-Photo by James L. Stroud, Jr.
It is one thing to look at what’s wrong with North Minneapolis. It’s another altogether to see what’s wrong and decide to something to help. Especially if you happen to be from that community and know firsthand what a bad rap the whole place gets because the bad apples get so much attention in the mainstream media.
University of Minnesota sophomore and North Minneapolis resident Philip Binns plans to make a career of accentuating the positive, pitching in to intercede in young lives and make certain as few of them as possible wind up living lives headed hell-bent for a dangerous dead-end.
Youngsters are, of course, the future. As many of these teens go in life, so goes a significant part of North Minneapolis.
Salvaging community youth is Binns’ ambition upon graduation. Meanwhile, like a lot of us, he’s contending with the here and now of today’s economy. Starting with the price tag on his degree.
He’s already forking over upwards of $20,000 in tuition at a school where increase hikes are an annual concern. At a school in Minnesota, where higher education is more and more a casualty of state budget slashing.
He pays his way with loans, scholarships, and work-study two days a week in his dorm as an office assistant. He’s also an usher at Hennepin Theatre Trust, usually assigned to one of the Hennepin Avenue venues — the Orpheum Theatre, State Theatre or Pantages Theatre. It’s a part-time job he particularly enjoys.
“It’s really social,” Binns says, “interacting with the public. I’m a people person.” He adds, “There are nice perks to it. I enjoy theater and get to see the shows.” Indeed, he gets paid to punch a clock, change into his uniform and, once patrons are tended to, enjoy Broadway hits like Wicked, Jersey Boys and more. Along with entertainers like Anita Baker and comedian Kevin Hart.
Does the pressure of having to eventually repay school loans get to him? “Well, kind of. But, I know I’ll [do it] over time. I have to focus on now. On getting done in four years, no longer than that.”
Sensible. Why owe for any more semesters than necessary? In addition to keeping a lid on the big picture, Binns has to keep an eye on the small things. Little incidentals like food and clothing.
The daily meal plan at his dorm keeps him fed on weekdays. Weekends, he goes home to Mom. “She loves to feed me. She makes all this food.” To break up the routine, he’ll step in occasionally at one of the countless fast food joints and restaurants lining Washington Avenue, a main drag that runs through campus.
“Clothes…I’m not really a big shopper. Maybe about two, three times a semester. I make the most of what I have.”
His lifestyle, after all — going to class, hanging out on campus, lounging around his room — doesn’t exactly call for fashionable gear. We are at a Starbuck’s on campus, and he’s merely clean and well-groomed in jeans, sneakers and a sweatshirt. “I keep presentable. I don’t need a chain and all that stuff.”
Instead of subscribing to a local gym, Binns stays in shape by walking over to the campus rec center and working out there. “You’re already paying for it in the tuition, so you might as well use it.” The same for getting around between the three campuses — West Bank, East Bank and St. Paul — on the Campus Connector shuttle bus. It’s only free to visitors moving around campus or going from one end to the other. Students, whether they use it or not, have already paid for it as part of their tuition.
Binns is working on his Bachelor of Science degree in youth research and development with a minor in social justice. As he nears graduation the efforts will step up, but even as he’s studying Binns is researching potential fields of employment, “mostly leads like social working, counseling, juvenile services.”
He readily says of his motivation, “[It comes from] personal experience from growing up on the North Side. I see a lot of kids who are on their own ’cause their parents do drugs and stuff. You see them up and down the street, just guided the wrong way. [I want] to help them out.”
One might well expect him to have first and foremost on his mind simply getting out of the area and staying out, probably with an eye on a nice neighborhood in the suburbs. But Philip Binns chooses to stay and improve things.
“What you see in the media is not all there is to North Minneapolis,” says Binns. “And what is there is worth saving.”
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.