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AEDS is hiring a Business Advisor/Loan Officer!

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We’re hiring a full-time Business Advisor/Loan Officer! The successful candidate will have experience in small business lending and a commitment to helping African-owned businesses survive and thrive. Click here for more details on what we’re looking for: Business Advisor-Loan Officer Job

To apply, email cover letter and resume to info@aeds-mn.org or call (651) 646-9411 for more info.

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Little Africa Fest 2016 video!

It’s been a little over a month since Little Africa Fest and we’re missing the celebration, but luckily we can relive it through this great video! Thanks so much to Infiniti Pictures for capturing the spirit of the Fest, and thanks again to all the artists, businesses, organizations, volunteers, and community members who support Little Africa Business & Cultural District of Minnesota and Little Africa Arts. We can’t wait for next summer!

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Latest Little Africa Tour showcases where we’re going and how far we’ve come

Jacob and Freweini share the story of Greta McClain's mural, Braided. Two local African artists, Sara Endalew and Hanna Gashaw, apprenticed on this project.

Jacob and Freweini share the story of Greta McClain’s mural, Braided. Two local African artists, Sara Endalew and Hanna Gashaw, apprenticed on this project.

Art, food, coffee, and conversation were some of the things shared on our Friday, June 17th Little Africa Tour for the final stakeholders celebration of the Central Corridor Funders Collaborative (CCFC). The celebration marked the close of the CCFC after 9 years of investing in organizations that support cultural districts along the Green Line; their goal was to protect and uplift communities during Green Line construction and implementation. The CCFC supported the effort of cultural nodes such as Little Africa. Our tour showcased all the ways Little Africa has grown in the past decade.

As part of the day-long final celebration, stakeholders had the option of touring one of the cultural districts in which they’d invested: the Innovation District (Prospect Park Station), Creative Enterprise Zone (Raymond Ave Station), Hamline Station, or Little Africa (Snelling Ave Station). We were so happy that Little Africa was a popular choice!

The tour kicked off at the Southern Theater, where 27 CCFC “tourists” were presented with goody bags filled with snacks and tea from Little Africa businesses. Gene Gelgelu, AEDS Executive Director, and Lula Saleh, AEDS arts organizer, guided the group onto the Green Line LRT where they departed for Snelling Ave. Station. At Snelling Ave, guests were introduced to 3 Little Africa tour guides: Lori Greene, Mosaic on a Stick founder and muralist; Genet Abate, musician, and Ayano Jiru, writer.

From left to right, tour guides Lula Saleh (AEDS Arts Organizer), Genet Abate (local musician), and Lori Greene (muralist and founder of Mosaic on a Stick). Not pictured is Ayano Jiru (local writer) who also helped guide the tour.

From left to right, tour guides Lula Saleh (AEDS Arts Organizer), Genet Abate (local musician), and Lori Greene (muralist and founder of Mosaic on a Stick). Not pictured is Ayano Jiru (local writer) who also helped guide the tour.

Our first stop was Star Food, a coop-style grocery, deli, enjera manufacturer, and barber shop. Guests toured the store aisles as Ayano Jiru talked about the different products available. Lula described the cultural importance of enjera, a spongy, sour pancake traditionally made from a grain called teff and commonly eaten with East African meals.

Stepping outside and just around the corner, guests were wowed by Berbere, a mosaic mural designed and installed by Lori Greene. Lori talked about the mural and the importance of women in African cultures. Ayano pointed out items on the mural which were of particular importance to the Oromo, one of the cultures of Ethiopia.

Lori Greene, Mosaic on a Stick founder and muralist, discusses her mosaic mural entitled Berbere

Lori Greene, Mosaic on a Stick founder and muralist, discusses her mosaic mural entitled Berbere

The next stops along the tour were Dahabshiil Market and Addis Market. Dahabshiil (the name means “Goldsmith” in Somali) carries a variety of Somali foods and spices: 90% of clientele are Somali. Addis (the name means “new” in Amharic) carries more Ethiopian-oriented products. Elsa, the owner, passed around a big basket of qolo, a traditional East African snack of roasted barley and mixed with peanuts or chickpeas. Genet Abate then described some of the items available in the store including tuaf, a cultural candle made of long cotton rope mixed in wax. Tuaf is used for special occasions, such as holidays or Ethiopian Orthodox church ceremonies.

