‘Renaissance man’ takes setbacks in stride



Sean G. Phillips is the sort of individual who’s so interesting someone should write an article about him.

To start with, Phillips has more things going for him than a little bit. From February 2008 until June of last year, he was program manager/case advocate for the Family Strengthening Project at the Council on Crime and Justice in Minneapolis. It was singled out as one of the best organizations in the field of empowering incarcerated men to rejoin society and occupy a constructive place in their families.

He served as point person with Minnesota Department of Corrections, did report and grant writing, and created and cultivated partnerships with community-based organizations to provide family services.

In addition to considerably more hands-on administrative actions, both conventional and innovative, from family needs assessment and attending national conferences to designing project components and founding Family Strengthening Project’s newsletter, Phillips was a singularly impressive force in the vital fight and pitched battle against recidivism that chronically plagues our communities.

Which, regrettably, was not enough.

These economic times being what they are, federal funding, or rather the lack thereof, pulled the financial rug out from under everything he was accomplishing for himself and for families benefiting from his commitment to empowering communities.

Like a lot of people, Phillips got his pink slip. It didn’t, however, send him into the tailspin to which many succumb. He dusted off his résumé, hit the job ads, and, as could be expected, tightened his belt.

“I had to do more with less. Well, if not more, at least the same. Naturally, that meant changing my spending habits.”

Dining out on a regular basis abruptly was a thing of the past. “Instead of eating out maybe three, four times a week, it went to maybe that many times in the whole month. More like once, if at all. [Instead of] buying a new pair of pants every other week or so, it’s every two months.

“Getting by on unemployment, you make those checks stretch. Definitely shop less. You have to cut back. There’s no option.”

Has he found it necessary to hit the food and clothing shelves? “No. Not yet, anyway. It hasn’t come to that. But, if ever the need arose, I wouldn’t hesitate.”

Before The Family Strengthening Project, Phillips was in an entirely different line of work. As marketing consultant and freelance copywriter, he devised and fleshed out marketing plans and wrote advertising.

He has an idea or two about how professionals with such skill sets can put on their thinking caps and tread today’s tough economic waters. “There’s the corporate world. Cards. People are still buying greeting cards.”

A 2007 artist-in-residence and independent consultant at Lincoln Community School in Minneapolis, Phillips instructed middle-school students, instituting a creative writing program. He has applied his energy and abilities to outreach at community centers and was, at one point, youth program manager at Pillsbury United Communities.

His work with youth also includes a stint as child development technician for Minneapolis Public Schools. At St. Joseph’s Home for Children, Phillips counseled and monitored residents, did intake, and in general was an immediate presence, an integral influence on their rehabilitation.

If this isn’t enough, he’s a public speaker, having addressed Hennepin County officials on the matter of Extended Juvenile Jurisdiction Probation and having delivered at a Washington, D.C. conference “OFA Strong Practices, Bright Promises: Healthy Marriage and Responsible Fatherhood,” a well-received talk, “Leveraging Interns”.

So far as education goes, he’s a graduate of Minneapolis North High, Minneapolis Technical and Community College (marketing), and Metropolitan State University (marketing and advertising).

Phillip’s latest endeavor is Sean Garrison Studios, which he started several months ago in order to do a solo show of his artwork as a painter. Health concerns precluded that. By the time he had dealt with it, the studio had a new landlord and intended to, instead of renewing the lease, go in for renovations.

So, Phillips switched gears and came up with the March exhibition Fade 2 Blaq for which he was curator as well as one of the artists. The gallery turned out to literally be an open-and-shut thing, with the event being both a ribbon cutting and a closing of the doors.

Phillips takes it in stride. “Before I got out of the space, I wanted to make sure I did something with the space. Mission accomplished. I wanted to put up an exhibit, and I did. It also gave artists of color a chance to show their work. That doesn’t happen very often.”

He’s a strong believer in networking and has among his fond professional associates — friends, really — Susan Koshi a/k/a Lady Flava of Flava News Radio and, formerly of the Twin Cities (now based in Seattle), music producer Roger E. Lear. He also swung by Pearll “Da Black Pearll” Warren’s erotic poetry slam “Position 23” at Viva Brazil in February to keep up acquaintances and air his writing and performing chops.

There you have it. Sean G. Phillips, he of varied disciplines. One more thing: He also played semi-pro football for six seasons. “I like to think of myself,” he says, “as a renaissance man.”

No argument here.


Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.