Our Work

Truth and Repair on Lake Street

In the summer of 2021, the Lake Street Truth Collective embarked on an ambitious project to translate a model of Truth and Reconciliation into the context of South Minneapolis a year after the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent uprisings. Through an authentically grassroots community-building effort, the Collective formed by word of mouth that rippled throughout the Southside. After a long year of reckoning with climate catastrophe, homelessness in our city, police brutality, a pandemic and late capitalism, people were hungry for honest conversation and connection with our neighbors. So, amongst the settled ashes of righteous community outrage in the empty lot where Robert’s Shoes used to reside, friends, neighbors, artists and organizers got to work. The corner of Lake Street and Chicago Avenue was transformed by the hands of people from all walks of life who share a fervent love for this neighborhood and this city.

What happened:

With an accessible ramp and eight pop-up tents shaping the space, the Lake Street Truth Collective hosted biweekly dinners throughout the month of July. History and art installations were set up to tell stories about Lake Street’s past. These were joined by a fire pit and stage with a DJ, as well as a Somali Healing Hut built progressively throughout the month by local artist Ifrah Mansour. Food from the Midtown Global Market was provided for free to everyone who joined us on the lot throughout the summer. By way of fliers, social media, door-knocking and direct relationships, as well as curious passersby spontaneously joining for dinner, 60-100 people turned out for each dinner, successfully feeding and engaging 600-700 people in these conversations throughout the month. Under the mentorship of local QTBIPOC organizers, our youth team helped facilitate conversations that followed presentations by community members directly engaged in and impacted by the topics chosen for discussion.

The Dinners:

“Conversation Cafes” featured menus of questions as centerpieces at each table, guiding attendees through conversation topics related to the night’s theme. Spanish and ASL translation were available to make the presentations and conversations more accessible to the community. The programming for each dinner was scheduled as follows:

Tuesdays & Thursdays in July 2021, 7-10 p.m.

7/6: Tending Lake Street: Process the 2020 uprising & discuss hopes for our respective communities

7/8: Protecting what’s Sacred about Lake Street: The impact of the uprising, gentrification and displacement

7/13: The Land Beneath Our Feet: Indigenous stories of South Minneapolis, redlining, displacement, migration

7/15: The Air We Breathe and the Water We Drink: Current threats to our shared environments

7/20: Crisis of Homelessness in South Minneapolis: Process what happened last summer & consider the current crisis

7/22: Dignified Housing for All: Innovative solutions & other visions

7/27: Community Violence + Organized Crime

7/29: Community Building

Who was there:

A majority of the people in attendance were Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and it was largely representative of the population that makes up the Lake Street corridor. White people were present but not dominant in the space. These were intergenerational community gatherings, with attendees' ages ranging from teenagers around the age of 16 to people in their late 60s/70s. Those in attendance represented both housed and houseless populations. Organizers/activists, students, young professionals and retirees living in South Minneapolis all came together to break bread and hear each other’s stories. LGBTQIA communities were heavily represented in the collective and amongst attendees alike. People sat with people they didn’t know, often across demographics that typically don’t connect. The audience was genuinely reflective of people who either lived in or had a special connection to South Minneapolis.

What we heard:

Key themes that arose in conversations throughout the month:

Connectedness and Belonging: We heard over and over again a deep yearning on the part of the participants to connect and engage with their fellow neighbors. Participants were very appreciative of the opportunity to connect over dinner with neighbors they hadn’t met. We also heard feedback from the participants that the structured exercises and the format of our “conversation cafes” were a helpful way for neighbors to connect around difficult topics.

Healing from trauma: The murder of George Floyd and the uprising that followed was still raw for a lot of the participants. Participants brought up the scale of destruction, the displacement of residents, its disproportionate impact on POC SBEs (Small business enterprises/micro businesses), and the uptick in gun, and violent crime as issues of concern.

