Sabathani salutes community leaders with creative showcase

(l-r) Sharon Sayles Belton, Monique Linder, Willie Mae Demmings, Tracey Williams-Dillard and Judge Pamela Alexander (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Founded in 1966, Sabathani Community Center has a history of community support and being a focal point for community identity, empowerment and social change.

On Thursday, April 6, the center hosted the “Community Showcase,” a celebration honoring members of the community for their commitment to years of work and contributions. The event put a creative spin on the typical award ceremony by having young people from Horizon Youth Program portray the honorees of Sabathani’s Community Room as a child, presenting their youthful dreams and aspirations. The honorees were then awarded for what they’ve accomplished today. Shed G. and KMOJ’s Q Bear helped with the hosting duties.

Each person received a 2017 Leadership Award, as they shared a vision for today’s society. Honorees included former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, Honorable Judge LaJune Lange, Honorable Judge Pamela Alexander and Tracey Williams-Dillard, publisher of the 82-year-old Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder, the oldest Black-owned publication in Minnesota. The late hometown hero Prince was also honored for his generous contributions to Sabathani Communtiy Center and the community at large. His sister Tyka Nelson accepted the award on his behalf.

Tyka Nelson accepted the award on behalf of her late legendary brother Prince (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

The honorees discussed what influenced them to become who they are today. Said Williams-Dillard, “I would like to say the historical perspective of the [Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder] has changed, but at the same time, it hasn’t. We are still needed to right the wrongs — some of the same issues my grandfather faced back in 1934.”

Other notables were basketball start Andra Griffin, formerly of the Super Sonics; Senator Jeff Hayden; educator Rosita Blanch; activist and Minneapolis mayoral candidate Al Flowers; entertainer Sheila E, whose representative attended in her absence; Wayne Glanton, the architect who built the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder building; and Steve Belton, who received the award for Ernestine Belton and Willie Mae Demmings.

Griffin said he always wanted to be a basketball player, “But that wasn’t the only thing I wanted to accomplish; I wanted to make my community proud. Being unsuccessful was not an option. I wanted to be an educator, represent my community and motivate young men.”

Senator Hayden, honored for his community and political service in the Black community, was elected to the House of Representatives in 2008 and joined the Senate in 2011. “It’s not where you are today; it’s where you are going… Don’t let your situation today define what your dreams or goals are,” said Hayden. He went on to say he would like to see violence reduced in the community.

Al Flowers (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Judge Lange was honored for her commitment to human rights as a trial judge for 21 years. She recalled the case of a murder of a 13-year-old girl, riding her bike to school. Lange said the girl’s father was suspected of the crime. He was later exonerated.  “They…found, arrested and had a trial for the person who killed the child. That was an emotional case for all the family, relatives and community that was impacted.”

Flowers was honored for his commitment to Black organizations. “We have a long fight to go, but I will continue my efforts and let God do the rest.”

Flowers expressed concern about the drug use among young people. “It’s about our youth and coming together and filling those auditoriums like they do in the White communities to discuss this issue.”

Former Mayor Sayles Belton — ​the ​ first African American and first woman mayor of the city of Minneapolis, was​ honored for her service as mayor from 1994-2001. “Before I was the mayor,” said Sayles Belton, “I was on the city council for the Eighth Ward.” She later became president of the city council. “I think the fact I was elected to that position and later became the mayor had everything to do with growing up in this neighborhood.”

Sharon Sayles Belton (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Sayles Belton told the MSR she has always had a passion for politics, advocating for political change and public policies that benefit the community where she lived. “At some point in my life, people in the neighborhood encouraged me to run for public office. I was elected to city council from this very neighborhood.”

At least 20 people applied to be the mayor of Minneapolis when she first applied for the position. “It was a tough race, but in the end, it was two of us facing off. My opponent was a conservative, and I was the woman running. Lots of people door knocked and made phone calls. In the end, I’m glad I had the support of the community. Some things we couldn’t change as much as we wanted to, but we focused on families, housing, etc. That infrastructure is needed to get ahead.”

Sayles Belton suggested current mayoral candidates would need to focus on issues most important to the citizens. “The key is to be in conversation with the community. You can have your own vision, but it should be aligned with the needs of the people.  What investments should we make in the community that will create a long-term benefit?  If people feel like they don’t have an opportunity, they are more willing to participate in chaos. When you have less chaos, safe streets and safe communities, you get investments.  When you get investments, you get jobs.” said Sayles Belton.

Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to iphifer@spokesman-recorder.com.

See more photos from Chris Juhn below: