AMEN CORNER Final Report to Community Engagement Committee by jD0fQI


									                               AMEN CORNER REPORT 2011


The Amen Corner under the direction of the Community Engagement Committee, Ventura
Village Neigborhood Association, was a successful start-up project that has been a strikingly
huge success.

The name was derived from the Amen Corner concept and practice which has a long history in
American lore. It was made famous by James Baldwin in his play, The Amen Corner, as an arena
where an African American Minister used his speaking skills explore truth and to obtain the
support of parishioners. Supporters of his point of view were put in a special section of the
congregation, the amen corner, where the people would indicate agreement by shouting in
unison, “Amen”, or let it be. Even before Baldwin’s play, the Amen Corner concept had entered
into the American mainstream consciousness and married with expressions like “preaching to the

The Amen Corner concept originally had three components, the first two of which came to
        1. A “soapbox” or “open mic” setup
        2. Listening and documenting so that we can support our neighborhood in positive was
        that reflect the comments of neighborhood people.
        3. A resource kiosk or board

The Amen Corner Outcomes were envisioned as:

    Learning more about the neighborhood - people, stories and issues
    Building relationships with neighbors and community organizations
    Documenting perspectives or stories that need to be heard
    Creating effective ways of responding to what we’re learning including involving
      community members in the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association through planning
      the Amen Corner
      joining the Community Engagement Committee or attending monthly Ventura Village
    To get people engaged in Ventura Village Neighborhood Association meetings

Since it's launch on Friday, July 22, 2011, the Amen Corner has occurred every Thursday and
Friday from 4:00-6:00 p.m. at the Peavey Park “Thrones Plaza” on the southwest corner of
Chicago and Franklin Avenues. The project ran for a total of 31 days.

We give special recognition to the MAD DADS Organization and the support by Reverend V.J.
Smith and his Assistant Elnora Moore. The were involved in shaping the start up of the Amen
Corner and supported this effort during its run in 2011.

Outcomes and Observations
The Amen Corner Team envisioned the Thrones Plaza at Peavey Park as an arena that would be
used as a forum for people to share their stories, speak their minds, raise their voices and let us
know what could be done to improve the lives of neighborhood residents. The role of the
neighborhood organization was to listen, document and carry forward the suggestions presented
at the Amen Corner. We also reasoned that as a result of our involvement at the Thrones Plaza,
we would be able to convince the neighborhood that Peavey Park was now available to all the
residents to use safely and without intimidation.

As indicated below, we had over 258 sign ups for follow-up involvement in the neighborhood
and we collected suggestions from most the sign-ups which included speakers. We estimate that
over 2000 people were exposed to and affected by the Amen Corner vibrations (10 to 1 ratio of
walk-bys to actual sign ups).

Even the Minneapolis Police commented in their update to the neighborhood that crime was the
lowest in twenty years at Peavey Park since the beginning of the Amen Corner. There have also
been numerous stories in our local media - radio, TV and newspapers - describing and
highlighting the success of the Amen Corner.

We have also noted increased neighborhood participation in the Amen Corner staff meetings, the
Community Engagement Committee and in the general neighborhood meetings.

The people are expecting that we will document their suggestions and take them forward to the
neighborhood. We shall keep them informed of our progress and identify more ways we can
keep the people involved in the decision making process of the neighborhood organization.

The Amen Corner concept in it’s current form should be extended through October 26, 2012.
We have prepared a budget to reflect that extension. See attached.

Amen Corner Organization & Experiences

Most neighborhood projects conceived and implemented in the neighborhood are single event,
one time implementation. All administrative and logistical support centers around the
preparation for the day of the event. With the Amen Corner, there was the equivalent of 31 events
spread over a period of 15 weeks, 2 days each week. The administrative coordination and
logistical challenges were great. The neighborhood organization does not have paid staff to
support such a large effort. We had to assemble, except for moderators, a volunteer staff.

Decision making occurred at the Amen Corner Team and Community Engagement Committee
level. Our charge was to carry out the directions of the Board and Executive Committee. There
were times when we experienced delays because it seemed that anyone who was not satisfied
with our approach could stop or slow down our forward movement and, in a few cases, single
individuals imposed their will in situations. The Committees agreements, especially since they
are voluntary and include board members, should not be pushed aside so blatantly. If this
practice continues, it will destroy the integrity of the committees and we will lose and be unable
to attract enthusiastic and engaged volunteers. The result will be a dismantling of our results
and of community good will. No one person should be permitted to block the collective
decision-making process, and along with it halt our work of improving and being accountable to
those who live in this neighborhood.

