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AEDS Fall 2014 Entrepreneurial Training Graduation Ceremony

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) is moving African immigrant communities in Minnesota toward economic opportunity. Since the establishment of AEDS in 2008, we have been able to partner and collaborate with many neighborhood organizations throughout the Twin Cities.  AEDS, in partnership with Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), has been providing a 16 week long entrepreneurial training program. These small business owners have received exceptional support from AEDS including direct services and connections to a variety of small business resources.

The Fall 2014 business plan training graduation ceremony was held on January 16th, 2015. We are excited about AEDS becoming a go to organization for the diverse African immigrant communities who call the Twin Cities home.  AEDS provides business consulting, loan access, financial literacy education, and homeownership education in addition to business plan training for aspiring entrepreneurs.

For more information about AEDS and the programs & services we offer, contact us at info@aeds-mn.org or give us a call at 651-646-9411.

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2015 AEDS Home Stretch Workshop Schedule

AEDS Homeownership Education Topics We Will Cover

What’s your New Year’s resolution? Want to prepare to be a successful homeowner in 2015?

Then sign up for the many upcoming AEDS Home Stretch Workshops that will be held on two Saturdays of every month starting Saturday January 10, 2015 from 9am – 5:30pm at AEDS Conference Room 1821 University Avenue West St Paul, MN 55104 (click here for driving directions).

Prepared buyers are successful homeowners…. You can do it!

All AEDS Home Stretch Workshops will be held from 9am – 5:30 at AEDS Conference Room 1821 University Avenue West St Paul, MN 55104 (click here for driving directions). For more information or questions, please call 651-646-9411. Prepared buyers are successful homeowners…. You can do it! Click here to SIGN UP FOR UPCOMING AEDS HOME STRETCH WORKSHOPS.

Additional information:

  1. There is a $40 FEE per household (cash/check only) due on the DAY OF the workshop. There is NO PAYMENT DUE NOW to complete registration.
  2. Each paying workshop attendee will receive a copy of the 2nd Edition Home Stretch Workshop Manual, published by the Minnesota Home Ownership Center.
  3. In addition to English, we are able to accommodate the following languages: Afaan Oromo & Amharic.
  4. For further information or if you encounter any technical difficulties during the registration process, fell free to give AEDS a call at (651) 646-9411.
  5. ALL WORKSHOPS will be held at AEDS Conference Office 1821 University Avenue West St. Paul, MN 55104.

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Little Africa Book Club Brings College Students, Professors, Business Owners, and Community Members Together

Little Africa Book Club Brings College Students, Professors, Business Owners, and Community Members TogetherThe Little Africa Book Club launched successfully with a diverse group of college students, professors, business owners, and community leaders having a lively interchange on a variety of topics emerging from the book, Americanah, by popular author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. There was also a sample of wine from Gabrielskloof in South Africa that has a long history of winemaking with historical records indicating production in the early 1800’s. Members also enjoyed African food served at Snelling Cafe.

Located at Snelling Café in the Little Africa business and cultural district, the book club is an attempt to celebrate the arts and culture of people of African descent and at the same time promote local economic development. Gene Gelgelu, welcomed and introduced the leaders of the book club – Dr. Debra Beilke of Concordia University and Mr. Hassan Hussein, poet, author, professor and Executive Director of Oromo Community of Minnesota. Dr Beilke made some introductory remarks and opened the forum for conversation. Mr Hussein shared personal reflections on the book. Wide ranges of issues from the author’s portrayal of culture to the immigrant experience were discussed at the meeting.

The next meeting of the Little Africa Book Club is scheduled for mid-January, 2015. For more information contact Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS), ggelgelu@aeds-mn.org.

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Little Africa Fest 2014 Draws People from 15 Cities and 32 Zip Codes

AEDS Little Africa Fest 2014

African Immigrant attendees with $2.5 million aggregate income.

The Little Africa Fest at Hamline Park on August 23, 2014 was a huge success. Among the many successes were the following:

  1. It brought together a diverse mix of African immigrants as well as neighbors from the Hamline Park area and other parts of the metro area. “This is the first time in Saint Paul we have such an event celebrating African immigrants and bringing diverse groups together,” was a common theme of community leaders such as Dr. Leon Rodriguez (MNSCU), President Tom Ries (Concordia University), Babu Chimata (India Association of MN), Al Paulson (The Circle Newspaper), Edward McDonald (Council on Black Minnesotans) and Ezell Jones.
  2. It brought people from 15 cities and 32 zip codes to the area. Research of festival participants funded by the McKnight Foundation revealed that the Little Africa Fest drew people from 15 cities and 32 zip codes. African immigrants at the fest were from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Somalia, South Africa, Cameroon and the Oromo people.
  3. It introduced non-African customers to the African restaurants. “A lot of non -African customers visited my restaurant at the fest. They told me the enjoyed the cultural performances and now were enjoying sampling African food and wine,” said Snelling Café owner Afeworki Tekle Bein.
  4. It helped business owners develop new product offerings. “Based on popular demand at the Little Africa Fest I am going to serve traditional African coffee every Sunday,” said Adiam Ghebretensa co-owner of Sunshine Café. “One person wanted to buy a bottle of the African wine that was offered as part of the wine tasting experience. I am going to stock some of African wines for my customers, “ said Afeworki of Snelling Café .
  5. It helped illustrate the vision of Little Africa. The mission of Little Africa is to leverage the rich and diverse business, arts and cultural assets of Minnesota’s growing African immigrant populations to build sustainable wealth within these communities. Kathy Mouacheupao and Adrianne Abariotes of LISC celebrated the successes of Little Africa as an important part of the cultural attractions along the Green Line. LISC was one of the major sponsors of the fest. The community thanked Kathy for her work in developing a map of the cultural attractions along the Green Line. “Now the community can see what we have been talking about for many years,” said Gene Gelgelu.
  6. It inspired people to think about opening new businesses in the area. “I want to expand my furniture upholstery business,” said Samson or Samson Upholstery. “I am looking for a place to locate my law office,” said attorney Michael Fondungullah.
  7. For many it was the first time they met with legislative leaders – Minnesota Senate President Sandy Pappas and Representative Rena Moran were chief guests at the event. Senator Pappas welcomed the creation of Little Africa – a business and cultural district celebrating African immigrant assets. Representative Moran visited the owners of Snelling Café, Sunshine Café, Fasika Restaurant, and Freweini’s Sunshine Beauty Salon and offered her support.
  8. It launched a new activity – the Little Africa Book Club. Dr. Debra Beilke of Concordia University and poet and community leader Hassan Hussien launched the Little Africa Book club which will meet September 24 from 6:30 to 8 pm at Snelling Café to discuss the book, Americanah by Chimamanda Nzogi. Copies of the book will be available for borrowing at the Little Africa Free Library at Snelling Café.
  9. It launched the African Market Potential Study funded by the McKnight Foundation and conducted by Concordia University in partnership with African Economic Development Solutions and African immigrant groups. “For the first time we have hard data on the economy of a community festival. Our small sample of 55 African immigrants from diverse backgrounds revealed that they are an important engine of economic growth in their neighborhoods spending over $30,000 every month on household expenses. They represented a $2.5 million economic engine revitalizing 15 cities where they live and work,” said Dr. Bruce Corrie, economist at Concordia University.
  10. It brought pride to the community and the neighborhood. Festival attendees repeatedly expressed pride in the celebration of African cultural and business assets. Business owners of Fasika Restaurant and Sunshine building volunteered to work to take the next festival to new heights.
  11. Strong support for the concept of Little Africa – 92 percent of the African immigrants surveyed at the fest supported the concept of Little Africa. This corresponds to an earlier survey by AEDS on business owners who also strongly supported the concept.

“The vibrant energy of the artists and the warmth of our neighbors in the Hamline park area who came out to celebrate with the community, was very special,” said Gene Gelgelu of African Economic Development Solutions, which organized the festival in partnership with the Little Africa Development Group. Members of the Little Africa Development Group are: Gene Gelgelu, Dr. Kehinde Odusote, Michael Fondungullah, Mesfin Negia, Hassan Hussein, Nafisa Farah, Karifa Jalloh, and Dr. Bruce Corrie.

After enjoying the vibrant community drumming by artist Jesse Buckner and Solomon Bedane and the energy of the African dances by Tujare (Indy) Mohamad, and poetry by Hassan Hussein, the participants sampled African food and wine at Snelling Café, traditional Ethiopian coffee at Sunshine Café and more African wine tasting at Fasika restaurant. Other popular attractions at Little Africa Fest were beautiful art work by African artist Sara Endlaw and Yiran African Arts and Design and Streetcorner Letterpress by Jon Reynolds and Witt Siasoco.

Little Africa is a branding and marketing campaign focusing on African immigrant economic assets in three nodal points around primary transit corridors – the Blue Line, Green Line and Bottineau Corridor. Little Africa is an initiative of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) in partnership with the Little Africa Development Group. The mission of Little Africa is to leverage the rich and diverse business, arts and cultural assets of Minnesota’s growing African immigrant populations to build sustainable wealth within these communities.

Major sponsors of the Little Africa Fest were LISC, Central Corridor Funder’s Collaborative, AEDS and Concordia University. Supporters included the City of Saint Paul, Park and Recs, Hamline Midway Coalition, Mosaic, Friends of Hamline Park, Nexus Community Partners, and Neighborhood Development Center.

For more information contact Gene Gelgelu at 651.646.9411 or visit AEDS website at www.aeds-mn.org.

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AEDS Spotlight on African Owned Small Businesses in the Twin Cities

AEDSSmallBusinessClientsKFAIWaveProject

 

AEDS had the great opportunity to be featured on KFAI’s Wave Project segment on Sunday August 3, 2014 (click here to listen to the archived mp3 stream), which allowed us to share more information on the various services and programs we provide and our mission to building wealth within African immigrant communities throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding metros. One way we aim to see Minnesota’s various African immigrant communities fulfill their share of the American Dream is by providing Micro-Entrepreneurial Training and Small Business Consulting to new, emerging and established African owned small businesses throughout the Twin Cities and surrounding metros.

The highlight of KFAI’s Sunday Wave Project segment was providing some of AEDS’ African Small Business owners the opportunity to talk a little bit about their businesses including successes and challenges they encountered along the way. In addition, AEDS’ African Small Business owners gave testimony on how AEDS played a crucial role in helping them establish their businesses by giving providing them micro-entrepreneurial training, access to loans and marketing consulting.

From the numerous African owned small businesses AEDS has had the opportunity to assist, the following African small businesses were featured on KFAI’s Sunday Wave Project:

If you missed the KFAI Wave Project segment, the one-hour segment archive can be found on KFAI’s website by clicking here.

If you would like more information of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) and the various services and programs we offer, feel free to stop by our office in St. Paul, Minnesota located at 1821 University Avenue West Suite S-291 St Paul, MN 55104 or we can be reached at (651) 646-9411 or (651) 815-9367.

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Announcing the Knight Green Line Challenge

Funding great projects in St. Paul’s Central Corridor neighborhoods Get ready for the Knight Green Line Challenge! Knight Foundation is looking for great projects that will make Central Corridor neighborhoods in St. Paul even more vibrant places to live, work, play and visit. Over the next three years, the Knight Green Line Challenge will fund $1.5 million in winning projects. Any individual, business or nonprofit can apply—and it’s easy! Your project simply must take place in and benefit at least one St. Paul neighborhood along the Green Line. Dream away! Applications for year one accepted June 24 – July 24, 2014. Visit www.knightgreenlinechallenge.org for details and to sign-up for email updates.

The Challenge is sponsored by Knight Foundation and managed by The Saint Paul Foundation.

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Flamingo Restaurant: “We feel like we’re home”

Flamingo Restaurant: “We feel like we’re home”

In July 2010, six months after fulfilling their dream and opening Flamingo Restaurant (located at the intersection of Syndicate Street and University Avenue in St. Paul), Shegitu Kebede and Frewoini Haile faced a huge and unexpected challenge, one that they feared might shut them down.

Kebede explains: “We have a power surge run through our restaurant. I think two or three blocks from here, something happen (an Xcel Energy transformer failed). So the power company turned off the power to fix that situation and by the time I run to my box to turn the power off, the power came on, and all that power came, and our hood…it’s huge, it’s a $75,000 hood, so that burned, icemaker, freezer, refrigerator, everything that you can imagine.” The electrical surge that overloaded the system caused large quantities of meat and produced to spoil.

Xcel Energy refused to cover repair costs, calling the power surge, “an act of God.” Kebede and Haile assumed their insurance would cover the damage, but they were wrong. They were told that their policy had no provision for electrical surges.

“We didn’t have the money to fix all this….Everything we had, we invested in the place…and so we…we were ready to close. And I remember, I was sitting at that last table, very sad. Fre was upset, closed the door and left.” That’s when Kebede turned to the Bible.

And I say to myself, ‘I’m not going to let my future die. I don’t know how it’s going to work out, but I’m going to believe God. Things have to work out. We’re both single moms, we have kids, you know, in college. We can’t just let things die on us.

Flamingo Restaurant exterior

It was the appearance of a friend from home that proved a turning point. “A friend of ours, she just fly and came, and she say, ‘I don’t know what’s going on, but something pulled me to you guys….She’s in America and I told her the situation and she went home and wrote an email to every person that she knew in town.”

The friend’s email, “became a snowball. Everybody got it, the newspaper people picked it up.”

Kebede chokes up as she recalls the response from people in the community. “People were lining up on the street to get in. I mean we were packed.“ Many provided donations. “In three weeks we recovered. I mean everything was fixed. You have no idea, so our life has been a miracle.”

Frewoini Haile at Flamingo Restaurant

Frewoini Haile

It was this experience that led the business partners to know that they were “home.”

When you are a refugee, you’ve lost your home, you’ve lost your belongings, you’ve lost your family members, you look at yourself and ask, ‘Where do I belong?’ And for the first time in our lives we say to ourselves, ‘We’re home.’ We are definitely home because it wasn’t the Ethiopians or Eritreans, it was the whole Minnesota that came and supported us and sustained us to stay in business and here we are, in our fourth year.

