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The Lake Street corridor has a long, storied history. Early on it was a dirt road stretching across South Minneapolis. Then it became a transportation route. From there, it evolved into a busy corridor of retail shops, restaurants and auto dealers.
Over the decades, Lake Street has seen good times and bad, the latter coming most recently on the heels of the murder of George Floyd by local police, from which the area is still healing. And yet the area’s diversity remains rich and vibrant: More than 85 percent of Lake Street business owners are Black, Indigenous, people of color or immigrants.
Among a flurry of revitalization along the corridor is the Let Everyone Advance With Dignity (LEAD) program. Launched this spring, it is an initiative supported by GreenLight Fund Twin Cities through a multi-year investment. When first introduced in Seattle in 2011, LEAD stood for Law Enforcement Assisted Diversion, but in honor of George Floyd, it evolved to stand for Let Everyone Advance with Dignity, a name that Minneapolis was the first to adopt.
“We’ve heard loud and clear that now is the time to center community and de-center law enforcement,” says Simone Hardeman-Jones, executive director of GreenLight Fund Twin Cities, a former Obama Administration staffer who grew up near the Lake Street corridor.
GreenLight facilitates a community-driven process that matches local individuals and families—whose needs are not being met by existing programs—to organizations with track records of success elsewhere. GreenLight identifies, invites in, and launches proven organizations to provide collaborative support so they can quickly deliver change. GreenLight’s work is designed to remove barriers to inclusive prosperity that are all too often rooted in racial inequities. The organization plans to address one specific, community-identified need each year.
“After several months of deep listening to Minneapolis and St. Paul residents, GreenLight made its first multi-year investment in LEAD,” said Hardeman-Jones. “We chose the program because of its proven impact in over 70 cities across the country, and for its ability to divert individuals cycling in and out of the legal system into a long-term, case-management model of care.”
With a public-health approach to community safety, LEAD is working to address unmet local needs and challenges, while building relationships with residents and businesses, and affirming the humanity of all it serves.
“Thanks to GreenLight Twin Cities, Minneapolis now has a public-private partnership that offers the prospect of real change,” said former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, a vice president for Strategic Partnerships and Alliances at Thomson Reuters. She noted: “GreenLight has an excellent track record in other cities.”
GreenLight is also a proud member of the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE). Formed about two years ago in the wake of George Floyd’s death, it is composed of more than 70 businesses with the collective intention of building a just and prosperous state with and for Black Minnesotans. MBCRE also sees public safety as foundational.
LEAD operates outside the court system and uses a harm-reduction model to improve buy-in and outcomes. Moving beyond criminalizing addiction-driven behavior, mental health, poverty and homelessness, LEAD will respond to the needs of individuals during their most vulnerable moments by asking one simple question: What can we do today to make your tomorrow better?
Housed at Pillsbury United Communities, the new LEAD program is led by project manager Latasha Jennings formerly of Ramsey County Community Corrections where she had a successful tenure as a Racial and Health Equity Planning Specialist.
The LEAD program is a true collaboration between neighborhood residents, community leaders, business owners and government officials. Find out more about LEAD trainings, jobs and case management. Get involved at GreenLight Fund Twin Cities. The power to create change is ours!