Boots On the Ground: This is the first in an ongoing series featuring organizations working on the frontlines to de-escalate street violence and serve as a bridge between community members and law enforcement.
It might be hard for some to envision a community advocate, businessman, and political candidate as a past troublemaker, but St. Paul native Miki Frost will tell you himself that he didn’t always have his head on straight.
“Coming up as a kid I bumped my head a few times,” he said. “I kind of got involved with the wrong crowd as a kid and did things that I wasn’t proud of.”
At 25, Frost decided to turn his life around and become a positive force for change in his St. Paul community. He organized events such as back-to-school clothing drives, donated turkeys on Thanksgiving, and mentored youth for years to build on that sense of community.
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Now, nearly 25 years later, Frost has focused that momentum toward what he’s created at the Truce Center, a place where youth can learn about their culture; receive help with homework; learn about mental health, including depression and suicide prevention; and develop leadership and conflict resolution skills.
Roughly four years ago, Frost opened his first Truce Center on the corner of Lexington and Selby. The space had been vacant for years, and after discussing his plans with the building’s owner, Frost was able to secure the spot.
On the frontlines
Frost’s approach is to help those who are off track to get back on, and those who are on track to continue their trajectory. He usually starts each morning going through downtown St. Paul with local law enforcement to help monitor the skyways.
In the early afternoon, he heads over to a few local high schools to check in with administrators and see if there have been any fights or conflicts he can help address. Once school is out by 3 pm, Frost is back at the center where he helps facilitate breakout sessions and tutoring for homework help.
Deandre Brown is a program director at the Truce Center and leads the after-school sessions. He facilitates conversations between the youth on topics ranging from relationships to conflict resolution. Brown heard about the center’s work from Frost, who is his uncle.
He expressed remorse for not having a place like the center growing up, which could have helped him navigate some of the hurdles as a teen. “I didn’t have the skills, the knowledge, or anything to even think how to take a violent situation and take it to a nonviolent situation,” Brown said.
Outside of his work at the center, Brown coaches AAU basketball at East Side Athletics. Many of the students and others in the community refer to him as Coach Dre.
Expanding to meet the community’s needs
Frost decided it was time to open a second Truce Center location on the corner of Case Avenue East and Payne Avenue in East St. Paul since the area has come under a wave of violence in recent years. The new center provides the same programming as the original.
Asia Walker has been bringing her son to the East Side Truce Center since they attended its open house last year. She’s been happy to see her son become more active and productive with the help of the center.
“When I pick my son up, his homework is done,” she said. “That’s something that we struggled with before. I guess you have to do your homework before you do the fun part, and that’s definitely huge for me.”
“It’s not that school is hard. School sometimes is like a fashion show,” Brown said about his conversations with students. He works to convince students that their outer appearance and belongings don’t determine their worth though they might get bullied for not having the latest fashion.
To cultivate a sense of self-worth in the students, the center has African sculptures at its entrance and photos of African American icons on its walls.
There are a few ways that Frost likes to measure the impact of the center’s work. First, he works to get them off of law enforcement’s radar when it comes to criminal activity. He noted that the center was responsible for getting 10 guns off of the street last year.
Frost also gauges success by the number of participants who receive certificates through his program and how many of them go on to become instructors once they graduate from the program.
The center awards diplomas of various levels to participants in courses related to leadership, hygiene, and community building. Once they complete the first level, youth can become teacher’s aides and then go on to lead a course.
According to Brown, the aim is to impart long-lasting lessons to the youth. “Mostly when you have a center or a spot like this, children will come in to do their programming and they’ll go home and leave that stuff at the door,” Brown said. “If we can change a kid’s lifestyle, we can change their life.”
Nearly all of the work that the organization does is self-funded aside from a few small grants. Through selling cars, Frost has been able to provide youth participants with the programming and resources they need to participate at no cost to their parents. This has been welcomed by parents like Walker, who have had to pay high costs for programming in the past.
“I remember my son when he was a little younger, we had to pay for that. It was probably $200 a week. For them to keep them busy after school is a blessing,” Walker said.
Though support has been limited, the center has gotten donations through its website. Frost encouraged anyone looking to fund their work to donate to their organization directly.
To learn more about Truce Center, go to 8218trucecenter.org.
Abdi Mohamed is a contributing writer at the MN Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com.