was a problem with prostitution and they wanted me to help figure out solutions.”
Looking back, Martin remembers thinking that her work on the subject would be temporary. But as she interviewed people who had been exploited and hurt, as well as advocates and police officers who were trying to help them, she realized she’d become personally invested in the research.
“After so many people had trusted me with their stories, I couldn’t just walk away,” she says. “That’s what engaged research is all about, connecting with people and communities and putting what you learn into action.”
Out of the shadows
In 2006 and 2007 Martin interviewed more than 150 people who had traded sex for food, shelter, or other things, and during those talks she noticed one overwhelming theme. “Everyone talked about the shame, stigma, and judgment they endured in their lives because of sex trading and trafficking,” she recalls.
Sex trafficking is intimately tied to poverty, exploitation, and lack of choice. “Yet people had been kicked out of their families, even churches, because our society tends to blame people who trade sex regardless of the reasons for doing it,” says Martin.
This atmosphere of shame and isolation creates the perfect environment for exploitation, Martin explains: “What could be better for a trafficker than finding someone who is very disconnected from systems of support and full of shame?”
Trading children and adults for sex is a highly profitable market. As long as the practice remains shrouded in silence, traffickers will have free reign to prey on vulnerable people. In addition to producing informative reports on Martin’s research, UROC partnered with the University’s Center for Integrative Leadership and North Minneapolis’ Kwanzaa Community Church to host public discussions on the impact of sex trafficking and prostitution on urban communities.
Part of the UROC Critical Conversations series on urban issues, the first discussion on sex trafficking and prostitution in October was so successful that it led to a second discussion in January. A third conversation will take place at UROC at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 14. This discussion will focus on juvenile sex trafficking and law enforcement, in particular how communities can assist in the investigation, arrest, and prosecution of perpetrators.
Panelists include Sgt. Grant Snyder of the Minneapolis Police Department’s Child Abuse Unit and Anne Taylor, senior assistant Hennepin County attorney. The event is free and open to the public, but registration is required because space is limited. Register online at uroclawenforcement.eventbrite.com or call 612-626-8762.
Breaking the silence
For Martin, breaking the silence around sex trafficking is a concrete way to help stop it. “It’s the first and most powerful step we can take to reduce the harm of sex trading for women, children, families, and community health,” she says. The UROC-based engaged research partnership with the community also has fostered additional efforts to reduce the harm of sex-trading and to promote healing. For example, Kwanzaa Community Church has opened the Northside Women’s Space, a safe place for women and girls involved in the sex trade to come together and talk about what they’re going through.
“It sounds easy to start something like this, but it’s not,” says Martin. “This is essentially the community stepping forward to say: ‘We have space for you because you are part of us and we are here.’”
Another successful outcome that Martin’s research helped create is Gaining Independence for Females in Transition (GIFT), a new model for helping women who are on probation for prostitution-related offenses. Developed in partnership with the Hennepin County Department of Community Corrections and Rehabilitation, GIFT’s mission is to offer a probation experience that will help women gain strength and move forward with their lives.
“The model is really working, and we are seeing women leaving probation in a better place than when they came in,” Martin says.
Martin’s research collaborations with the North Minneapolis community have spanned both community health and educational issues. As part of a multidisciplinary team working on early childhood education, she helped develop a project called Five Hundred Under Five that became a foundation for the Northside Achievement Zone, the northside cradle-to-career college pipeline that received a Promise Neighborhood grant in 2011.
Sex trafficking continuing to be a primary research focus for Martin, who recently collaborated with the Minnesota Indian Women’s Resource Center to identify strategies to prevent juvenile prostitution. She and a research partner were commissioned by the center to write a paper analyzing the benefits and costs of providing early intervention to girls involved in the sex trade.
“We found that sex trading is so harmful to juveniles, it exacts a huge cost on the state over time,” says Martin, who collaborated on the study with Indiana State University economist Richard Lotspeich. For every $1 invested, she explains, the state will get a return of about $34.
“To us, that seems like a very strong indication that it is in the best interest of Minnesota tax payers to fund early intervention and prevention."
