When fellow MSR columnist Charles Hallman told me he was going to interview Brett Buckner about some opportunities through the 100 Days of Summer and Summer Games events he was helping to create for Northside community youth, I had to join him.
To many, you see, Bucker is well known for his activism that led him to become president of the Minneapolis NAACP during the early 2000s. I, however, first met him when he was an outstanding student-athlete at Minneapolis North and a member of the Polars football team during the mid-late 1980s.
What has Buckner been up to lately? What is his main purpose now?
The Northside native answered the first question in detail with Hallman, and while talking to fellow community leaders Mike “Talley” Tate and Mike Shelton at North Commons Park in Minneapolis, the response to the second question was crystal clear.
“I want to help revitalize the North Side using sports, games, and leadership as a tool,” Buckner said with passion. “I’m a Northsider,” he continued. “I’m a North Side kid.”
It has been quite the journey for Buckner, as he is one of many who strive to rejuvenate the Northside community by focusing on youth development and encouragement. It’s a journey that he credits with instilling the drive to give back to the school and community that gave so much to him growing up.
After completing his eighth-grade year at Franklin Junior High School, Buckner chose to stay in the neighborhood and attend North, though there were other schools to choose from at the time. [Minneapolis] Henry was my home school,” he said smiling, “but Breck and DeLaSalle were recruiting me for basketball. I didn’t even play basketball. I played football.”
Buckner entered North in 1986, and by his junior year in the fall of 1988, he was the starting quarterback of a team that finished 1-5 in the Minneapolis City Conference.
The following year proved to be magical as Buckner used his quickness, passing ability, and leadership to team with running back Brian Sheppard, defensive back LaMar Elliot and linebacker Jonas Dixon to lead the Polars to a 5-1 conference record.
Buckner acknowledged that his experience at North with legendary coach Richard Robinson helped him develop and grow as a person. “We had three pretty rough years in football,” Buckner said. “Everything came together my senior year because we all stayed together. From that moment on I’ve always learned to stay the course. Coach Rob instilled that in me to never give up and to stay the course.”
After a field trip to a Black college fair, Buckner knew where he wanted to go. “I wanted to go to one school and one school only,” he said. “That was Hampton [University].”
He explained why he chose to attend the HBCU in Virginia. “Recruiters and alumni at Hampton came in all suited up,” he explained. “The school had everything I wanted at the time. It had the great location, great academic tradition,” he said with emphasis. “I needed to get away.”
His plan was to walk on the football team, but the 5’-7” 155-pound speedster had a change of heart once preseason workouts started. “The coaches told me I had the ability to play at this level,” Buckner said smiling.
“Got out there, saw some cats running around, and I said, ‘I don’t know how much I want it right now.’ It was the first time I saw cats who were 6’-4” and 280 that were able to run as fast as me.”
His decision to give up football at HU is a choice he stands by, spending three years at the school before eventually earning his degree from Metropolitan State University. Despite not playing football, Buckner is comfortable where he is right now.
“In hindsight, I might have like to strap them up,” he said. “But if I did, I might not be doing what I’m doing today. Hampton taught me so many lessons in being around community, people, and leadership.”
Today Buckner, Tate, and Shelton want the Northside youth to recognize those who give back and be among those who give back after they grow up in the community. As the interview concluded, Tate made sure to mention an event that was to take place the following day (Saturday, July 10).
“Tyler Johnson is giving his first football camp at North tomorrow,” he said. “You should go check it out if you have time.” Johnson is a former North quarterback and shooting guard who earned a Super Bowl ring as a wide receiver for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers as a rookie last season following a stellar career at the University of Minnesota.
You see, Johnson is giving back to the school and community that gave so much to him growing up. The North Side is in good hands.
Dr. Mitchell Palmer McDonald is a contributing columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.