Volunteers and Participants

A total of 258 sign-ups were collected by volunteers throughout the project. This number actually
represents 241 people, since 17 of the names were duplicates. All of these names have been
entered into a database which has been shared with Mary Watson in order that participant's e-
mail addresses can be added to the Ventura Village Neighborhood Association's general
membership listserve which sends out the general membership meeting notices and agendas.

Over the course of the project, 17 individuals have formally volunteered with the Amen Corner.

Eleven of these individuals volunteered to assist with sign-ups and/or note taking. They include
Elisabeth Geschiere, David Boehnke, Stephen Reese, Kathleen Neeley, Maurice Doniphan, Bill
Garbow, Renee Hastings, Jason Rodney, Dee Henry Williams, Emily Koritz, and Emily Duma.
Notably, four of these volunteers were folks who happened upon the Amen Corner, expressed
interest in helping, and were followed up with by the Organizing Team. Subsequently, one of
these new volunteers, Maurice Doniphan, brought his friend, Renee, into the project, and she
took notes almost every Thursday throughout September and October. Jason Rodney and Emily
Koritz were brought in via Elisabeth Geschiere and David Boehnke who live and/or work in the
Phillips Community and who were interested in participating. Jason subsequently recruited his
friend Emily Duma who also lives in Phillips.

Six of these individuals volunteered as moderators. The Organizing Team designated Dee Henry
Williams as the primary Moderator recruiter and trainer. From the beginning, Dee Henry
Williams and Jim Cook acquired the dedicated participation of MAD DADS, who moderated
virtually every Friday. VJ, the president of MAD DADS, is their primary moderator, however,
Elnora was eventually trained in by Dee as well. Maurice Doniphan, volunteer, who was
recruited directly through Amen Corner participation, became a moderator after helping with
sign-ups and attending meetings for over a month. Maurice has attended Amen Corner meetings
and his enthusiasm is totally contagious. Teonna Marshall aka Sol Ras was recruited via David
Boehnke. Three moderators, Pam Hill-Kroyer, Janis Lane-Ewart and Kenna Cottman,
experienced volunteers at KFAI, offered to help, as moderators, at the request of Dee Henry

Throughout the project, nine new faces presented themselves at Amen Corner Organizing Team
Meetings. These included Stephen, Kathleen, Maurice, Bill, Jason, Harvy, Talib, Iva, and
Raymond. Two thirds of these folks got involved solely as a result of participation in and
relationship-building at the Amen Corner. The other third got involved in the Amen Corner
through friendships with the original Organizing Team members, who include Jim Cook, Dee
Henry Williams, David Boehnke, and Elisabeth Geschiere.
Finally, there were about 15 people who contributed in various, self-initiated ways, from their
consistent presence, bringing new people to the circle, donating food or drink, or stepping up to
volunteer. For example, Michael, a white man in his 30's who had just moved to Minneapolis to
search for his estranged mother, kept coming back to the Amen Corner because of the
community he experienced there. He brought juice to the Corner on three separate occasions, and
we were some of the first people that he told when he was joyfully reunited with his mother.
Another example is Kimberly, a middle-aged Native woman who lives at American Indian
Services (AIS) on 24th St. and Park Avenue, is another person who consistently attended the
Corner starting in mid-September. She contributed to the project's growth and success by never
failing to bring someone with her, and by bringing treats, incredible enthusiasm, and a passion
for people, especially children, whenever she attended. Furthermore, she initiated the tradition of
closing the Amen Corner with a Four Directions Ceremony, which utilizes sage that grows right
behind the thrones area in the park! Over the course of just a few short months, the Amen Corner
transformed the Chicago/Franklin intersection, if only for a few hours each week, into a budding
community of people who met and learned from and gave to one another across race, class, age,
and background.

Demographic Data and Analysis

Qualifier: Participants were not asked to provide demographic information (other than an
address) at any point during this project. However, from September 1, 2011 onward, the AC's
volunteer notetakers attempted to include approximate information on the age, race, and gender
of those interacting with the Amen Corner. It must be mentioned that notes were not consistently
nor uniformly taken as a result of various logistical challenges including how quickly the project
was initiated and the fact that it was entirely volunteer-run. That said, there are written notes or
moderator observations from 17 out of the 31 days that the Amen Corner took place, and there
are sign-ups from every day. The following information has been gleaned from the notes and is
also based on the recollection of Organizing Team members who attended the Amen Corner on a
weekly basis, but does not claim to be scientific.