An urban farm, community-based legal services and a pen pal collaboration between Northside Minneapolis high school students and University of Minnesota undergraduates are just a few of the public engagement projects discussed at this year’s Northside Faculty Development Workshop organized by the University’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), Community Service-Learning Center and Minneapolis Community and Technical College.
The event was planned by AmeriCorps VISTA volunteers, based at UROC, who worked with CSLC to introduce scholars to community leaders and organizations, other interested scholars and northside landmarks.
“One of the key advantages to UROC’s place-based location on Minneapolis’ northside is the center’s ability to serve as an anchor—as well as a bridge—to new initiatives like the Northside Faculty Development Workshop,” says UROC’s Executive Director Heidi Barajas.
Workshop discussions focused on the Northside community as a whole, its many attributes and hard-working organizations, as well as its issues and struggles. Trying to raise awareness about the Northside and combat negative stereotypes is an ongoing challenge, says Laurel Hirt, director of the Community Service-Learning Center.
"Things happen everywhere, in every community,” she says. “But the mainstream media tends to focus on the negative things happening in the Northside. I want to say to our students: “Hey, you know, the Northside is an great place to be and I know because I live there and I've worked with organizations across the Northside for 15 years.”
To help connect faculty with participating Northside organizations, this year’s attendees were divided into five small groups. Each group traveled to two different organizations and learned about the history and mission of each before getting the opportunity to talk one-on-one with staff. “Having our faculty be able to meet staff and see the places they may be able to create relationships with is one of the outcomes we want most from an event like this,” says Hirt, noting that several faculty members did discuss possible future projects during their visits.
Yuichiro Onishi, an assistant professor of African American and African Studies and Asian American Studies at the University, says the Northside workshop helped him better understand the dynamics of a community that was unfamiliar to him. “The event served as a mediator and allowed us all to meet at a midway point and exchange ideas, which will help ensure that whatever projects we conceive of will be mutually beneficial,” he explains, adding that he thought the day was “tremendously successful.”
In particular, Onishi appreciated that the need to develop mutually trusting relationships between educational institutions and the community was stressed throughout the day. “We all came away with an understanding that, whatever we do, it will not be a top-down University-led initiative. It will be mutually beneficial and that reciprocity is key to the development of trust with the community,” he recalls. Since the event, Onishi has started to think about how to engage undergraduates with the community in ways that would help them learn about the problems of race and class.
Currently, he is considering starting some kind of writing exchange program between students at Plymouth Youth Center Arts and Technology High School and University undergraduates. “I’m thinking of a type of pen pal setup where they write to each other about a shared reading and their experience with the topic,” he says, adding that all of the students would be on equal footing to avoid any kind of hierarchical mentor-type relationships.
Community-based gardening and lawyering
As a professor of horticulture at the University and an avid gardener, Mary Meyer attended the Northside workshop thinking that she might find organizations interested in doing a garden-related project. And she did. At Urban Homeworks, the first site her group visited, she learned about how the agency develops housing for low-income families. “Once they have a certain number of homes in an area, there could be some potential for the university’s College of Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources (CFANS) Sciences students to work with Urban Homeworks on some kind of community garden,” says Meyer, adding that studies have shown that gardens help raise the quality of life in a community.
Plans for a partnership looked even more promising at the next site, the Minnesota Internship Center Charter School, where Meyer talked with Amy Libman, director of student support services, about doing a gardening project that would include an urban farm. “They got a grant for an urban farm, so we hope to work with them on establishing the farm by offering the resources we have and engaging CFANS students in working together with community members and students at the school.”
A background in community-based lawyering drew University of Minnesota Law Professor Nancy Cook to the Northside event. Though she has not yet done community-based work in Minnesota, she and her former students at the University of New Mexico established a community presence and engaged in direct service in a number of areas, including public education and legislative advocacy.
“I’m interested in this work and I’m taking baby steps right now to see what’s there,” she says. While the need for legal services on the Northside is not in doubt, she explains, determining what types of legal services are needed is an important part of the process. “It’s highly problematic to just helicopter in, so we need to find out where our skills meet the community’s skills and needs.”
One of the things Cook remembers most about the day was the highlighting of the Northside community itself. “As we met people from different organizations and heard about what they do it was clear that there is such devotion and commitment to the welfare of that community as a community,” she recalls. “That’s an important message: It’s a two-way street and the university needs to be part of that community as much or more than that community can benefit from engagement.”