“We didn’t just drop from the tree”

Both Kebede, from Ethiopia, and Haile, from Eritrea, grew up knowing nothing but war, their countries at war with each other. “That’s all we knew, there was not a peace time in our time.” Awasa, one of Ethiopia’s largest cities, located in the southern part of the country, is where Kebede spent her early years. “We are known for our lakes and hills.”

Amidst a lot of tragedy, she says she has many positive childhood memories. “We did a lot of gardening, we did a lot of knitting, crocheting, volunteering in the church and the clinics, going on fieldtrips. We went camping, a lot of camping, we did a lot of mushroom roasting and going to the lakes and camp by the lake. We traveled with the missionaries to the countryside.”

These activities helped provide a semblance of normalcy. “As little children, even though a lot of killing surround us, we were so sheltered by doing those things, we kind of didn’t even notice it’s there and so it was that kind of sheltered home that we have and that I have experienced that it helps me to balance life.”

Kebede ended up in orphanage at age five. She recalls the orphanage, which was run by Scandinavians, being, “a very loving, caring home.” However, she says that the Communist-led government shut it down because it was Christian.

At age 17, Kebede fled Ethiopia for a resettlement camp in Kenya. Then, in her early twenties, she became a refugee to the United States. Her first stop was Fargo, North Dakota. “As a refugee you don’t have a choice,” she explains. She jokes that the United Nations, which makes the decision, “didn’t know there was Florida or California.”

After less than a year in North Dakota, Kebede moved to the Twin Cities, following an Ethiopian friend she had made in Fargo. “I just didn’t want my son to be not having a playmate, so I moved, just to be with them.” She has lived in St. Paul’s Skyline Tower, Minneapolis’s Seward neighborhood, and St. Anthony Village. Now that her kids are grown and independent, she has scaled back and moved back to St. Paul.

Business partner Fre also fled her country as a teen. “Fre grew up in a very well-to-do upper-class family but they lost everything,” says Kebede. “Some family members got killed. Most of them flee the country.” Her family fractured, Haile came to the United States from Sudan.

Haile’s father was separated from the rest of the family for 10 or 11 years. “So there was a lot of scattering of the family, so then finally, the majority of her siblings are here now.” Her father, who Kebede says owned the biggest mechanic shop in the country—“his client was the King and the Royal Family”—is now in his 90s. After living in the United States for a time, he has returned to Eritrea.

The two women’s stories are very American, says Kebede.

The early settlers…they also have a good and bad life. They left what they have because of their beliefs or ideology or whatever it is. They left and came here to start a new life. It’s the same with us, the new Americans today. We came because of war or this and that, but we didn’t just drop from the tree.

Coming to the United States, she observes, requires starting over. “If you look at cab drivers in the Twin Cities, most of them have a Ph.D. It’s just that their education didn’t translate here.” This is why mentoring is so important. Having been mentored herself—especially when she began her first business, a cleaning company—Kebede makes mentoring others a priority.

“We are a country of volunteers, and there’s no way that I could not be a part of that.”

Starting over, becoming business owners

Launching one’s own business is fraught with challenges, challenges that are even steeper for women, immigrants, and people of color. As Kebede explains, “not many of us have good credit, usually a bank doesn’t approve us.”

To overcome the hurdles associated with starting a business, and to help each other through other life challenges—including buying a house or sending a child to college—many East African women have formed informal circles to raise capital that they then lend to one another. There are no strings attached, no interest to be paid.

…the East African women get together and we have, once a month we’ll visit each other’s house, and we go and we have coffee and eat together and then we come up with $100, $200, whatever we feel comfortable in the group, we put that money together and…one month, I’ll take and Fre, and so on, and that’s how we start a business. That’s how we come up with a house down payment or a first car or sending your child to college.

The size of the circles vary, so might be comprised of 50, 100, or 200 women. “Each month we take turns, and whoever is in urgent situation, they can take first…We have been doing that for heaven knows how long. We do that back home, too.” The group has been together for 20 years in the U.S. It’s where the two business partners met.

Both women shared a desire to own a restaurant, but it was Haile who came with the most experience. According to Kebede, Haile had owned a restaurant, then managed one for Crowne Plaza, but lost that position as part of a massive layoff when the economy tanked.

It took some doing, but eventually the partners found the right space, off of University Avenue on Syndicate Street, just when they had nearly given up. “We were looking for the space and we were looking and we were looking and we were looking and this place came up and we, me and Fre, we didn’t have enough money that they were asking for, so we brought other people to help finance it, and things just didn’t work out. “

Several months later, late one night, the owner of the property at 490 Syndicate Street phoned, and said, “’You know if you and Shegitu decide to own it by yourself, I’m willing to give it to you for this amount of money. And I don’t even need a down payment, just pay me every month.’ So that was a miracle. So me and Fre we just jumped on it and here we are.”

