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Little Africa and On The Green Line gather community’s insights

green line re-cap pic


Monday January 11th Little Africa and the On the Green Line Marketing Collaborative hosted a community listening and outreach session at Sabrina’s Café in St. Paul. The purpose of the session was to collect information on how residents, business owners, and other key community stakeholders use the On The Green Line Marketing resources.

Since the launch of the Green Line, the collaborative has organized a number of initiatives to provide marketing resources (directories, websites, bus-stop ads, etc) for local businesses and residents. The collaborative teamed up with the Midway Chamber of Commerce to explore ways to improve those efforts by organizing a series of community outreach sessions. The outreach sessions are taking place during the month of January at different St. Paul and Minneapolis locations along or near the Green Line.

In addition to residents and community members, Little Africa’s outreach session drew folks from the Minnesota Department of Transportation, Metro Transit, and State Senator Foung Hawj.

Sabrina’s Café owner Karima Omer, who recently re-opened her quaint coffee shop after being closed for nearly a month for re-modeling, provided participants with food and traditional Ethiopian coffee throughout the meeting. During the outreach sessions participants discussed current neighborhood and district brand presences, identified other community partners and collaborative efforts, and brainstormed potential marketing strategies that could benefit the community.

Things like re-launching a coupon book with deals from local businesses and creating an app to help people better locate small businesses and community happenings along the green line were some of many suggestions made.

“Making it easier to find things to do is a great idea.” Said Fatima Omar, who works as College Navigator for the International Institute of Minnesota, a St.Paul based non-profit.

“I really enjoyed the discussion. I’m glad I found out about this!” Omar said she saw the event posted on Facebook and was curious to learn more.

The information gathered during the outreach sessions will be complied by the On the Green Line Collaborative.To participate in this initiative, take the below survey or attend an upcoming On the Green Line outreach session:


  • Downtown Minneapolis
    Tues, Jan 19, 12pm-1pm
    The Open Book
    1011 S Washington Ave
    Minneapolis, MN 55415


  • Historic Rondo
    Weds Jan 20, 12pm-1pm
    Kings Crossing
    500 Dale St N
    St Paul, MN 55103


  • Stadium Village
    Weds Jan 20, 2:30pm-3:30pm
    Bar Luchador
    825 SE Washington Ave
    Minneapolis, MN 55414


  • Lowertown
    Thurs Jan 21, 12pm-1pm
    Black Dog Cafe
    308 E. Prince StSt Paul, MN 55101


  • Frogtown & Little Mekong
    Tues Jan 26, 6:30pm-8pm
    St. Paul City School – 643 Virginia St
    St Paul, MN 55103
    (part of Frogtown Neighbohood Mtg)


Do you use the Green Line for work or play? We’re also conducting a survey of rider habits and district marketing preferences. Take the survey and you’ll be eligible to win one of ten gift certificates to a Green Line restaurant!

The survey will close Friday January 29th, 2016 at 5:00pm.

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African Economic Development Solutions, Finalist for 2016 Knight Cities Challenge



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.

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.

Lil Africa pics2

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AEDS awarded $60,000 for Little Africa Cultural Corridor

Wednesday, September 30, African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) was announced as one of twelve winners of the Knight Green Line Challenge, a contest designed to revitalize neighborhoods surrounding St. Paul’s Light Rail. Administered by the St. Paul Foundation, this is the second year of the challenge, which launched in 2014.IMG_1760 (2)

With goals to expand economic opportunity, dismantle divides, and to foster civic engagement within the community, the Knight Green Line Challenge was open for any individual, business, or nonprofit to apply. The grant was more competitive this year, the Knight Green Line Challenge received over 300 applicants and awarded 12 winners a share in $574,000 of grant funds. Last year, 16 winners of the challenge shared only $530,000.

AEDS was awarded $60,000 for its Little Africa Cultural Corridor project. The project is designed to better market and support local African owned businesses and entrepreneurs. The idea is to bolster Little Africa’s position as one of the Twin Cities vibrant and distinctive cultural districts. AEDS will partner with the Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation to complete the Little Africa project.

“I am very thrilled to see and witness that they (AEDS) were one of the award winners” Said Dr. Abraham Dalu, the Operations Manager of A&A Reliable Home Health Care.

An avid supporter of the Little Africa Cultural Corridor project and a recipient of the marketing and business development services AEDS provides, Dr. Dalu was one of many attendees of a banquet hosted by the Knight Green Line Challenge Wednesday evening to honor the 12 winning applicants at the Minnesota Museum of American Art in St. Paul.

“With Little Africa, the concept is to bring people together so that they can share a common future.” Said Dr. Dalu.

During the ceremony members of the Knight Green Line Challenge presented each of the 12 winners with custom coffee mugs inscribed with the titles of their innovative projects. The winners each had an opportunity to share their innovated project ideas with the audience and gave impassioned speeches about the goals of their projects.


“We’re humbled to receive the award” Said Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of AEDS.

Representatives of each winning project brought staff and loved ones to celebrate the night. Over all the ceremony was fun-loving and joyous. Towards the end of the ceremony, attendees mingled and conversed with one another. The atmosphere of the night was electric with promise and a shared ambition to bring life back into the diverse neighborhoods along the St. Paul Green Line.