In the large, rectangular painting above Salvador Patino’s desk, the sun bakes down on a group of Latinos harvesting rows of melons and loading them into trucks. Slightly encroached upon by the tops of the computers perched on desks that line the wall, the painting might strike some as out of place in a room where technology reigns. But Patino doesn’t see it that way.
“I use it to make our flyer because it is so symbolic of the path of our parents and grandparents when they came to the United States,” he says. “I point to that picture and I tell people who come here, ‘That work was not bad, but it’s time for a new path, and that path ends in computers.’”
Patino is one of 13 apprentices hired in January to staff computer labs as part of the Broadband Access Project (BAP), a $3.6-million initiative of the University of Minnesota through its Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC).
Bridging the digital divide
The project links the University with 11 community-based organizations to provide high-speed internet (broadband) access and computer skills training to residents, small businesses, and nonprofit agencies in four federally designated poverty zones in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Funded by a $2.9-million stimulus-related grant along with $741,000 in matching funds from the University and community partners, the project aims to bring the benefits of technology to underserved urban communities while also providing job training opportunities to residents such as Patino.
Before becoming a BAP apprentice in the computer lab at Centro, a social service agency and cultural center serving Latino and Chicano families in South Minneapolis, Patino worked as a freelance bilingual interpreter for more than two decades. Over the last year and half, though, his business had dwindled down to nothing as changes in immigration laws sent would-be clients into hiding. Many others were deported.
“I was down to doing about two cases a week, so I started teaching myself how to use a computer,” he recalls. “I’ve always been interested in technology, and as I learned more I was convinced that not knowing computers in five years or so would be like not knowing how to read or write.”
A new direction
When he heard about the BAP position, Patino applied right away, thinking he had spent years helping people and was good at it. This would be an opportunity to help people in a different way while getting a good start on a new career, himself. “I don’t know what I will do, exactly, when this job ends in December, but I like working with computers because it’s very motivating to new things, and there are so many possibilities,” he says.
Patino shares his belief that technology offers limitless possibilities with everyone who walks into the lab seeking help. While some people are comfortable using the Internet but need help with a resume or a job search, others, like one woman last week, have never touched a computer. “She was just paralyzed, and she seemed afraid to even touch the mouse,” he recalls, adding that her fear is not that unusual. “People will tell me that yes, they have seen computers, but they don’t really know what to do with them, they don’t know where to go or where to start.”
Centro’s lab is busy much of the day, but Patino still finds time to spend part of each week doing outreach at schools, as well as places where Latinos work and shop, like Mercado Central, Los Gallos and the Midtown Global Market.
In the mornings, mothers drop their children off at Centro’s daycare and then come to the lab to practice their typing. Sometimes people need help finding an apartment to rent. Recently, a woman came in asking if Patino could help her find a way to practice her English verbs. “She needed to learn the past tense, so I showed her how to find good YouTube videos for that and she was so happy sitting there learning and writing things down.”
And then there was the guy who came in upset that he couldn”t afford to go to school to be a mechanic. “So I say, ‘Hey, wait a minute man, you’ve got school right here in front of you,’ and I show him how to find YouTube videos of mechanics working on engine heads and taking them apart, and it’s free. He couldn’t believe it.”
What does Patino watch on YouTube? Videos on how to play the violin. He played the instrument as a teenager and hopes he’ll be able to do so again. He’s also been practicing his typing, which he used to do with just two fingers. “I’m getting so much better so quickly,” he says, smiling. “I try to project this to people, the fact that technology puts the world in your hands and you can educate yourself and gain the skills you need to go out there and say, ‘Hey, hire me because I have all of these skills I can use.’”
Urban Scrubs Camp
Sixty high school students from the Twin Cities spent five days last summer getting an up-close-and-personal introduction to a wide variety of health care jobs. They were part of the Urban Scrubs Camp, a five-day career development experience facilitated in part by the University of Minnesota Urban Area Health Education Center.
