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Save the Date for Little Africa Fest 2017!

Little Africa Fest 2017 will be from 2-8pm on Saturday, August 19th! Come for a full day of activities, African cultural performances, music, storytelling, food vendors, African clothing, arts and crafts for sale, and more! This event is free, family friendly, and open to the public. All are welcome. Little Africa Fest 2017 is made possible through the generous donations of our sponsors: Twin Cities Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), City of St. Paul Cultural STAR program, Metropolitan Regional Arts Council (MRAC), the Knight Foundation, Minnesota Association for Volunteer Administration (MAVA), US Bank, Sunrise Banks, and BMA Multicultural Channel. Please email or call (651) 646-9411 if you’re interested in being a sponsor or volunteer. Thank you for supporting Little Africa!

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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 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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May 23rd Community discussion on the Snelling-Midway Redevelopment and Stadium brings Little Africa voices to the table


Plans for the Midway Stadium and redevelopment have been rolling out with little input from the Little Africa residents and business owners who will be most affected by them. With the recent push by Minnesota United Football Club owner William McGuire to put the Stadium plans into action, AEDS recognized the crucial need to bridge the knowledge gap between the City of St. Paul and African immigrants and create a space for Little Africa business owners and residents to both learn and to be heard.

On the evening of Monday, May 23, 2016, AEDS hosted a community discussion to bring together a range of voices on the stadium and redevelopment issue. The event drew 3 speakers and City of St. Paul representatives, 2 media networks (Oromia Media Network, Twin Cities Daily Planet), and around 20 Little Africa business owners, residents, and community organizers. Delicious sambusas from Star Market and tea from Snelling Cafe were enjoyed by attendees as they mingled before and after the meeting.

The meeting opened with a presentation by Adrian Perryman, an academic advisor at Concordia University, on the research of Concordia University’s Dr. Bruce Corrie; Corrie’s groundbreaking 2015 study revealed the high economic potential and contributions of African immigrants in Minnesota and laid the groundwork for AEDS’s Little Africa project. Next, Dai Thao, Ward 1 Councilmember, took the floor and discussed the available avenues people can use to get more information and pose their questions and concerns to the City. Donna Drummond, Director of Planning at the City of St. Paul, also spoke about the current state of the Snelling-Midway bus barn site and showed artist renderings of what the redevelopment might look like.



AEDS then opened the floor for questions. Little Africa business owners and St. Paul residents posed crucial questions about a range of issues, from concerns over how the Stadium and redevelopment will affect parking, traffic, noise, and the environment to how the City will protect community members from increased property taxes and being replaced or displaced by bigger corporate chains. Many Little Africa business owners and residents expressed hope that the changes would bring economic benefits to the area, but they also voiced frustration at feeling excluded from the process. One of these speakers was Mimi Letta, owner of Mimi’s Beauty Salon in the Midway Shopping Center and one of the business owners who will be displaced by the stadium.


While there seemed to be more questions than answers, the meeting helped fill the communication gap between Little Africa and the City of St. Paul and gave both groups a deeper understanding of the issues. City representatives acknowledged the gaps in communication and knowledge, and agreed to share what they learned from community members with their colleagues at City Hall. This discussion highlighted the need for African immigrants to be more involved in future decision-making, and for the City to take extra steps to make sure this happens. The fact that the vision and timeline for the redevelopment around the stadium is not set in stone might be frustrating, but it also means more opportunity for African immigrants to get involved.

Thank you to all of the city officials, community organizations, business owners, local residents, and media who participated in this event, and on such short notice!

Visit the City of St. Paul’s Snelling and Midway Redevelopment website ( to read more about the redevelopment, see pictures of proposed plans, and learn about upcoming opportunities for public input. The next public meetings are:

Tuesday, June 7th (7:00-8:30pm): Community Meeting
Buenger Library, Concordia University, 275 Syndicate St. N., St. Paul MN 55104

Friday, June 10th (8:30am): Public Hearing hosted by the Planning Commission
City Hall, 15 W Kellogg Blvd, St. Paul MN 55102

Some things to read:

Thoughts on MN United Stadium Vary in Midway:

Redevelopment Site Plans – City of St. Paul

Community Advisory Committee Meeting summaries

Neighborhood perspectives

Priced Out of My Childhood Home:

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Little Africa Arts Series #2 recap: African Women Entrepreneurs & Artist Networking Event


Take a single step into the Flamingo Restaurant and you almost forget you have entered a restaurant—especially one that’s tucked away behind a Subway. With walls doused by the paintings of Little Africa artist Sara Endelew and window sills flecked with earthy East African cultural artifacts, from the inside Flamingo looks more like some soulful art gallery than a restaurant. It’s no surprise then that the restaurant served as the perfect location for Little Africa’s  African Women  Entrepreneurs & Artist Networking event. 