They have not been disappointed. “We walked the neighborhood and greeted people and let them know that we’re here. They are very welcoming and now we feel like this is the right neighborhood for us.”

A community coming together

University Avenue was not new to Kebede. When she lived in Skyline Towers—just south of University—she would shop at Sears. She purchased her first car at one of the now vacant car dealerships. She marvels over how much has changed along the Avenue since 1990, and likes that the street is experiencing a “facelift.” However, it’s not been entirely easy on Flamingo.

Construction of the light rail line was not something the business owners knew about when they scouted out locations. On top of the power surge, it created more obstacles that Kebede and Haile had to learn to navigate.

…we came out with the idea that you can’t get to us, but we can get to you. So we emailed people, we sent a flyer to people saying we can deliver to your home, we can deliver to your business. So we really shift our gears, so instead of sitting here waiting for people, we looked outward, and that worked out and people were very gracious. A lot of companies ordered their lunch in, or for company event, or any kind of catering, so that’s what carried us through.

Community support has been provided in other ways. Kebede credits the U7 staff at the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) and their City Council member and his staff, for making it a “team effort.” In her view all of the work behind the green line, “…was well thought out, well planned, and with a lot of heart.”

Kebede adds, “Sometimes you have intelligent people just doing business from the head and not the heart and that’s when the little people like us will disappear. This was the heart and the mind together. And when you have that kind of group working together you will not leave anybody behind….”

This assistance provided visibility for Flamingo and other businesses along the Corridor. “It was wonderful, they put up a billboard for us. We were on Facebook. They just did tremendous advertisement for us, so it really was very supportive. It’s like a community thing.” This makes her optimistic. “When you have that kind of community coming together, making things happen, you will know that in the end it will be a success.”

Haile calls NDC their “backbone,” providing support for all of their restaurant’s needs.

Once completed, Kebede believes the trains will be a boost to business. Like Bangkok Thai Cuisine owner, Jai Vang, she says that traveling convinces her that, “having a train makes a huge difference for a neighborhood.”

I have been in California, Washington, DC, and New York….You can go to big cities and you don’t get on the bus. Buses are a good thing, but when I go to DC, if I want to go sightseeing, I get on a train. Something about a train says something about you (as a city), something special, attractive, and I’m sure it will bring people back and forth.

All of these experiences have led Kebede and Haile to dream about expanding, either at their current location, to a second location, or both. “Fre is even going ahead and thinking, maybe we should get another spot in Minneapolis, but we really have a dream that we’re going to expand this place.”

Haile says that one first order of business, after trains are running, may be to hold a long-delayed “grand opening.”

Flamingo’s owners would like to see their restaurant grow from a family business—currently there are around eight family members who work there—into a community business.

Our next generation, they have started already working here and so they will see it and they will grow it and by the time they have finished college they will come back and they will be able to manage it. We’ll have more community people working here and it will become a community place. Our goal is not just for us to be rich…. Our dream is to really have a place that others will grow. It’s not just job training.

Having benefited from community support at home in St. Paul, Kebede explains, she and Haile want the support to continue and to ripple out near and far. This is why serving as mentors, including to students at nearby Gordon Parks High School, is so important. “We want to get into those women’s lives, woman-to-woman and show how to start a business, maybe give them a micro-loan, and so they can start their own business.” It’s a desire that carries over to Ethiopia, where Kebede has spent the first three months of 2014 starting a school in a refugee camp.

Overcoming so many challenges in such a short span of time, thanks to a supportive community, has proven that Minnesota is home. Kebede says: “We feel like we’re home. This is home….I am Minnesotan, proudly Minnesotan, yes.”

To learn more about Flamingo Restaurant and its owners read the full transcript here. Coming soon: a short video featuring Frewoini Haile, and an audio version of the interview with Shegitu Kebede. 

To see more photos and to keep up with news and future plans, visit Flamingo Restaurant’s website and Facebook page. From Flamingo’s website: “Inspired by the rich traditions and values of our ancestors, the Flamingo Restaurant is a celebration of, and commitment to, the beauty of East African Cuisine and the hope for Peace in the region. Our famously warm hospitality and modern East African ambiance makes the Flamingo Restaurant experience completely unforgettable.”

Flamingo is located at 490 N. Syndicate Street in St. Paul.


This article is part of a Central Corridor small business oral history project funded through a State of Minnesota Historical & Cultural Heritage Grant.