For eight hours a day, the five dozen 9th through 12th-graders met with health professionals and experts while learning about careers in a wide variety of health care fields—from nursing and medicine to athletic training, health technology, dentistry, emergency services, veterinary medicine, and more. They attended classes and hands-on workshops while also visiting healthcare facilities including University of Minnesota microbiology and experimental surgery labs. A daylong trip to Fort Snelling immersed them in learning about Native American herbal medicine and wilderness medicine.
Healthcare career pathways
The hope is that these students will be inspired to continue exploring health care career paths and, at best, to pursue college education in a healthcare program, said Pam Cosby, who runs the Urban AHEC program from the University’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis. The Urban Scrubs Camp is the result of a collaboration between the Urban AHEC, HealthForce Minnesota, a state-funded workforce development network, along with Fairview Health Services and Augsburg College.
The grand prize for Urban AHEC, Cosby said, is for Urban Scrubs students eventually to return to underrepresented communities in the Twin Cities as health professionals.
The Urban Scrubs Camp is a shining example of what AHEC is all about. Established in 2009, AHEC’s goal is to increase and improve primary health care in the Twin Cities’ underserved urban areas. That’s a tall order considering the complex social, economic, and cultural challenges facing urban communities. Those areas typically are underserved because of high-density populations, lack of health insurance, and cultural barriers that stand between families and access to quality health care.
Improving community healthCosby’s UROC-based center is the state’s first and only urban-based AHEC, part of a five-center network working closely with the University’s health professions schools. Cosby and her staff collaborate with many campus and community partners—key partners include NorthPoint Health and Wellness Center, MNSCU, and Minneapolis and St. Paul school districts—to connect students with medical careers and to bring health professionals to urban communities.
Pointing to many studies documenting racial, ethnic, and income-related disparities in health care access, quality, and outcomes, Cosby said the big-picture goal for Urban AHEC is to improve community health through a strong pipeline of professionals with a deep understanding of all the factors that influence health in diverse urban areas. Cosby said that becomes much more likely when urban young people return to the community where they grew up. She brings firsthand perspective on that point. A resident of North Minneapolis with broad experience in the fields of community health and youth development, Cosby has her office in UROC’s collaborative research facility at Plymouth and Penn avenues, not far from where she lives.
“This is an ideal job for me, and at the same time UROC is an ideal home for the Urban AHEC. We couldn’t succeed without strong partnerships and a long-term commitment to vibrant urban communities, and that’s what UROC is all about.”
Research-based projects target literacy, school success in urban communities
Every fall, thousands of children throughout the Twin Cities enter kindergarten, signaling the start of long and—everyone hopes—successful educational careers. But as Scott McConnell knows, their success to some degree can be determined before they even walk through the school doors for the first time.
For children to be successful in school, they need reading and language skills. Research emphatically shows that kids who enter kindergarten with reading and language skills are more likely to read well in elementary school and, in turn, will be more successful in their academic and professional careers.
That’s where McConnell and a University of Minnesota research team are making a difference. McConnell, a professor of educational psychology, leads literacy and school success initiatives based at the University’s Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center in North Minneapolis (and linked to the campus-based Center for Early Education and Development).
Improving preschool literacy
Through the Center for Response to Intervention in Early Childhood (CRtIEC), McConnell is focusing specifically on preschool literacy among children in economically challenged Twin Cities urban communities, where children face a myriad of challenges both inside and outside the classroom—challenges that stand between them and a quality education.
CRtIEC is tackling preschool illiteracy by working with child-care providers, Head Start instructors, and preschool teachers to measure and track children’s literacy and language levels. It gives teachers easy-to-use tools to measure each child’s literacy level over time, allowing them and McConnell’s researchers to track a preschool child’s early development and forecast their reading and writing skills as they enter school. Teachers and parents are armed with resources to strengthen each child’s literacy, building the skills that are crucial for school success.
The key, McConnell says, is to identify and address literacy problems very early in a child’s development, even before children can read or write in a formal way. It’s an approach that’s easier and more affordable than waiting for students to fail in school—with devastating consequences for their futures and for entire communities.
The effort is collaboration between CRtIEC, the Minneapolis school system, Head Start, private childcare programs and others, where teachers play a critical role in helping McConnell’s team refine the program. In the last 10 years, more than 200,000 kids ages 3–5 have been assessed.
