Boots On the Ground: This is the second in an ongoing series featuring organizations working on the front lines to de-escalate street violence and serve as a bridge between community members and law enforcement.
Long before the violent unrest and turmoil in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin, Steve Floyd (no relation to George Floyd) had been a staple in the lives of former gang members in Minneapolis. Some 40 years ago, Steve started Agape to help transform lives. It started with Agape Assembles and then Champions of Agape, with gang members bettering their lives through life skills training offered by the organizations.
The murder of George Floyd gave rise to a new model, but the organization’s mission to transform lives remains the same. In fact, says Steve, “That is one of our mottos, ‘Transforming street energy into community energy,’ and another is ‘Putting the neighbor back in the hood.’”
The MSR recently caught up with a few members of Agape, including Steve Floyd, chief advisor and co-founder of Agape; Bridgette Stewart, public & media relations advisor; co-founder Marquis Bowie; and co-founder and director of operations Reggie Ferguson at the group’s office on 38th and Chicago Ave., also known as George Floyd Square.
The meeting offered an opportunity to learn more about the group’s plans and get an update on how things are going since receiving some community backlash for aligning themselves with the City of Minneapolis’ decision to reopen George Floyd Square back on June 20, 2021.
Steve Floyd noted how the guys who were with him when Agape first started are mature former gang members now. In the aftermath of the George Floyd murder, it was those same ex-gang members who wanted to establish security to protect the area because that’s where they grew up.
As a result, the ex-gang members approached him seeking to use the name Agape to form a new security group. Steve said that he agreed to let them use the name, but he reminded them about the definition of the word Agape, which is unconditional love. He asked them for their assurance to uphold the name and meaning with consistency, along with, of course, the organization’s overall mission.
The Agape Movement’s mission is committed to bridging gaps between the community and law enforcement for starters.
“Once we all agreed, we began to formulate it, said Steve, and Reggie Ferguson came on board with his 20-plus years of experience. As the director, Reggie Ferguson oversees all the programs.”
These guys were committed to making sure the neighborhood was protected. It was them who put up the barricades at 38th and Chicago Ave. and started stopping people from coming into the area selling things and not giving back to the community.
“Last year, we successfully placed 20 clients in livable wage jobs that they still have to this day,” Stewart said. Anyone age 15 and up can be a client.”
According to Steve, their main purpose or niche was to protect and maintain order in the assigned areas. It wasn’t their intent to become the new police or a full-service security company for the assigned areas.
However, Agape is regularly committed to patrolling with 20 to 25 people on two shifts. Group members patrol the areas of 38th and Cedar to Lake Street down to Nicollet Ave. and back to 38th, then back to Chicago and 38th.
Asked about how the organization has registered with the State, Steve said, “We are registered as an LLC, but we have a nonprofit division that works through our fiscal agent the Central Area Neighborhood Development Organization (CANDO).”
For its boots-on-the-ground training, Agape submits work time cards and a request for funds to the City of Minneapolis. The City then creates individual checks and sends them to the CANDO office for distribution. Workers are paid a minimum of $30 per hour.
CANDO receives an administrative fee of 10% of the $359,000 total award as Agape’s fiscal agent. The first contract period was from June 1, 2021 to November 1, 2021. The next contract began in October 2021 for $175,000. In December 2021 they received an amendment for an additional $100,000, bringing the total current contract to $275,000. The contract is reevaluated every six months; the next cycle begins June 2022.
According to Director Reggie Ferguson, one of the things that caused people to get upset about the reopening of George Floyd Square were the rumors that it would mean everything would be torn down, and also the idea that the group didn’t consult neighbors about the reopening plans.
But Agape members contend that both rumors were false. They insist that they did reach out to the neighbors and, once things reopened, only the barricades blocking Chicago Avenue were removed for traffic to drive through. All the artwork and mementos remain.
The MSR asked how benchmarks are achieved. “It first starts with the intake process to determine the need level for the client,” Stewart explained. “The clients are placed either in a plan to earn their driver’s license, or the 12-week life skills training program with Change, Inc., or the department of Public Works job training program, or all the above.
“Last year, we successfully placed 20 clients in livable wage jobs that they still have to this day,” Stewart said. Anyone age 15 and up can be a client.
Agape has also initiated group trips to Africa for clients to identify and unify their minds and spirits with the motherland. The Cultural Wellness Center has agreed to perform rights of passage ceremonies before departure.
Trips to Senegal and Gambia have already taken place, with an additional destination of Ghana to be added for the next trip in November of this year. A total of 15 people make the trip at a cost of $3,000 per person. Agape usually involves individuals making the trip in raising some of the money for travel expenses.
Steve Floyd also noted that Agape offers sports programs: “The youth program is called S.T.R.E.E.T.S, and the acronym stands for Striving To Reach Educational Excellence Through Sports.
“Last year the Twins donated $4,000 worth of equipment,” Steve said. “We signed up African American boys for a baseball league and teams. So far 21 boys have signed up for the baseball program, which starts in the summer.”
They also offer flag football that will start-up in the fall for youth and adults, as well as basketball teams. Recruitment is underway now.
Currently, Agape needs workers to canvas door-to-door to help residents complete their surveys. The original survey, issued before the reopening of George Floyd Square, asked local residents for feedback about the reopening. The latest survey asks how community members feel about the Square since it’s been opened, and what they would do differently.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.