Grant promotes involvement

Minneapolis set aside funds to promote immigrant neighborhood unity.

Vadim Lavrusik

Abia Ali has had to overcome racism and prejudice while trying to get involved in her neighborhood community.

Ali, treasurer of the West Bank Community Coalition, said she has endured prejudice from people who are part of neighborhood organizations because she is a Somali immigrant.

“It is disappointing they are pushing me out just because we are different people of color, but I am still your neighbor,” Ali said.

In an attempt to resolve such issues and encourage immigrant and non-English speaking resident involvement in neighborhood groups, the City of Minneapolis Department of Community Planning and Economic Development set aside $24,000 to create the Bridging Communities Grant Program.

City officials asked the University’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs to design and administer the grant program, which will provide applicable neighborhood groups with up to $5,000 grants to fund programs that increase immigrant and non-English speaking residents’ participation in neighborhood groups.

The center introduced guidelines of the program at a conference two weeks ago and plans on disbursing the grant money in January.

Bob Cooper, Minneapolis’ senior Neighborhood Revitalization Program and Citizen Participation specialist, said the city is interested in seeing what ideas will come from the program.

Some of the proposals will be “beefed-up” versions of programs neighborhoods already have, and others will be more innovative, Cooper said.

Ali said the West Bank Community Coalition will be applying for a grant.

Applications must be submitted by Dec. 1 to the center.

“It is really important (for) all ethnic groups to be involved in their neighborhood groups,” Ali said. “We all want what’s best: A safe, clean neighborhood.”

Ali will propose several ideas for how the grant money will be used in her community. One of the proposals includes using the grant money to create translated versions of neighborhood newsletters, which will help communicate issues to non-English speaking residents.

Another idea would be to use funds to organize a cookout, which has foods from all the different ethnic groups in the neighborhood.

Ali, who lives in Riverside Plaza, said although she is a member of several neighborhood organizations, she feels disconnected from the neighborhood’s governing bodies.

“The actions of neighborhood associations are going to affect us because this is our neighborhood too and it is important we have a say,” Ali said.

She said an important factor in encouraging involvement of immigrants within neighborhood groups and creating a sense of unity is for residents to understand and “respect the differences in one another’s cultures.”

Cooper said increasing immigrant and non-English speaking residents’ involvement in neighborhood groups could affect the way the government functions because they’re such a large part of the city population.

Barbara Ronningen, international immigrant specialist at the State Demographic Center, said when a school district considers merging with a neighboring district due to a decrease in enrollment, immigrants are sometimes the main factor in deciding whether a school stays open or closes.

“In smaller cities they have a larger impact because of such high proportions of immigrant children in the school,” Ronningen said.

She said Minnesota is a popular place to immigrate because of charitable organizations that offer assistance to people who move here, especially to refugees.

“This is why the immigrant voice is important,” Cooper said. “Because they are a part of our community and have opinions and ideas just like any other citizens.”

Cooper said the center will hold another conference within a year to evaluate the program and get feedback from neighborhood groups.

Kris Nelson, director of the Neighborhood Planning for Community Revitalization at the center, said the amount of funding each neighborhood organization receives depends on many things, including the number of neighborhood residents who would benefit from the program.

Nelson said groups will use their funding to pay for events, materials and salary increases for current staff, all of which will be used to increase immigrant and non-English speaking resident involvement in its organization.

“Immigrants account for all population growth in the last 10 years and their involvement is important to the communities in which they live,” he said.