Special Thanks to LISC, The Minneapolis Foundation, the Nexus Community Partners, The Knight Green Line Challenge, and many others for their continuous support of AEDS and our Little Africa project.

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AEDS Explores Fresh Economic Opportunities During African Immigrant Farming Tour


Group picture of tour goers at the Hmong American Farmers Association

The weather may have been rainy, but that didn’t deter a small group of AEDS supporters from seeking out fresh opportunities. Thursday, September 17th AEDS led a small team of local business owners and community leaders on a farming tour. The group met on the sites of the Minnesota Food Association farm in St. Croix and on the Hmong American Farmers Association farm in Saint Paul, Minnesota.


The purpose of the tour was to explore the opportunities available for potential farmers within the diverse African immigrant communities AEDS serves. Representatives from the farms led group discussions surrounding the economic and health benefits of local farming. The farming tour was sponsored in part by AgStar Financial Services and AgriBank.

The tour aligns with AEDS’ mission to generate wealth within marginalized communities and communities of African heritage in Minnesota. AEDS believes that by exploring alternative means of creating access to key resources and by nurturing dynamic community partnerships, together we can bolster financial success within marginalized and African immigrant communities.

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Thank You to Our 2015 Little Africa Fest Sponsors

AEDS and the Little Africa Business and Cultural District of Minnesota would like to thank the Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), U.S Bank, NEXUS Community Partners, and all the local business owners that helped make Little Africa’s contribution to the 2015 Midway Arts Festival happen. Special thanks to the talented artist, musicians, dancers, the AEDS volunteers,our co-sponsors Midway Mural, and the numerous community members who made the festival a success.

midway mural

Mural painted along the Pizza Market Shop building for festival

Little Africa artists, performers , and volunteers.

Little Africa artists, performers , and volunteers.


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There’s a New Cultural Business District in Town, And It’s Using Art to Change the Economic Landscape of the Twin Cities


Little Africa Promotes Sustainable Economic Growth

Scooch over Midtown, the Twin Cities have a new cultural business district in town and it’s called Little Africa. Last August, over 500 people attended the Midway Art Festival in St. Paul’s Hamline-Midway area, a cultural business district known as Little Africa. A reflection of the community’s boom in African owned businesses, the Little Africa Business and Cultural District of Minnesota co-hosted the Midway Art Festival with Midway Murals.

Funded in part with support the African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) received from the Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), U.S Bank, NEXUS Community Partners, and local business owners, the festival took place on Saturday, August 29th at Hamline Park and included a diverse array of interactive art and poetry activities for families to participate in.

Throughout the festival, a showcase of cultural drumming, singing, and dancing from a number of local artists of diverse African immigrant communities sustained the celebratory energy of the event. One performance by African cultural dancer Indy Jay, even went viral on Facebook. The video had over 15,000 views in just three days.

A highlight of the festival was the culturally inspired murals painted along the exterior of Piazza Market Shop, the African Plaza, and Snelling Cafe. Each mural “station” had food representative of the individual business owner’s African heritage; the food was free of cost to festival goers.

“Our desire is to use art and culture as a catalyst for economic development within the community,” said Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of AEDS, and one of the main organizers of the Midway Art Festival. Gelgelu stressed the importance of including emerging artist to participate in the creation of the murals, two of which were African artists who AEDS created paid apprenticeships for with Midway Murals.

With between 50 to 60 African owned businesses in the Hamline-Midway neighborhood, Little Africa offers the promise of revitalization and economic gain, in a community struggling to rebrand itself as more than the neighborhood you pass on your way to the State Fair.

“We want to create a sustainable impact in the community,” said Gelgelu. He went on to explain why the role of AEDS in co-hosting the Midway Art Festival was critical. Gelgelu believes in the potential for Little Africa to create sustained job growth in the community and in the prospect of attracting tourism, thus furthering the economic growth of the area.

Overall, the festival was a lively display of cultural exchange. Residents of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood brought their families to partake in the festivities. Community leaders further energized attendees with impassioned speeches. Everyone came together to celebrate their shared love of the arts and of the diverse African cultures represented, cementing the neighborhood’s rightful status as one of the Twin Cities cultural business districts.


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2014 Little Africa of Minnesota Fest

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.

More details of the 2014 Little Africa Fest can be found at

For more information contact Gene Gelgelu at 651.646.9411 or visit AEDS Little Africa of Minnesota section at

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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),

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Little Africa Book Club: Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Americanah by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie

Join us for a discussion of Americanah  by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie on Wednesday September 24, 2014 from 6:30 to 8 pm at Snelling Cafe.

Hosted by Dr. Debra Beilke of Concordia University St. Paul, Minnesota and Mr. Hassan Hussein, Poet and Executive Director, Oromo Community of Minnesota, Wednesday September 24, 2014 from 6:30 to 8 pm at Snelling Cafe. Please RSVP by emailing Gene Gelgelu, Executive Director of African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) at Copies of Americanah will be available at the Little Africa Free Library at Snelling Cafe.

Little Africa promotes African businesses and cultural assets. Snelling Cafe brings you authentic African food and entertainment and is located at 638 Snelling Ave N, St Paul, MN 55104.

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