Walking just outside these markets brought guests to Braided, a Little Africa mural designed by artist Greta McLain for the Midway Mural Project. Freweini Sium, owner of the neighboring Sunshine Beauty Salon, spoke about the importance of hair and braiding to East African culture. While creating the mural, McLain mentored 2 African artists, Sara Endalew and Hanna Gashaw: both women were extremely excited about being a part of this project, and said it helped build their skills and confidence as artists.

Turning the corner, guides led the group into Fasika Restaurant where guests were greeted with the smells and tastes of Ethiopian cuisine. Genet explained that “Fasika” means “Easter celebration” in Amharic, a celebration which always includes lots of food, fun, and family. The buffet included enjera and a variety of Ethiopian wats, or stews. While silverware was provided, Gene lifted up his hand and encouraged guests to eat as Ethiopians do—with a “natural fork.”

Guests enjoy an Ethiopian buffet provided by Fasika Restaurant

Guests enjoy an Ethiopian buffet provided by Fasika Restaurant

After good food and conversation, guests were led to Sabrina Coffee for a traditional East African coffee ceremony. More delicious snacks—qolo, popcorn, sambusas, and homemade bread—were passed around as Karima Omer, owner of Sabrina Coffee, prepared coffee in the traditional jebena, or clay pot. Once it was brewed, Karima poured it into siini, small traditional cups, and offered it to guests. Lula Saleh read her poem, Coffee, which compared the typically fast-paced, work-centered American coffee culture to the slow, community-based coffee culture of East Africa. As Lula spoke—”we would wait what seemed like forever, but the time would pass as we’d enjoy each others company and the warmth of the smells and the smoke,”—we felt ourselves transported. For African immigrants, the experience of a traditional coffee ceremony can be an emotional one: “It almost makes me cry,” Karima relayed, “remembering all the friends and family back home.”

Karima, owner of Sabrina Coffee, treats guests to a traditional East African coffee ceremony

Karima, owner of Sabrina Coffee, treats guests to a traditional East African coffee ceremony

As guests were finishing their food and coffee, Tracy Kinney of the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation presented on the Facade Improvement project, an arts-based movement for making cultural districts like Little Africa more visible, strengthening a sense of place, and increasing economic opportunity. Facade Improvement plans include adding awnings with mosaics and cultural designs to buildings to make them more visually appealing and cohesive, placing maps of Little Africa businesses at different street-side locations, and adding green spaces. “These businesses and this community aren’t new,” Tracy emphasized. “It’s more about bringing everyone together.”

Lastly, guests shared their appreciation for the guides and our gracious business hosts. Some questioned how the Snelling-Midway stadium and redevelopment will affect Little Africa, but others credited the CCFC with building strong partnerships that have prepared communities to respond to such changes. Amelia Brown, founder of Emergency Arts, spoke to these alliances as one of the best things the CCFC did for the community: “I always believed in the power of [Little Africa] to support the vision of what they wanted for themselves. Little Africa is more cohesive now. There’s more coalescence between resources and opportunities…I think [the CCFC] helped us to see that emergencies are opportunities. Disruptions are opportunities.” While we can’t predict what the future will hold for Little Africa, we’re stronger, better prepared, and more hopeful because of our community partners.

 

 

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AEDS, Little Africa welcome the A-Line

photo courtesy of Kathy Graul of Metro Transit

Have you seen a fancy new bus running along Snelling Ave? That’s the A-Line! The Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) A-Line started running between the Rosedale Transit Center and 46th Street Station at 10:00 am on Saturday, June 11th. The opening ceremony brought community connections, along with a hope for increased visibility and economic opportunity for Little Africa business owners.

AEDS staff set up an info table to engage visitors in conversations about AEDS and Little Africa

AEDS staff set up an info table to engage visitors in conversations about AEDS and Little Africa

Launch party festivities took place near Snelling and University Ave on Saturday morning and afternoon. Acoustic music, dancing, face-painting, and lively conversation attracted local residents and passersby. About a dozen organizations, including small businesses and nonprofits, set up tables to engage with visitors and talk with them about their work in the neighborhood. Our staff had our own table to represent AEDS and Little Africa. We introduced ourselves to visitors, invited them to our upcoming Little Africa Fest on August 13th, and presented a map of local African immigrant businesses so people who had never heard of Little Africa before could visualize it. We also made new connections with community members and had some great conversations!

Samson Zeleke, owner of Samson Custom Upholstery on Snelling Ave., participated in the first bus ride

Samson Zeleke, owner of Samson Custom Upholstery on Snelling Ave., was honored to be one of the first A-Line riders.