The estimated ages of participants are as follows:

    Approximately 10 children (defined as under 13 years old) spoke or sang on the
      microphone during the three months that the project took place.
    About 21 participants were teenagers (defined as between ages 13 and 19).
    About 58 participants were in their 20's.
    About 39 participants were in their 30's.
    About 49 participants were in their 40's.
    About 22 participants were in their 50's.
    About 27 participants were over age 60.

Ages were recorded for 226 participants, so if we look at age in terms of percentages:
       Less than 1% of participants were children.
       About 10% of participants were teenagers.
       The majority--43%--of participants were “young adults” in their 20's-30's.
       About 31% of participants were “middle-aged”.
       About 12% of participants were over age 60.

Conclusion: The Amen Corner was an extremely intergenerational gathering space, but children,
youth and elders were underrepresented. It should be noted that every day, anywhere between 2-
10 participants did have children with them, but this was not as consistently recorded if those
children did not personally engage. In addition, youth could have been miscued as young adults
and elders could have been miscued as middle-aged.


Gender identity was only assessed as either male or female, and was merely guessed at and
recorded by notetakers for 323 participants. 198 of the participants were assumed to be male,
which equals about 61%. 125 of the participants were assumed to be female, which equals about

Conclusion: These numbers indicate a need to a) intentionally attract more women/female-
bodied people to the Amen Corner and b) encourage and support women/female-bodied people
to speak on the microphone. It is worth mentioning that the notes taken by most of the volunteers
included their observations of who was coming and going around the Amen Corner, or who was
merely observing from the bus stop or the park, and the gender of those individuals was also
guessed at. For instance, the notes might read, “two young men waiting at bus stop”. Therefore,
the significant difference in the percentage of (assumed) males and females either interacting
with and/or participating in the Amen Corner, suggests that there is a greater number of males
generally coming through or hanging out at the intersection of Chicago and Franklin. This would
also seem logical given that the Amen Corner occurs at a time when many people are getting off
of work, and children are getting out of school, and seem to make sense in terms of some of the
activity that has persistently happened at the intersection (i.e. drug dealing and gang activity).
Observing this trend, the Amen Corner Organizing Team should consider and eventually
incorporate ways to increase the participation of women/female-bodied people in our


The race of people who were coming and going around the Amen Corner, who were merely
observing from the bus stop or the park, and/or who were engaging in the Corner was also
hypothesized and recorded by notetakers beginning on September 1, 2011. The race of
participants, by totals throughout the entire project, are as follows:

                  Bla     Lati    Wh     Nati     Som     Mix      As     Ot     Total
Race:             ck       no     ite     ve       ali    ed       ian    her
Number of          14       12      59       60       11     9     3      1      302
Participants:       7
of                 49      4%       20       20       3%    3%    1%      <1     ≈100
AC                 %                %        %                            %       %
by Race:
of People in       34       19      24       9%       N/A   N/A   3%     9%      ≈100
VV by              %        %       %                                             %

*Rough estimations based on 2000 Census information
Conclusions: These numbers indicate a need for the Amen Corner to more effectively bring out
and engage people from communities in the neighborhood that are non-White and non-Black. As
with Gender, if we want to engage with a diverse group of folks who represent the neighborhood,
this will take more targeted publicity and coordination. One major factor in lack of participation
based on race is language barriers. The project did not translate any of its materials into Spanish
or Somali, nor did it have moderators communicate in either of those languages. There was only
one volunteer who assisted with sign-ups who could converse in Spanish, and when he was
present he was a huge asset in making Spanish-speakers feel welcome and explaining the project
to them. However, incorporating at least these two languages into publicity and the event itself
would likely make a huge impact on who participated. In general, increasing the amount of
moderators and/or volunteers who are from different communities or social groups in the
neighborhood, would very likely draw more participants from the same.

