50th Anniversary event reminds all that the struggle continues
The social and political climate of unrest during the 1960s in this country, and especially in Minneapolis, helped paved the way for the founding of The Way, a youth educational and cultural center on Minneapolis’ North Side in 1966. The Way “responded to the challenge for social change,” wrote Mahmoud El-Kati, the center’s educational director, in a four-page historical paper presented at the 50th anniversary event.
Nearly 60 people attended Saturday’s ceremony at Jones Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center (UROC) honoring The Way’s founding. Almost a third of the attendees were young people.
“I had self-esteem issues, but by going to The Way, I learned that Black was beautiful. I learned I came from a culture and a people that were proud.”
Shondra Dickson was among those who shared their personal reflections on time spent at The Way. Her late mother wanted “an extension” of her family, which she believed the center and its activities would be for her then-teenage daughter.
“I learned about me at The Way,” said Dickerson. “I had self-esteem issues, but by going to The Way, I learned that Black was beautiful. I learned I came from a culture and a people that were proud.”
“The Way [was] one of the places where I did positive things around good Black men,” added artist Charles Caldwell, who lamented the fact that the present Fourth Precinct police station now stands where the center once did.
Dr. Josie Johnson, then a Minneapolis Urban League community organizer, recalled the rumors and speculation about The Way and its staff: “It was identified as a troublemaking group. It was not a troublemaking organization for me. The Way [was] a model for me and those around us on what needed to be done on a continuous basis.”
“The things that come out of that building — NorthPoint, KMOJ. So much came out of that building,” declared Spike Moss, a former youth leader who served as The Way’s executive director for 12 years (1974-86). But he quickly credits his predecessor Syl Davis: “The greatest thing that Syl did was gave us an identity,” said Moss.
Many Black women also played a role in The Way, said El-Kati.
“We appreciated the men who were beside us and the respect they gave [us],” said Verlena Matey-Keke, the center’s education department coordinator and later board chair (1989-90).
Members of a “youth panel” pointed out that some conditions that gave rise to The Way still exist today. When a question was asked about “Black-on-Black crime,” both Rashad Turner of Black Lives Matter St. Paul and Black Lives Matter Minnesota’s Lena K. Gardner expressed their displeasure with the term, but not the issue.
Turner said too often the media and others use it “to deflect…and to ignore” addressing the real problems.
“It’s a myth and a distraction,” added Gardner. “It’s not that Black folk don’t commit crime, but… White folk [do] the same thing, but you never hear the term ‘White-on-White crime.’ Therefore it is a distraction [to] undermine the issue.”
When a young female stood and expressed that she and others like her often aren’t respected by older adults, Johnson reassured her that she and many other elders in the room aren’t like that. She and Ora Hokes later spent time talking with the young woman.
“We are going to have disagreements, but still we have to show agape love,” stated Hokes. “If Black lives really matter, we have to start acting like it.”
Johnson told the MSR, “The purpose of this gathering was to help us remember that the struggle continues.”
Adrian Mack, who moderated the event, said it turned out to be an “intergenerational connection” between those who were around when The Way existed and those who are around today. “We are hearing and seeing that narrative today between young people and their elders…being able to have a dialogue.”
“I think we should have conversations with our elders,” said Macalester College Assistant Professor Brian Lozenski, one of the youth panelists along with Turner and Gardner.
“I was raised with the value of relationships with my elders,” noted Gardner. “Dr. Johnson is one of them.”
Hearing the elders, as well as the young adults was greatly appreciated by the young people in attendance: “It was a good learning experience,” said 13-year-old Heavenly Henderson. Both Heavenly and her 11-year-old sister Queen are in Voice of Culture, a North Minneapolis-based dance and culture group.
Ieshia Dobbs, age 22, was there on the strong encouragement from Appetite for Change co-founder Princess Titus. The organization is on West Broadway Avenue in North Minneapolis and operates a restaurant on West Broadway as well. Dobbs and several others who work there attended The Way event.
“If I was going to bring my daughter [Princess-Ann], I certainly was going to bring some of the young people I work with,” said Titus, who learned about The Way’s celebration after meeting El-Kati.
Vusumuzi Zulu, who edited The Way’s newspaper and was assistant education director when it closed, said, “There were many great things said by folk, and it was a long spectrum. I love these youngsters. They are the best of us.”
“The young people showed out and the old folk showed out, too,” surmised El-Kati. “The discussion was rich, and it might lead somewhere.”
“This was one of those days that we used to do – meet and talk,” said Johnson. “It’s what we need more of.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.