AMEN CORNER REPORT 2011 Introduction 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 choir”. The Amen Corner concept originally had three components, the first two of which came to fruition: 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 Williams. 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. Age 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 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 39%. 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 community. Race 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 Percentage of 49 4% 20 20 3% 3% 1% <1 ≈100 AC % % % % % Participants by Race: Percentage of People in 34 19 24 9% N/A N/A 3% 9% ≈100 VV by % % % % Race*: *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, gentrification/ Spiritual Health: Employment,spiritual needs/Depression, discuss need God/Higher Consciousness/ 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. Conclusion 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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