Little Africa business owners were among the several dozen community members invited to ride the first A-Line bus. Samson Zeleke, who opened his upholstery business on Snelling Ave. five years ago, shared his support of the new bus service: “I think it’s very good for immigrants and businesses. Most immigrants, when they first come [to America], don’t drive. A lot of people get frustrated with driving,” Samson relayed. He looked forward to the A-Line making his business more accessible to customers, especially immigrants.

The A-Line is a new type of rapid bus transit for the Twin Cities, and will cut the length of time it takes to travel between Rosedale and 46th Street Station by 25%. Instead of paying onboard, travelers will buy a ticket or use a Go-To Card at the station before getting on the bus. Service will run every 10 minutes throughout most of the day and include fewer stops.

The A-Line will connect with the METRO Blue Line at 46th Street Station and the METRO Green Line at Snelling & University Station and other destinations including Hamline University, Macalester College, Highland Village, Rosedale Transit Center, HarMar Mall, Minnehaha Park, and the Midway area. Visit http://www.metrotransit.org/a-line-project-faqs for more info.

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Congratulations Class of 2016!

AEDS graduates it’s first Entrepreneurship and Business Development class

Congrats to the graduates!

Congrats to the graduates!

On the evening of June 2, 2016, African Economic Development Solutions and St. Paul Housing Agency staff, 7 graduates, and 14 proud family members gathered to celebrate a landmark event: the graduation of AEDS’s first class of Entrepreneurship and Business Development Training Program students. While AEDS has been partnering with the Neighborhood Development Center (NDC) to train aspiring entrepreneurs since 2008, this marks the first year AEDS has conducted a business training program with it’s own curriculum. Hassen Hussein, Director of Business Development at AEDS, designed the 12-week program and delivered the course. Several sessions were also taught by Idris Mohamed, founder of Minnehaha Adult Daycare Service Center, an adult daycare serving Somali immigrants and refugees. Not only does this new program allow AEDS to be more self-sufficient in helping entrepreneurs design and develop, but it also fills a gap. Many business development programs teach how to create business plans, Hussein notes, but they leave out the character traits essential to successful entrepreneurship. The AEDS curriculum teaches business basics like plans and bookkeeping, but is rooted in life skills- the passion and patience every entrepreneur needs to overcome the challenges of starting and maintaining a business.

Barbara, a graduate and aspiring designer, speaks about what she learned in the program

Barbara, a graduate and aspiring designer, speaks about what she learned in the program

The evening began with graduates and staff introducing themselves, their experiences in the class, and what they’ve learned. “Thank you’s” were abundant, and it became clear that the 12-week program had been a life-changing event for both AEDS staff and students. Graduates summarized their business plans- from transportation service to graphic design- and how the course helped them to achieve their goals, while AEDS staff revealed how inspired they’ve been by the hard work and dedication of the students.

Lucius attended each of the classes with his mother, Nicola, and became a business student himself. He graduated with his mother, and had the honor of cutting the cake.

Lucius attended each of the classes with his mother, Nicola, and became a business student himself. He graduated with his mother, and had the honor of cutting the cake.

One student, Nicola Giusti, spoke emotionally about how AEDS’s program had opened doors for her: while she’d had aspirations of creating an education publication with a social justice bent for quite some time and knew she could benefit from business development training, needing to take care of her two young sons had prevented her from enrolling in courses. AEDS not only allowed her boys to accompany her to classes, but welcomed them and encouraged them to engage. One of her sons, Lucius, graduated the course with her. Lucius’s current entrepreneurial goals capitalize on friendship: he plans to make a business out of friendship bracelets, and to later expand to friendship dolls.

At the end of the ceremony, AEDS and St. Paul Housing Agency staff presented the graduates with certificates and staff, graduates, and families mingled over delicious mocha-frosted layer cake from Rebecca’s Bakery. AEDS staff and partners spoke to a perhaps overlooked benefit of this program: quality networking. This course allowed entrepreneurs to get to know other entrepreneurs, and formed meaningful professional relationships which participants were encouraged to tap into in the future.

Congratulations to the graduates! And our sincere thanks to Elizabeth Pacunas and Alicia Huckleby of the St. Paul Public Housing Agency for attending the celebration and supporting our efforts in becoming a more self-sufficient community organization.