“Interests/Skills/Ideas” by Category

The sign-up sheet used by volunteers at the AC consistently had a category with the heading
“Interests/Skills/Ideas” so that people could provide us with that information. Out of the 258
sign-ups that were collected throughout the project, 111 of those listed one or more thing in that
category. The following lists display what people wrote verbatim, although they have been
categorized by the authors of this report:

Housing: all sorts of thing. housing, the struggle and antinegatizm/Better housing/Evictions,
need an apartment/Homeless/Homeless /Homeless Issues/work, rental/need a job, housing

Interest in Involvement: anything/Doesn't matter/Doesn't matter/Flexible/Flexible/Battered
women, getting involved/Artist to help and serve others/Helping people who need it/Just
call/long time resident with family. call her!/love to help/rap love to help/Volunteer work w/o
lifting; know about homelessness, outgoing, good at talking about issues/What ever/Will
explains/Wants to get involved in Amen Corner
Employment: Employment, need a job, small biz ownership/Employment/spiritual needs/Jobs
Jobs for youth help get them outta the streets/Jobs&drugs, safe streets/Living with more joy and
people, jobs, housing, education, self-improvement/open businesses for youth
employment/putting people to work/work, rental/need help finding a job/need a job, housing

Artists/Performers: Artist name B-LOV/Artist to help and serve others/Music writing,
singer/Musician, drives a school bus/rap love to help/Read, speak, public art projects/young,
music, food, gentrification/

Sports: Basketball, football [note: he's 12 years old]/Gyms, karati, some thing that teaches
strong morals/I love to dance/Should build a skate park

Biking: Bike ride, community safety/Biking/Gardening, biking, police/Speak Somali, Arabic,
Bicycles, Police Brutality/

Skills/Connections: Center for Fathering,send men that need resources/Certified peer support
specialist/Chief and Baker, will help do outreach/custodian. culinary arts/I work for
Messiah/Mad Dads, Urban Ventures, Pastor/MCC Church/Message therapist/Our
Saviors&getting robbed of all your personal belongings/Public speaking/Read, speak, public art
projects/Reading program for kids/Ties to Our Savior Community Services/Volunteer work w/o
lifting; know about homelessness, outgoing, good at talking about issues/with Lutheran
Colportage. Break Away does food distrib. there every other week Tues/teacher/Spanish, plays
guitar for the lord/Speak Somali, Arabic, Bicycles, Police Brutality/

Substances: chemical health, senior services/drug users off the street/drugs off this corner/ Food,
drugs at night, safety for people/Going to school for addiction counseling/in recovery!/put an end
to crack/Recovery

Safety: Bike ride, community safety/neighborhood violence/safety/Our Saviors&getting robbed
of all your personal belongings/Public Violations/Safety day/night for all people/Safety day/night
for all people/Safety without the police/stop the madness/Battered women, getting
involved/neighborhood violence&safety/ Food, drugs at night, safety for people/ Gardening,
biking, police/police - FBI Raids, March Saturday/Police brutality/Police brutality/Police
brutality, hip hop/Safety without the police/Speak Somali, Arabic, Bicycles, Police Brutality

Education: College&Education/ Living with more joy and people, jobs, housing, education,
self-improvement/School/Student in human services/teacher

Community: Community, Detroit/encouraging building and sustaining solid relationships/Multi-
cultural harmony/ women's issues, health/Living with more joy and people, jobs, housing,
education, self-improvement

Health&Wellness: community health foundation/Cultural Wellness Center/ women's issues,
health/Food, drugs at night, safety for people/Gardening, biking, police/young, music, food,
Spiritual Health: Employment,spiritual needs/Depression, discuss need God/Higher
Living with more joy and people, jobs, housing, education, self-improvement/more prayer in da
hood!/Business training, mentorship, prayer

Family/Youth: Get kids involved! (Paige organized a skater event for youth at Elliot
Park)/Kids/Kids activities/Kids, bi-lingual/Staying away from past and looking to future with
kids/Teenagers/Volunteer with kids; prostitution/young, music, food, gentrification/kids at
risk/ME. my family/take care of my daughter

Miscellaneous: abortion/Call for more info lives by VA/Earthan Associates Inc/Free Spirit/i like
new ideals/I'm not sure but I like the Amen Corner/NAAAI/positive change (Raymond worked at
KFAI for 30 years)/To be productive/To be productive/prostitution/gentrification/women's
issues,/Economy/Political/political        processes/Senior      Services/Better        Public
Transportation/Business admin, business owner/Business training, mentorship/Community

Critique and Lessons Learned

This project went from idea to action very quickly and that enabled certain problems. The team
had to organize the activities of the two days. There were 4 people willing and able to be at the
site for both Thursday and Friday in July through early September. This was changed as
volunteer’s schedules reduced this possibility and this demanded the recruiting and training of
additional volunteers.