Held on March 8th from 6 to 8pm, the African Women Entrepreneurs & Artist  Networking event was the second in a series of Little Africa arts events organized by African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS). The series is the brain child of AEDS Arts Organizer Lula Saleh who also emceed and facilitated the event’s activities

“We had several activities packed into two hours, such as storytelling circles, a larger group conversation about the arts, entrepreneurship and women, and then a panel discussion of four incredible women artists and/or business owners who are part of or affiliated with Little Africa” Saleh said.IMG_2516

Fashion designer Ngeri Nnachi, documentary photographer Netsanet Negussie, Sabrina Café owner Karima Omer, and Sunshine Beauty Salon owner Freowini Sium served as panelist during a discussion aimed at addressing and unpacking barriers African women entrepreneurs and artist encounter. The panelist shared their personal life journeys, and spoke about success and the strength and resilience of African women entrepreneurs and artists. The event also served as a networking opportunity where attendees were encouraged to get to know new people.

“I think what stood out most for me was that there were icebreaker questions on the tables to help us get to know the other people we were seated with. Also, we were sort-of assigned to a table. So we had to break out of our comfort zones and get to know people we otherwise may not have met.” Said T. J. Akisanya, a local App developer and founder of the Belle Natives LLC who attended the event.

“What inspired me most is that this is something we as a community are doing for ourselves. The organization that went into the event was apparent.” Said Akisanya.

The night featured Economist and University of Concordia Professor Dr. Bruce Corrie who spoke on his research highlighting the impact of African women business owners in Minnesota. Tim Griffin from Saint Paul Riverfront Corporation spoke about his organization’s partnership with Little Africa to implement a Façade Improvement project. An artistic highlight of the evening were a series of poems read by the acclaimed interdisciplinary artist Ifrah Mansour

IMG_2503With around 50 people from diverse backgrounds and professions in attendance, the Flamingo restaurant was jammed packed with an electrifying energy throughout the event. “I liked the storytelling, and the business women telling their experiences and encouraging others” Said Flamingo Owner Frewoini Haile. Haile went on to say how she enjoyed the exposure the event provided her business.

For AEDS Arts Organizer Lula Saleh, it was this sort of layered impact which made the event a success. “Some highlights for me were seeing the sincere appreciation for women artists, seeing some of the art that was created from the storytelling dialogue itself, talking to some aspiring African women entrepreneurs in the room, and hearing the robust conversations about the needs of the community, especially women, to be thriving artists and entrepreneurs. The biggest takeaway for me was the sense of community that was created, the safe space, and the dialogue that I don’t think could have happened if not setup intentionally through our direct community organizing and outreach to African women.” She said.

The next Little Africa community event will take place on April 5th from 4-9pm in the former American Bank building 1578 University Ave W, Saint Paul, MN. Visit our Eventbrite to RSVP.


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Opening up the Doors: Why Creating a Welcoming Little Africa Community Takes Time


The Facade Framework plan for Little Africa’s Snelling Avenue


Written By Halimat Alawode

I’ve been living in the Hamline-Midway area for nearly 6 months now and it wasn’t until I started my new internship at African Economic Development Solutions (AEDS) that I realized there was a place called Little Africa. That, in fact I lived a few blocks north of it. Little Africa, is physical location as well as a marketing initiative that was launched by AEDS in 2013. Little Africa is a collection of African owned businesses between Selling Avenue and Syndicate Street, such as Fasika, Sunshine Beauty Salon, Snelling Café, to name a few. In fact, if Little Africa had a physical center anchoring it, it would be Snelling Avenue just east of University. Yet, Little Africa is more than just a location or a brand; it’s a community. It wasn’t until February 9th d that I fully grasped this.

