Givens family contributions: Affordable housing, literature, history, education

(l-r) Archie Givens, Sr., Archie Givens, Jr., Roxanne Givens
(l-r) Archie Givens, Sr., Archie Givens, Jr., Roxanne Givens

Many African Americans migrated to the North from the South upon being declared free people. Most came for opportunities to experience a new life and to build new foundations for their newfound freedom. For many, this freedom would mean a new and unpredictable journey.

Towards the middle of the 20th century, this migration continued and brought with it a young man named Archie Givens who arrived in Minnesota from Texas. He graduated from West High School in Duluth, Minnesota and went on to attend college in Lincoln, Nebraska. He returned to Minneapolis where he met and married Phebe O’Shields. They had three children together.

The Givens spent time in various parts of Minnesota, exploring different business options before finally settling in Minneapolis. Archie Givens’ first business venture — the Givens Ice Cream Bar, located on Olson Highway and Lyndale Avenue North in Minneapolis — was a huge success. He later began working for the Minneapolis Housing Authority and developed an interest in affordable senior housing as well as housing for minorities, transients and youth.

Givens was approached by a group of investors interested in rehabbing a property for a nursing home on 46th Street and 4th Ave South in South Minneapolis. As a real estate entrepreneur, Givens found rehabilitation a growing interest. He and his wife rehabilitated several properties that they turned into affordable housing for seniors and founded Givens Development.

In 1972 the Givens family founded the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, whose mission is to enrich cultural understanding and learning through programs that advance and celebrate African American literature and writers. The foundation currently sponsors events that support youth in elementary, middle and high school, and hosts the annual Givens Black Writers retreat, as well as many writer’s workshops and conferences. The University of Minnesota continues to host the Givens Collection of African American Literature.

After Archie Givens’ death in 1974 at the age of 54, Givens Development is still going strong under the direction of Archie Givens, Jr. Roxanne Givens, Archie’s daughter, is currently working on the opening of an African American Museum on 3rd Avenue in South Minneapolis. Construction and legal issues have set the project behind, but in the Givens mode, “It shall happen,” said Archie Givens, Jr.,

Archie Givens, Jr. is CEO and director of the Legacy and Development Corporation and the managing partner of the Rainbow Development Corporation, which developed and manages 1,100 affordable housing units. He received a BA degree in history and humanity at the University of Minnesota and has served as president of the U of M Alumni Association.

He also played football for the U of M Golden Gophers and was the volunteer chief of the Alumni Association when TCF Bank Stadium was built and opened in 2009.

“My family has been going well, and mother is still quite involved… I have one daughter living in Chicago, and she teaches at the Chicago Institute of Arts, and I have two grandsons. My other daughter died at a very young age. We have been through a lot of changes, but we must keep on going.”

Asked for some words for the young and upcoming, he offered, “Education. As much as you can find. You also need a path in the community to work within while looking for opportunities and ways to succeed. As for me, I remain very much committed to community work. I will not be retiring anytime soon.”

The Eighth Annual Givens Foundation Golf Classic will be held on Monday, August 18, 2015, at The Oak Ridge Country Club in Hopkins, Minnesota.

Raymond Jackson welcomes reader responses to rayjack49@yahoo.com.