Housing: Participants repeatedly expressed concerns that the “rebuilding” of Lake Street was going to disproportionately benefit developers and the “owning” class; many expressed concerns around being priced out of their neighborhoods, citing increasing rents and increasing housing prices. A number of participants attributed the uptick in property crimes and in violent crimes to increasing housing instability in the neighborhood, further exacerbated by COVID-19. Creative housing solutions resonated deeply throughout all of our conversations: informal hosting arrangements, safer encampments, and access to housing for all who want and need it were seen as key elements to addressing community safety and the general well-being of all of our neighbors. Creating safer conditions to help encampments share space in the neighborhood felt important to many community members.

Connection to land / Community wholeness: People shared concerns about environmental threats such as pollution and Line 3 being constructed under the Mississippi River, which intersects Lake Street. We approached the conversations with a decolonization lens, understanding that everyone connected to this same piece of land deserved a seat at the table together. This emphasis on community wholeness, rather than factions, resonated with people who were challenged to connect with their neighbors across rigidly enforced identity lines.

Investing in youth: Increased investments into youth development and enrichment programs for particularly underserved communities emerged as a really important priority.

Public Safety: As a collective, LSTC was committed to practicing a community-based safety model where all of us were responsible for keeping the space safe. Four times in July, our teammates at Atlas Defense offered trainings to LSTC members and volunteers, so that everyone understood how to hold space for others. This meant when people came through the Lot who are typically considered problematic – unhoused people, people with clear signs of intoxication – the community present witnessed us collectively taking a harm reduction stance, engaging with people, offering them food, water, and other things they needed, and taking care of situations on our own. It also demonstrated to us some of the challenges of doing that work in public space. Navigating the more escalated situations we encountered throughout the month taught us that the need for extensive safety training wasn’t just about exhibiting our radicalness, but necessary for holding space as safely as possible. Discussions were held by participants that imagined community-led public safety beyond law enforcement that included mental health, housing, and an investment in our entire social welfare, as opposed to our current reflexive and punitive models. Participants brought up the need for afterschool and youth development and enrichment programs as a way to divert young folks from joining gangs. Other topics discussed were the 1994 Crime bill, the uprising of 2020 in South Minneapolis, crime in North Minneapolis, the upcoming local election, mass incarceration of Black people in the US, and racism in Minneapolis/Minnesota.

What’s Next:

LSTC has learned a lot from our experiences, and we have taken this winter to reflect as a group and prepare for next year’s evolution of our process. We plan to keep our Collective & the community we built around it together through informal dinners, social networking, and showing up for each other or with each other in other community projects. In the summer of 2022 we will plan for a fuller participation from the core neighborhoods along Lake Street, and build out a stronger focus on the “Repair” side of the work. We will also engage audiences beyond the Lake Street Corridor to include greater South and North Minneapolis. In addition, the youth team would like to continue building their facilitation skills, political analysis & community connections.

Possible areas of focus for upcoming Truth and Repair work could include:

  • Build out a replicable model for other neighborhoods, organizations, and community groups to embark on their own Truth and Repair processes

  • Continue investing in our youth through engaging and enriching programs

  • Address the needs of the undocumented community, making resources available to them for housing, food security and rebuilding the community after the Uprising. The damage done to small businesses on Lake Street was significant, and undocumented people do not have access to all the programs that citizens are eligible for and have been left in a very precarious state. The needs of this community must be prioritized in humane, culturally-sensitive ways.

  • Explore the possibilities for real dialogue and repair across community factions, including for example between sex workers and Latinx business owners, or between local Black and Latinx communities. We scratched the surface of these conversations last summer and we hope to continue our work toward repair and community wholeness as we continue forward with this process.

  • Address the ongoing housing crisis and continue making room for Minneapolis’s unhoused populations in structural and practical ways. This includes everything from supporting informal hosting arrangements and making encampments safer to continuing to feed everyone who walks through the space when we host Truth and Repair dinners again.

  • Stay engaged with the Lake Street Alignment process while holding true to our values as a collective. We are committed to community ownership over this process.