There was so much going into just having things work that there was initially no system for
collecting notes, or doing as good a job of sign-ups as we would have liked. While those were
developed nicely by the end of the project, we could have better clarified expectations and
provided better training for volunteers.

Similarly, certain aspects of the project's vision, like the information kiosk, were too intensive to
get together immediately, though thanks to the dedicated design of Donyelle X and the assistance
and detailed research of Dee Henry Williams, Shea Peoples, and Nikki Coates, we should be
prepared to make the kiosk a success when it comes to life.

The rapidity of events and the newness of the organizers working together also resulted in a
relative lack of mutual reporting and communication, for example, while two organizers were
taking in sign-ups, compiling them, and following up with potential volunteers, other organizers
didn't realize there was a set and working system for that well into the process. Similarly, lack of
clarity about reporting timelines and guidelines to the Community Engagement Committee and
General Meeting may have contributed to lack of awareness of where things were at between
meetings, though reports were carefully prepared for both of these meetings and the culture of
questioning ensured people learned what they wanted to know.

Bigger sound system, and the introduction of food and drink were important factors increasing
our success. More and more it is clear that if you want to attract people you need to be an "event"
a place where something is happening, and both of these greatly contribute to making that a
reality. Moreover, experienced moderators are essential and Dee, Maurice, and the growing crew
of moderators do an outstanding job of bringing people in, making them comfortable, and
connecting them into the circle and into speaking.

Length of time and time of day was an issue, as people with standard full time jobs are unable to
attend the corner as volunteers, though there is a large population of such people who bring their
energy and wisdom to the corner on their way home from work. As such, we might consider
changing the time to 5-7pm in the future, though only determined through experimentation as
that would still hit peak traffic and we have learned that 3 hours straight is extremely taxing for
the energies of our volunteers, particularly those responsible for holding the space.

Despite the essential help/funding of the neighborhood association as a whole, whose
strengthening is the goal of this project, certain lacks in our community and also the
unaccountable actions of certain individuals have significantly reduced the effectiveness of the
Amen Corner. The fact that the social networks of our Ventura Village Association don't reach
most of the types of people that live in the neighborhood mean that despite our impressive size
and commitment, we were in many ways starting at square one in this endeavor, and as we
become an even bigger and more diverse organization in all the ways that Phillips is diverse, the
easier it will be to bring out and connect all sorts of people into fun, community, and
transformative events and projects like the Amen Corner.


Many thanks to Jim Cook, Dee Henry Williams, Elisabeth Geschiere, David Boehnke, Maurice
Doniphan, Kathleen Neeley, and Jason Rodney, as well as to our new volunteers and to Bob
Albee, who helped ensure that the corner had the equipment it needed.

The Amen Corner truly became a town square where people could gather, exchange ideas and
opinions, vent their frustration, express their joys and fears, and discover and build community.
It's amazing to think how revolutionary it is, in our efficient, fast-paced, slowly homogenizing,
often alienating world, to create a space where people are asking you what you care about, what
you have been wondering, what stories you have to tell, and what skills you can share. That was
what was, and can continue to be, so transformative about this project: that some folks show up
with thoughts or things to give, and other folks come with needs to be filled. Those might even
differ for an individual depending on the day, but the Amen Corner has the potential to be a
literal point in the community where people can connect and ask, “What do you need that I might
have?” or “Here's what I need; do any of you have that?”

The Amen Corner is an exciting, community building project that has the power to greatly
increase the name, reach, and effectiveness of the Ventura Village Association. And while the
project is not cheap, it is certainly cost effective, and making the corner more and more of an
"event" has the potential to make community building, publicity, and recruitment much easier in
the future--go on down to the corner!

We look forward to continuing this project, growing an ever bigger hub of neighborhood
engagement and community transformation, aided by an information kiosk, poster, and the
experience of running this on a consistent basis to a high standard. We hope this can occur as
soon possible, and would greatly appreciate your involvement, advice, and other contributions as
we move forward to making Ventura Village Neighborhood Association on the forefront of
innovate, exciting, and effective community building work, taking advantage of the amazing
power of those who live and work in our Phillips community.

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