Communitywide school-success effort
Another large-scale program McConnell has been involved in at UROC is the Five Hundred Under 5 program (FHu5), which promotes school readiness in North Minneapolis. With research, evaluation, and program development tools from McConnell and his team, FHu5 is a communitywide effort coordinated by the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), nonprofit consortium of 60 organizations on the North Side.
Five Hundred Under 5 aims to make sure that all children in a 18-by-13-block area in North Minneapolis enter school with the skills they need to succeed, McConnell explains. The goals are to engage parents, coordinate and improve services and supports for families, and provide information to parents and child-care providers about how children are doing in their development of literacy and other school readiness skills. Individual assessments provide immediate feedback for the parents, who walk away with resources to help improve their child’s literacy development.
The Family Academy has been a very popular Five Hundred Under 5 program. On Saturdays, families with kids age 5 and younger attend school together. While the children spend time with preschool teachers, parents meet with instructors to learn how to improve their child’s literacy skills before they start kindergarten.
These programs wouldn’t be successful, McConnell stresses, “without strong partnerships between the University and a wide variety of community and corporate partners. It’s a testament to what can be accomplished when we leverage many resources to strengthen the education of residents living in urban communities.”
Broadband Access Project labs making a difference across Minneapolis and St. Paul
Nobody likes to admit, particularly to a stranger, that they don’t know how to do something. So it took Anisha Sapho quite a while to get people to even come into a Broadband Access Project (BAP) computer lab in North Minneapolis.
It took even longer for her to gain their trust and start helping them learn. “Once people get comfortable with me they usually start telling their stories,” says Sapho. “Some know a little bit about computers, but a lot of people have never touched one and are afraid to try, so I tell them I understand because I didn’t know much about computers before this job either.”
Bridging the gap between haves and have-nots
Launched in June 2010 by the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center (UROC), BAP is a $3.6-million university-community collaboration to make high-speed Internet more accessible to underserved urban communities. The project is funded in part by a $2.9-million federal stimulus grant, with matching support from the University and community partners.
While it is widely assumed that anyone can access the Internet these days, the truth is that many cannot.
Income disparity is believed to be at the heart of this digital divide, along with cultural barriers. The gaps in computer access and training have been most pronounced among urban African-Americans, Latinos, and Hmong and Somali immigrants. Studies have found that many do not use public computer labs at libraries. The goal of the BAP is to provide culturally specific outreach and training for communities where the gaps and barriers are greatest.
Sapho was among the first group of apprentices hired in June of 2010 to staff BAP computer labs at 11 community-based sites in four federally designated poverty zones in Minneapolis and St. Paul. Since starting out at the Church of St. Phillip on the Northside (a site now being relocated because of the church’s recent closure), Sapho has also overseen BAP labs at Sabathani Community Center, Project for Pride in Living, and Patchwork Quilt.
During that time she has helped adults create resumes and learn how to use the Internet to search for housing, employment and services, or records they need. She has also taught kids how to better use computers for school projects and homework.
“Job searches are probably the biggest thing I help people with because they go into job centers and search the same old places and don’t find anything,” Sapho says.
“Our apprentice training gave us job search skills, and we’re constantly looking for better sites to search or new ways to search so we can give people more help than they can get other places.”
Putting skills to work
As the economy changes to focus on knowledge and technology, more jobs than ever require some level of basic computer skills. People who have come into the labs seeking Sapho’s help know this, and once she helps them gain computer confidence, the benefits are clear.
“They’re not afraid anymore, and they’re coming in saying, ’Hey, I need to know more about how to use this technology,’” Sapho says.
Sapho’s work, magnified by efforts across all of the BAP centers, has helped ensure that the federally funded BAP project is meeting or exceeding most goals and expectations, as documented in quarterly project reports posted publicly on the Broadband USA website.
And as she has helped others gain technical skills, Sapho has also improved her own computer knowledge quite a bit, and she intends to put that knowledge to good use.
“Before this, I had the skills I got from high school and that was it,” she explains. “Now I’m much more interested in what I can do with a computer and I may go back to school to study business administration, which is my big passion. We’ll see.”
The University of Minnesota UROC building at Plymouth and Penn avenues in North Minneapolis is open Monday–Friday
from 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.