Hassen Hussein shares his experience developing and teaching the course

Hassen Hussein shares his experience developing and teaching the course

St. Paul Public Housing Agency's Alicia Huckleby shares her support of the program

St. Paul Public Housing Agency’s Alicia Huckleby shares her support of the program

Idris Mohamed, founder of Minnehaha Adult Daycare Service Center which serves Somali immigrants and refugees, shares his experience and appreciation working with the students and AEDS staff

Idris Mohamed, founder of Minnehaha Adult Daycare Service Center which serves Somali immigrants and refugees, shares his experience and appreciation working with the students and AEDS staff

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First Little Africa arts series fuels dialogue; showcases variety of African artists and performers

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Little Africa launched its first in a series of arts events Wednesday January 20th at Snelling Café. The Where are my roots? Open Mic and dialogue attracted a crowd of around 50-60 people. The purpose of the event—- and the Little Africa arts series, is to utilize creative placemaking tools to raise awareness of the cultural and artistic footprint of African communities within the Twin Cities, specifically those in Little Africa.

Organized and curated by African Economic Development Solutions’ (AEDS) Arts Organizer and poet/singer-songwriter/artist Lula Saleh, the Where are my roots? Open mic explored themes of identity and place. Serving as the event’s emcee, Saleh introduced the event with words describing her nostalgia for home and breaking stereotypes with her multifaceted identities as a multiethnic African Minnesotan and black woman. Saleh was also the first performer of the open mic, reading from an essay she wrote which unpacked the complexities surround place and identity. After her performance Saleh opened up the floor with questions from the audience; after each open mic performance attendees had the opportunity to engage with the performing open mic artists.

“The purpose of these events is to enhance the economic vitality of African and black-owned businesses in the Little Africa business district.” said Saleh about the series. “Especially with being small businesses, you can’t succeed without a cultural footprint. So that’s the purpose of these bimonthly arts events; its to bring more attention to this community of African immigrant businesses and entrepreneurs, to support and celebrate them, while having much-needed conversations through the arts about culture, identity and race in the black and African Midway-St. Paul community.” she said.

During Wednesday’s event, established artists like Abdi Phenomenal and Ifrah Mansour participated during the open mic along side emerging artists who recited poems and speeches. State Representative Rena Moran was also in attendance, and spoke briefly about the importance of “telling our stories” and encouraged folks to increase their involvement with political processes outside of voting day. Tracey Kinney from the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation also spoke during the event to discuss Little Africa’s and Riverfronts collaboration to improve the exterior facades of Little Africa businesses. Kinney also took the time to gather feedback from the audience on what could be done to improve the neighborhood’s vitality and visibility.

“I think the night went really well!” Said Saleh about the open mic, “ It was our first official kickoff for the Little Africa arts and dialogue series, and it took place at Snelling Cafe, an Eritrean-owned coffee shop and restaurant in the heart of Little Africa. In terms of having a full house, a full lineup, a diversity of voices, of cultural and ethnic identities present and even in artistic mediums that were presented, it was amazing. It was a family-friendly event so we had diversity in age range; our audience members were from children to people who I would identify as elders in our communities.”

The Little Africa Arts series is comprised of seven community arts and dialogue events taking place every other month during 2016. The series will be held within different Little Africa businesses and restaurants in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway neighborhood. The next Little Africa Arts series will take place on March 8th. The series is made possible in part due to funding provided by Twin Cities’ Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC).

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African Economic Development Solutions, Finalist for 2016 Knight Cities Challenge

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In her now famous TED Talk “The Danger of a Single Story” acclaimed author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie said “…when we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) plans to do just that.

Tuesday, January 12 the Knight Foundation announced that AEDS’ proposed project “More Than a Single Continent: an intellectual tour of Little Africa through food, music, and discussion.” is a finalist for the Knight Cities Challenge. Of the 158 finalists chosen out of 4,500 applications from 26 different cities across the nation, AEDS is one of 10 finalist based in St. Paul.

The second year of a three-year run, the Knight Cities Challenge will select winners from among the finalist which comprise of nonprofits, government organizations, design experts and urban planning groups. The Knight Foundation will distribute 5 million dollars to the winning projects that best answer ways to make their cities successful. Winners will be announced by the foundation in the Spring of 2016.

AEDS’ proposed project “More Than a Single Continent” seeks to showcase the diversity of local African communities by hosting a series of events and discussions centered on food and music as the entry point to facilitate meaningful community dialogue, to educate, and to provide multidimensional visibility for the many African immigrant communities that call St. Paul home.

