First Friday Twin Cities, hosted by Andre “Debonaire” McNeal, returned with a bang on Friday, February 3. “Noir 2, A Black History Month Celebration,’ had attendees dressed in all black. Hosted by Darnell Demarco with music provided by DJ Dell Dilla and DJ Hollywood Hot Rod, this month’s honorees were Lonte Hill, Tommy and Ursala McNeal and Anika Robbins.
Originally from Bakersfield, California, Lonte Hill commuted to Minnesota in 1996 via a choreography contract. “I help a lot of people,” said Hill. “I do a lot of behind-the-scenes work and not necessarily marketing what I do.
“I have been involved in the youth work arena for over 25 years,” continued Hill. “I worked at the Bridge for Youth and I did a lot of street outreach and youth advocacy work throughout Minneapolis. I helped start an event called Youth Connect. It is sort of a one-stop shop to service youth in the community.
“My youth work journey led me to do some work in Brooklyn Center and Brooklyn Park, where I was part of the youth violence initiative.” In 2010, Hill started his consulting firm. “Along my journey, I have assisted a variety of people [by] providing strategies for business solutions and marketing. And, those solutions have been successful,” Hill said.
Last year, Hill was a part of the marketing and enrollment campaign for T.R.U.T.H. Preparatory Academy, “and within 60 days from April to June 2016 we enrolled over 200 students.”
Now in 2017 he plans to take on the role of a “business activist.” He wants to help people of color strategize their businesses in effective ways where they can measure profits and understand where their brand is going.
Tommy McNeal is a 41-year-old native of Chicago, Illinois. He and his wife Ursala have been together for 18 years 15 of them as man and wife. They have three children together, one son and two daughters.
Tommy has worked with Comcast Communications for the last 15 years. “I think [Andre McNeal] likes what we [he and his partner Terry Austin] have done with our company, Positive Image, over the last 10 years, and we are community active.”
Positive Image is a nonprofit 501(c)3. It’s an organization that tries to sponsor community, group, and family-orientated events. “We have five events that we host throughout the year,” explains Tommy. “The father-daughter dance is coming up the 26th [of February], and it is five years running. It’s an opportunity for daughters to spend an evening with their fathers.”
They also have an annual Father’s Day Weekend Event, No Bullying School Drive, Mother-Son Dance, and an annual coat and winter apparel drive.
“We have been married for 15 years,” said Ursala. “But more importantly than that, [Tommy] is my best friend. I [have] worked for Wells Fargo for 13 years. I am also the chairperson for our affinity group at Wells Fargo, The Black African-American Connection. [We] hold signature events throughout the year to provide connection in the community. We also mentor girls at Patrick Henry High School and Girls in Action.”
On being nominated, “We do a good job connecting to the things that are happening in the community,” said Ursala. “We try to provide a bridge any way we can for people in our community. We do that from our heart, and I think that is what attracts us to [do] the good work that we do. I think because we do that from our heart, people notice that.”
The third and final honoree is Anika Robbins. She has been a business owner for over 25 years. “I have also set out to spend a considerable amount of time serving the community, whether it was through KMOJ or through the nonprofit, the ANIKA foundation.
“We don’t do these things for recognition,” said Robbins. “We do these things because we are trying to help. So, when you are honored by your peers, it is very humbling and it is something I am very grateful for.
“We started out to have a positive impact in the community,” said Robbins. “We recognize there are some opportunities and challenges to serve.”
The ANIKA foundation is a nonprofit organization with a goal of eliminating social and economic disparities in the community. The foundation’s three core impact areas are civic engagement, health, and economic development.
“One of our programs is the Women Empowered program,” said Robbins. “It is a financial education program where we help place people on a path to success through home ownership, entrepreneurship, and wealth creation.” They also have a social enterprise program, a youth business program, and they have hosted several programs focused on breast cancer awareness and healthy living.
“I have a lot of love for [Andre McNeal] and First Friday Twin Cities for recognizing me and the work that my husband [Dr. Juneau Robbins] have done together,” said Robbins. She and her husband own the Robbins Wellness Center in North Minneapolis.
“It is important [for] people to recognize how much power they have, and it begins with making heathier choices in diet, in civic engagement, voting, and making better financial decisions. We need to start laying a foundation for generational wealth creation.”
A First Fridays Twin Cities for March Madness Event will be held on Friday March 3. Honorees include, Dana Jorbert and Randy Carter as well as DJs Smoke Dee and Derrick Delite Stevens. Check out the First Fridays Twin Cities Facebook page.
Brandi D. Phillips welcomes reader comments to email@example.com.