On February 9th I attend my first AEDS event at Snelling Cafe. The event was the first in a series of community workshops organized by both AEDS and the St. Paul Riverfront Corporation to implement a Façade improvement project for the Little Africa small businesses. The project is funded in part by a Knight Green Line Challenge grant, which Little Africa won last year.


Community members and business owners participate during the Facade Improvement Workshop.

As AEDS’ newly inaugurated intern, I was in charge of signing in guest and taking photos during the workshop. But I quickly realized that the task I needed to tackle first was diving into the mountain of ijera the Snelling Café owner, Afeworki Bein, laid out for us. The smell of freshly made food was hard to ignore. I was grateful for his generosity and pleased to learn he too would be participating in the community workshop. In fact the owners of several Little Africa businesses were in attendance. They gathered to learn more about the Façade Improvement project and how they could apply for funding from the City of Saint Paul’s Star Loan/matching grant program to participate in Little Africa’s project.

As the various Little Africa business owners walked into Snelling Café’s homely establishment, I couldn’t help but notice how they greeted and embraced each other like lifelong friends. Even I, the new intern, found myself getting caught up in hellos and greetings. As I attempted to gracefully eat my ijera and sign in Frewini Sium, owner of Sunshine Beauty Salon, I couldn’t help but mention that I heard good things about her salon. She beamed at me and pleasantly invited me to stop by myself and sit in her chair. I couldn’t help but smile. I felt so welcomed by everyone in the café.

Later that night my roommate and I were discussing our day over dinner. I mentioned Little Africa to her, and like me only a day earlier, she had no idea what/where Little Africa was. I explained to her the area and described the shops included in the mix. It didn’t take long for her to state, “Yeah that makes sense, that area does seem like a little Africa.”

Which is spot on. Though we both didn’t actively know the area to be Little Africa the namesake seemed so fitting. When we realized this we also both realized we haven’t spent much time in Little Africa. We drive past the area daily yet have rarely, if ever, stepped in one of the shops. Not the restaurants, not the African owned grocery stores, not the salons, or the many other businesses in the area.

What is it about Little Africa that makes it so daunting for newcomers, so beneath the radar? Why don’t we feel welcomed enough to enter these spaces? For me personally, I did visit a Little Africa restaurant once. Though the service was superb and the food excellent I never visited again. I felt like an outsider and that I didn’t belong. I asked AEDS Executive Director Gene Gelgelu and Arts Organizer Lula Saleh about this. I wanted to hear their take on this dilemma. Gene began by admitting that some immigrant owned businesses tend to cater to their own demographic, it’s what they know. Gene also stated that Little Africa is still in beginning stages of its branding and community outreach strategies, which has the potential to remedy these problems. It would make sense that increased community outreach would result in creating a more welcoming space; which is why Little Africa is putting in a lot of effort into improving this.


The first Facade Improvement Workshop was held
at Snelling Cafe

They’ve already begun this by working with Midway Murals,  a separate non-profit who added public art to the exteriors of three Little Africa businesses. AEDS is currently hosting a series of Facade Improvement workshops and an art series to build community engagement within Little Africa and to improve the exteriors of Little Africa businesses.

With money received from the Façade Improvement project, Little Africa business owners can change the exterior of their businesses to promote a more welcoming atmosphere. From improved signage, to more public art like the Snelling avenue murals, or to practical things like improved exterior lighting, these changes could help make Little Africa businesses more welcoming to residents.

A lot of the outreach efforts are centered on culture and art, from the Murals to the Festivals. I asked Lula if she thinks this is a good direction. She stated that it is one of many initiatives that need to be made and that, “It brings different people together in a safe space where they can share their stories.” Gene also concluded by telling me Little Africa wants people to come and enjoy themselves but it’ll take some time to change the dynamics. Which is true, things will not change overnight but they will change. Little Africa wants to be open to us. The next Facade Improvement workshop will take place on April 5th from 4-9pm. The workshop is open to the community. For more information please email:


Halimat Alawode is pursing a B.A. in Women and International Development and Political Science at Saint Catherine University. Halimat is a Marketing and Public Relations Intern for African Economic Development Solutions.

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


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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