The FLAMINGO RESTAURANT™ is a unique and evocative restaurant destination for a sophisticated East African experience.
Flamingo Restaurant
490 N. Syndicate Street
St. Paul, MN
651-917-9332
Tue – Sat: 11:00 am – 9:00 pm, Sun: 11:00 am – 8:00 pm
http://flamingorestaurantmn.com

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The New Green Line: An Arts and Culture Catalyst

The New Green Line: An Arts and Culture Catalyst

The opening of the Green Line light rail this summer will not only inaugurate a long-awaited transportation corridor for St. Paul and Minneapolis but also foster cultural hotspots along the corridor showcasing local diversity, bringing communities closer together and boosting economic opportunities.

The rail line’s 11-mile route along the Central Corridor from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis travels through some of the region’s most distinct cultural districts including:

1. Little Mekong, home to many Southeast Asian immigrants and businesses (Western Avenue Station).

2. Rondo, St. Paul’s traditional African-American hub (Victoria Street Station).

3. Little Africa, a growing cluster of immigrant businesses (Snelling Avenue Station).

4. The Creative Enterprise Zone, the new name for a longstanding community of artists and artisans (Raymond Avenue and Westgate stations).

5. Prospect Park, a neighborhood between St. Paul and the University’s Minneapolis campus that hosts many student, faculty and cultural institutions such as the Textile Center (Prospect Park Station).

6. The West Bank, another campus neighborhood known for its theater, live music, unique restaurants and large Somali population (West Bank Station).

“Each of these districts represents a part of the richness of the Twin Cities,” says Kathy Mouacheupao, Cultural Corridor Coordinator for the Local Initiative Support Corporation-Twin Cities (LISC). “We know that arts and culture connects people, so we want to maximize the opportunity of the light rail for strengthening culture in these neighborhoods in order to leverage economic development.”

That’s the mission of LISC’s Central Corridor as a Cultural Corridor (C4) Program: to help community groups conceive and carry out cultural projects highlighting their unique assets as well as creating locally owned businesses and job opportunities for neighborhood residents.

“There’s a tension around gentrification in the Central Corridor,” Mouacheupao explains. “We are interested in doing work with a community, not to a community. We believe in supporting the artistic identity of the people living there, not moving in a bunch of hipsters and moving everyone else out.”

Lisa Tabor, who founded Culture Brokers to promote cultural inclusivity and is involved with the African-American Leadership Forum, says, “It’s an important and sophisticated way of thinking to invest in people at the same time you are investing in transit so residents don’t have to leave.”

The C4 program supports six community-led organizations along the Green Line with training, technical assistance and direct grants for planning and implementing programs as well as crafting a joint strategy to draw attention to the cultural assets found along the corridor as a whole.

Here’s what the C4-funded groups are working on:

Asian Economic Development Organization (AEDA): Little Mekong is already a center of Southeast Asian culture in St. Paul with restaurants, groceries, non-profit organizations and a large immigrant population. AEDA has big plans to add regular arts events, a traditional Asian Night Market, a public plaza, new housing, aesthetic and pedestrian improvements and a Pan Asian Cultural Center featuring a theater for the Mu Performing Arts company.

Rondo Arts and Culture Heritage Business District: The construction of I-94 ripped out the commercial center of Rondo, St. Paul’s African-American cultural hub, but it did not kill the community’s spirit. An inspiring initiative from the Aurora St. Anthony Neighborhood Business Corporation seeks to regenerate an economically vital business district that will showcase African- American culture for the entire region.

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS-MN): African immigrants have opened 20 restaurants, shops and other businesses in the area around Snelling Avenue and University Avenue in St. Paul. C4 has given a planning grant to AEDS for cultural events to stimulate more businesses and customers. AEDS director Gene Gelgelu states, “Our interest is to revitalize the area with entrepreneurship and economic development. Everyone will be able to taste and smell and see and hear and feel Africa.”

Creative Enterprise Zone: This district straddling University Avenue on the West edge of St. Paul is already thriving with artists, graphic designers, potters, architects, toymakers, costume designers, artisans and unique light industrial businesses such as Midwest Floating Island, which recycles used carpets into habitat for marine animals in ecological restoration projects as far away as New Zealand. St. Anthony Park Community Council launched the Creative Enterprise Zone Action Team to better connect artists and artisans with one another so they can discover opportunities for sharing space, trading ideas, pursuing opportunities together and generally looking out for one another as rents in the neighborhood likely rise.

Prospect Park 2020: This group’s ambitious plans to turn a straggling industrial district on the north side of Prospect Park Station into a pioneer of sustainable 21st Century living includes a strong emphasis on the arts, crafts and design.

West Bank Business Association: The West Bank’s business association is accentuating the West Bank’s image as an arts center through stronger marketing and adding more visual arts to its plentiful music and theater offerings.

