Benefits raise funds for tornado victims

Vocalist Jamecia Bennett (l) and dance performers from Folklorico were among the entertainers at Sabathani’s benefit. -Photos by Yvette Griffea Gray

By Dwight Hobbes
Contributing Writer

One of the worst memories of Hurricane Katrina was the fiasco of the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) days-late-and-dollars short response compounding the disaster. When a devastating tornado struck North Minneapolis May 22, concerned Twin Citians had no intention of sitting on their hands while the same inaction and ineptitude left victims languishing.
Plans for benefits began hatching virtually the next day. This proved prescient, since FEMA has rejected a request for aid, claiming Minnesota — which is about to shut its government down due to a budget that’s hemorrhaging money — has enough resources to help property owners and apartment renters who’ve seen their homes severely damaged if not completely destroyed.
Three such events in Minneapolis were Northside: A Twin Cities Community Benefit at the State Theatre on June 12; North Minneapolis Rising at Sabathani Community Center, also on June 12; and North Minneapolis Tornado Relief Benefit at the Dakota Jazz Club, June 7.
Northside: A Twin Cities Community Benefit, with its venue and stellar acts including Soul Asylum, Darnell Davis & The Remnant, and headliner Sounds of Blackness, had the highest profile. Host Robyne Robinson set the tone, announcing to the audience, “Today we’re all Northsiders.”
In the spirit of truly pitching in, Historic Theater Trust (HTT), which operates the State Theatre, donated the space and staffed the event with volunteers. Asia Security, Inc. provided security, all but two of whom were volunteers. Wherever it did not violate contractual stipulations of service, HTT administered the evening without charge. Media Savant Communications Co. was the promoter.
Martin Keller, head of Media Savant Communications, was disappointed by the turnout, roughly 700, about one-third the capacity. “The public,” he reflects, “could have stepped up more and supported the event. A full house would have been good.”
He was, though, pleased with the results, “generally very pleased, especially with a line-up that was put on-stage within the course of a week or so.” So far, tracking how the money will get where victims need it to go, he states, “We are still settling with the State Theatre and accounting for all in-kind donations of time, talent, free rental of [the building] before knowing the total dollar amount and in-kind amounts, which were significant.”
“We are seriously considering offering a CD of the event,” Keller adds. “All the proceeds would go to the North Side.”
The Sabathani event North Minneapolis Rising, hosted by V.J. Smith of noted community activists MAD DADS, featured, among other artists, Shiloh Gospel Choir, Best Kept Secret and Kimberly Love. Sandra Freeman attended and had a wonderful time. “Did I ever get a good feeling!” she said.
“Being in the midst of others coming together for a common cause gave me hope. There were levels of joy. Singing from folks that I have not heard before. Two Latin groups there were so full of energy and color from kids to elders. [A] marching band and spoken word.  It was fabulous.”
Sabathani Community Center Director Clyde Turner couldn’t be more delighted with the results. “I am extremely pleased with the effort, compassion, commitment from my staff, volunteers and board of directors. I think once the money is all collected, we would have raised about $7,000 for the tornado victims in this short period of time.
“The [proceeds] will go directly to the Minneapolis Foundation Recovery Funds for the families involved with the tornado,” said Turner. “I don’t know how swiftly the families will [receive] the aid. The Minneapolis Foundation will be able [to say].”
Sabathani was out in front of things before marshalling personnel and resources for the benefit. Pam Young, development and communications manager, notes that the organization had already, “sent 7,000 pounds of food to MNIC, a charter school at 2507 Fremont Avenue N., for distribution to residents of the affected area…and has provided food and clothing to 64 families in need of emergency relief.”
“Sabathani came together in grassroots fashion,” Young added, “loyal to the tradition in which we began, to sponsor this concert. We had about 12 staff on the committee, including non-Sabathani employees, who served as very dedicated volunteers. Sabathani is always ready, willing and prompt to respond to any immediate need in the Twin Cities. We felt a leadership responsibility to extend support beyond our South Minneapolis boundary to assist these families in crisis.
“Sabathani opens its doors to anyone in need. With so many families in North Minneapolis already struggling with everyday needs, and then to deal with this kind of disaster, is devastating to the community and has a ripple effect when the most severely affected families must survive with nearly nothing and have to rely on the households of other family members,” said Young. “We want the community see us as a symbol of strength and to ignite hope and optimism that is so desperately needed right now.”
Emailed attempts to interview anyone at renowned nightspot the Dakota Jazz Club & Restaurant were unsuccessful. Dakota events coordinator Joe Doermann responded by directing the request be sent to owner Lowell Pickett. Or marketing director Kristen Mors. Or general manager Martina Priadka. Or marketing director Kristen Mors. A message was sent to all three, asking how pleased the Dakota was with the results of the benefit, how proceeds were being directed to tornado victims, and how swiftly victims will realize that aid. As of this writing, answers have yet to materialize.
Asked whether Sabathani Community Center would be willing to get involved the next time such a catastrophe befalls the community, Clyde Turner states, “In tragic situations like this one, I feel we to have try and step up every time there is an event of such emergency.”

Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to