Karen Kelley-Ariwoola is a north Minneapolis resident and the former vice president for community philanthropy at The Minneapolis Foundation.
Eighteen years in philanthropy and 17 years as a resident of north Minneapolis provided me with a special and perhaps unique perch from which to watch the response to the May 22, 2011, tornado. One poignant lesson emerged that has forever changed me: Relationships are the currency that builds community.
This lesson is especially sweet in light of the longstanding reputation of north Minneapolis as a place where relationships among community leaders are not strong. As a funder and resident I've had the privilege of knowing many of those who lead the work on the north side, and I have longed for the more coordinated and collaborative community building model. My experience in the aftermath of the tornado revealed the inherent capacity of north side leaders to link arms for change. From the moments after the tornado, a renewed sense of caring and concern for one another kicked in and the humanness of our community became a story bigger than the tornado itself.
The camaraderie that I saw played out in my neighborhood, after my own house and block were hit by the storm, was evident as well in the overall leadership of the tornado response led by a group called the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT). This group of nonprofit leaders met multiple times a week following the storm to create a strategy for meeting the needs of the tornado survivors, and has maintained an ongoing connection.
Contrary to what is often said about the absence of quality relationships in north Minneapolis, these individuals — all from various areas of expertise, and many without prior connection — worked to build a cohesive team that is now credited with designing and implementing an effective community response to the tornado.
We know that our needs as people are interconnected with physical and mental health, housing, education and jobs, all related to the well-being and stability of families and the broader community. Working together across the proverbial silos, the NCRT achieved its well-documented outcomes with a modest amount of resources.
In response to the realization that 67 percent of households in north Minneapolis rely on some form of Hennepin County assistance, the response team has revised its vision to include the goal of reducing poverty in north Minneapolis. The team's work revealed the cumulative impact on north Minneapolis of decades of human suffering, including poverty, the effect of the recession and the overwhelming foreclosure epidemic. Together with government officials and others, the NCRT is building a new vision for north Minneapolis that envisions prosperity for all.
As Margaret Mead once said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." The history books will write the story of the north Minneapolis tornado of 2011. They will tell us how many trees fell, how many lives were lost and houses damaged. But let the history books also show that north Minneapolis is a stronger community in the aftermath of the storm, because relationships served as the currency for creating change.