“Our vision is that people all over the region will think of riding the Green Line for fun, stopping to see all that’s going on around these stations,” says C4′s Kathy Mouacheupao. Dining in Little Mekong, enjoying the lively street life and cafes of Rondo, shopping for gifts in Little Africa’s shops and artisans’ studios in the Creative Enterprise Zone, touring the Textile Center and Surly Brewing Company in Prospect Park, seeing a play or music show on the West Bank.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about urban and community issues. His website is JayWalljasper.com. Original posting can be found here.

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Emerging Cultural Corridors Along the Green Line

Emerging Cultural Corridors Along the Green Line
by: Jay Walljasper
February 19, 2014


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This post is the first in an occasional series “Cultural Corridor”. In this series, we will highlight distinct cultural districts along the Green Line participating in the Central Corridor as a Cultural Corridor program.

The opening of the Green Line light rail will not only inaugurate a long-awaited Twin Cities transportation corridor but will also foster a cultural corridor that highlights local diversity, brings communities closer together, and boosts neighborhood economies.

The rail line’s 11-mile route along the Central Corridor from downtown St. Paul to downtown Minneapolis travels through some of the region’s most distinct cultural districts including:

  • Little Mekong, home to many Southeast Asian immigrants (Western Avenue Station)
  • Rondo, St. Paul’s historic African-American hub (Victoria Street Station)
  • Little Africa, a growing cluster of immigrant businesses (Snelling Avenue Station)
  • Creative Enterprise Zone, the new name for a longstanding community of artists and artisans (Raymond Avenue and Westgate Stations)
  • Prospect Park, a neighborhood bordering the University that hosts many student, faculty, and cultural institutions such as the Textile Center (Prospect Park Station)
  • West Bank, another campus neighborhood known for its theater, live music, unique restaurants, and large Somali population (West Bank Station)

“Each of these districts represents a part of the richness of the Twin Cities,” says Kathy Mouacheupao, Twin Cities LISC’s cultural corridor coordinator. “We know that arts and culture connect people, so we want to maximize the opportunities provided by the light rail to leverage culture in these neighborhoods and strengthen economic development. This effort isn’t just about what’s happening in each individual district. It’s about connecting and coordinating projects along the whole corridor.”

That’s actually the mission of the new Central Corridor as a Cultural Corridor (C4) program supported by LISC. “There’s tension around gentrification in the Central Corridor,” Mouacheupao explains. “We’re
interested in doing work with a community, not imposing work on a community. We believe in supporting the artistic identity of the people living there. We want to ensure that they can continue living there, enjoying the benefits of development.”

Lisa Tabor, who founded Culture Brokers to promote cultural inclusivity and who participates in the African-American Leadership Forum, says, “It’s an important and sophisticated way of thinking to invest in people at the same time you are investing in transit so residents don’t have to leave.”

With funding from the Central Corridor Funders’ Collaborative, the C4 program supports six community-led organizations along the Green Line with training, technical assistance, and direct grants. Those grants can support planning and implementing programs, as well as collaborative strategies to draw attention to the cultural assets found along the corridor as a whole.

One part of the project is forging a peer network in which each group can learn from the others. Jun-Li Wang, an artist organizer at Springboard for the Arts and an advisor to C4, says, “This puts people around a table that didn’t exist before. They’re sharing ideas, they’re learning from one another, they have a shared language. This is the basis for building a stronger community outside C4.”

C4 plans for the corridor

Little MeKong, St. Paul
The Asian Economic Development Association (AEDA) has big plans for Little Mekong–already a center of Southeast Asian culture with restaurants, groceries, non-profit organizations, and a large immigrant
population. AEDA wants to add a traditional Asian Night Market, arts events, a public plaza, new housing, aesthetic and pedestrian improvements, and a Pan Asian Cultural Center featuring a theater for the Mu Performing Arts company. “Because of C4, we’ll be able to implement arts activities like our Summer Arts Series, which will supplement and promote the business activities here,” says AEDA Director Va-Megn Thoj. “Our bottom line is making sure families here have the opportunity to start a business or have a living wage job.”

Rondo Arts and Culture Heritage Business District, St. Paul
The construction of I-94 ripped out the commercial center of Rondo, St. Paul’s African-American cultural hub, but it did not kill the community’s spirit. An inspiring initiative from the Aurora St. Anthony
Neighborhood Development Corporation seeks to regenerate an economically vital business district that will showcase African-American culture for the entire region.

Little Africa, St. Paul
African immigrants have already opened 20 restaurants, shops, and other businesses in the area around Snelling and University Avenues. C4 has given a planning grant to African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS-MN) to support cultural events that stimulate even more businesses and attract more customers. AEDS Director Gene Gelgelu states, “Our interest is to revitalize the area with entrepreneurship and economic development. Little Africa will become the place where you go for food, dance, and music. Everyone will be able to taste, smell, see, hear, and feel Africa.”