The ultimate goal of this project will be to mainstream a more inclusive and complex narrative of what it means to be African, but also to broaden what it means to be a resident of St. Paul. Through these discussions and events AEDS hopes to bridge the gaps that disengage folks, to establish a space where diverse peoples, especially communities of color, see themselves as a vital part of St. Paul’s long-term fabric.

This is the second time AEDS has been a finalist for a Knight Foundation award. In 2015 AEDS was a finalist for the Knight Green Line Challenge award which AEDS eventually won for a separate Little Africa project. Little Africa, a virtual and place based branding effort launched by AEDS in 2013, is rooted in St. Paul’s historic Hamline Midway area.

Since its launch, Little Africa has partnered with numerous community organizations to collaborate on dynamic community centered projects and events. One of the most visually recognizable of those collaborations can be viewed along Snelling Avenue where several murals decorate small businesses, thanks to a collaboration with Midway Murals.

Through Little Africa, AEDS hopes to implement creative placemaking strategies to foster meaningful community engagement, to inspire and create a space where St. Paul’s diverse populations of African heritage communities can thrive.

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Little Africa tour celebrates Saint Paul’s diverse African communities; showcases local artists and African owned businesses.

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You don’t have to cross the Atlantic to visit Eretria, Ethiopia, Nigeria, or Somalia. Take a walk along Snelling Avenue between University and Lafond and you’ll find a bit of Africa blooming in the heart of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood. On Friday November 13th, a number of St. Paul and Minneapolis based community leaders and artists did just that during the “Celebrate Little Africa: Arts and Culture Tour.”

The tour was one of several that took place along the Green Line as a part of Twin Cities LISC’s larger event “C4ward: Arts and Culture along the Green Line”, a creative symposium. The symposium and the tours were organized by LISC and by the seven Cultural Corridor partners. The purpose of the event was to encourage attendees to think about the ways in which arts and culture highlight local diversity and to also think about the ways they can bridge communities together while boosting neighborhood economies.

The symposium began in the morning at the Wilder Foundation with keynote speaker Carol Bebelle. Executive Director of the Ashe Cultural Arts Center, Bebelle spoke at length about her work strengthening the economic, social, and artistic revitalization of her New Orleans neighborhood before and after hurricane Katrina.

After the keynote speech, symposium attendees were divided into small groups to participate in guided tours in one of the many neighborhoods of the Cultural Corridor partners (African Economic Development Solutions, Asian Economic Development Association, Frogtown Neighborhood Association, Aurora Saint Anthony Neighborhood Development Corporation, Creative Enterprise Zone, Prospect Park 2020, West Bank Business Association).

During the Little Africa tour attendees traveled along Snelling Avenue, where they visited African Plaza, Fasika Ethiopian Restaurant, Dahabshiil Mini Market, Addis Mini Market, Sabrina’s Café, Sunshine Beauty Salon, and Snelling Café. At each location, the group had an opportunity to meet with the business owners and learn the unique stories of the locations. They also discovered some of the back-stories embedded within the stunning murals donned by a few of the businesses. The tile and mosaic mural decorating the exterior of the Africa Plaza for example, attendees learned was a visual tribute to the Oromo people and culture, a major ethnic group within Ethiopia.058

Most of the owners served the attendees food—injera, sambusa, baklava, gyro, a variety of Ethiopian style lentils and veggie dishes—to name a few. A major highlight of the gastronomic elements of the tour was the coffee Sabrina’s café owner Karima Omer served the group during her traditional East African coffee ceremony.

In addition to the coffee and food, poet and African Economic Development Solutions Arts Organizer Lula Saleh read original poems that touched upon the many themes that arose during the tour. A poem written in celebration of African women, Saleh revealed during the tour, was inspired in part by Freweini Sium, owner of the entire Sunshine Building and the Sunshine Beauty Salon. Sium, like many of the business owners within Little Africa represents a lesser known reality within communities of African heritage across the Diaspora—women business owners have a strong presence.

The tour ended at Snelling Café with a pop-up art gallery featuring the works of artists of visual artists Geno Okok, Sara Endalew, and Binyam Raba, the documentary street photography of Netsanet Negussie, and the eccentric and bold handbags of fashion designer Ngeri Nnachi. Tour attendees mingled with the artists before participating in a heartfelt discussion surrounding identity, home, arts and the community, and the future of Little Africa.

Overall both the Little Africa tour and the C4ward symposium were a success. Attendees, Little Africa business owners and artists, had several opportunities to experience the uniqueness of Little Africa through story-telling, food and art. As the afternoon waned, Snelling Café filled with laughter, conversation and a strong sense of community.

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