Creative Enterprise Zone, St. Paul
Straddling University Avenue, this district is already alive with artists, graphic designers, potters, architects, toymakers, costume designers, artisans, and unique light industrial businesses. One example is Midwest Floating Island, which recycles used carpets into habitat for marine animals in ecological restoration projects as far away as New Zealand.

But there is a fear that rising rents around light rail stations will drive these kinds of creative enterprises away. That’s why the St. Anthony Park Community Council launched the Creative Enterprise Zone Action Team. According to Executive Director Amy Sparks, the goal is to “strengthen these businesses so they can better withstand higher rents”. The team’s strategy is to better connect artists and artisans with one another so they can discover opportunities for sharing space, trading ideas, pursuing opportunities together, and generally looking out for one another. “Our mixers are like a cross between happy hour, show-and-tell, and a TED talk,” Sparks notes.

Prospect Park 2020, St. Paul
Strong community engagement led to this neighborhood’s 2020 vision for redeveloping the Prospect Park station area into an example of sustainable 21st century living with an emphasis on arts and culture. An important anchor institution is the existing Textile Center, which has plans to expand by creating a new arts center near the new light rail station. The 2020 plan is part of a larger redevelopment effort, the Prospect North Partnership, that aims to define a new “city” within a city by leveraging the neighborhood’s rich assets and the intellectual capital and creative energy of the nearby University of Minnesota.

West Bank, Minneapolis
The West Bank has always been a lively spot, starting with its origins as a Scandinavian entertainment district and later as the Haight-Ashbury of the Upper Midwest. Now it’s a place where people from all walks of life cross paths: students, African immigrants, theatergoers, music fans, and devotees of its unique shops and restaurants. The neighborhood business association is accentuating the West Bank’s image as an arts center through stronger marketing and adding more visual arts to its plentiful music and theater offerings.

“Our vision is that people all over the region will think of riding the Green Line for fun, stopping to see all that’s going on around these stations,” says Mouacheupao. “Dining in Little Mekong and enjoying their
dynamic street life, learning about the history of Rondo, shopping in Little Africa and in artisan studios in the Creative Enterprise Zone, touring the Textile Center and Surly Brewing Company in Prospect Park, and seeing a play or music show on the West Bank.”

Life along the Green Line will soon offer a colorful array of unique experiences that make the corridor a destination in itself–giving an economic boost to neighborhood businesses large and small.

Jay Walljasper writes, speaks and consults about urban and community issues. His website is: JayWalljasper.com


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UPCOMING EVENTS
Central Corridor/University Avenue Corridor Development Initiative (CDI) Workshops
Please join the Frogtown Neighborhood Association and the City of St. Paul for a series of workshops on the redevelopment of 253-255 University Ave and the Sherburne and Galtier area.
Wed, February 5 Workshop 1: Gathering Information
Wed, February 19 Workshop 2: Development Scenarios – The Block Exercise
Wed, March 5 Workshop 3: Developer Panel
Wed, March 19 Workshop 4: Framing the Recommendations
All workshops held from 6:30 – 8:30 pm at University Buffet (225 University Ave W, St. Paul)
Free; refreshments served
http://www.corridordevelopment.org

Medium Rare: Music for the Best Steak House
Local composer, pianist and Irrigate Artist Todd Harper presents an evening of dinner music with bassist Andrew Foreman
Wed, February 19
5:00 – 7:30 pm
The Best Steak House, 860 University Avenue West, St. Paul

Call for Speakers: Rail~Volution 2014 Minneapolis/Saint Paul
Deadline: February 27, 2014
http://www.railvolution.org/call-for-speakers/

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AEDS Fall 2013 Business Plan Training Graduation Ceremonies

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) is moving African immigrant communities in Minnesota toward economic opportunity. Since the establishment of AEDS in 2008, we have been able to partner and collaborate with many neighborhood organizations throughout the Twin Cities.  AEDS, in partnership with Neighborhood Development Center (NDC), has been providing a 16 week long entrepreneurial training program. These small business owners have received exceptional support from AEDS including direct services and connections to a variety of small business resources.

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aeds fall 2013 business plan graduation ceremony January 24, 2014

The Fall 2013 business plan training graduation ceremonies were held on January 10th & January 24th, 2014. Our 2014 Spring business plan training workshop is scheduled to start in February. We are excited about AEDS becoming a go to organization for the diverse African immigrant communities who call the Twin Cities home.  AEDS provides business consulting, loan access, financial literacy education, and homeownership education in addition to business plan training for aspiring entrepreneurs.

For more information about AEDS and the programs & services we offer, contact us at info@aeds-mn.org or give us a call at 651-646-9411.


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