For Sabathani’s new director, the community calls the shots

Scott Redd
Photo by Al Brown Scott Redd

Scott Redd, director of Sabathani Community Center, recently stopped by the MSR and shared his thoughts and vision for the iconic 56-year-old service hub. He touched on an array of subjects ranging from current programs to the murder of George Floyd and police-community relations. 

MSR: Sabathani Community Center is a collaborative of community organizations that has served this community since 1966. How do you define Sabathani today?

SR: I see us as a viable community tool. Our mission is to provide people of all ages and cultures with the essential resources that inspire them to improve their lives and create a thriving community.

I believe the most important piece of that is that we do it “with” the people. Everything we do, whether it is working with young folks, seniors, or the middle-aged, we are working through steps and programs with them. 

We have services for everybody, offering more than 22 partners within our building. Some may call them tenants, but we call them partners. Their services range from serving youth and providing healthcare access services to offering activities for seniors.

MSR: Although Sabathani sits in what may be considered a majority African American community, its services are available to all cultures. Can you describe how that works?

SR: Getting back to our mission, we serve anybody who walks through our doors. But we try and serve through a Black lens, through our cultural perspective and compassion. One cannot be empathic to pain and suffering if they have never experienced pain and suffering. So it’s safe to say that pain and suffering are something we as African Americans are pretty familiar with.

People can better serve you when they know exactly what you are going through—this is what I mean by serving through Black lenses. But know that we are unapologetic about being Black and who we’ve been since 1966. 

We serve from a perspective of our Black history and resources, such as a recent job fair that was held this past weekend. We partnered with Xcel Energy, WCCO, and the Center for Energy and Environment (CEE). 

I spoke with Xcel about high employment disparities in this community and suggested that if they were truly committed to working with Sabathani that we should present a career fair. I asked him to bring his hiring team in and make available to our community legitimate living wage jobs of $25 per hour or more. In Minnesota, the Black community normally does not have access to these jobs. 

MSR: Regarding economic and education improvement, are there specific programs offered at Sabathani?

SR: We just started our community-needs assessment. We will have 35 stakeholders come in and tell us what they would like to see this community look like. From that, our board will retreat and develop questions and surveys that will be shared with the community for feedback.

We are also going to do listening sessions with the community. I want the community to hold us accountable. I want the people to say to us that our youth, senior, or workforce programs are working.

MSR: More specifically, what programs are at Sabathani for seniors?

SR: We have a lot of activities going on. We even have tables of Bid Whist every Friday with healthy food that’s catered. 

MSR: What are some expanding program areas at Sabathani?

SR: Housing. It was so important for our seniors that we built a 48-unit affordable housing building for those aged 55 and older. Our seniors shouldn’t have to run all over the city to find quality affordable housing or relocate to suburban communities where people don’t want to live beside them or in communities with no cultural connectivity. Our next venture is a 72-unit multi-family affordable housing development that we are in the process of securing funding.  

MSR: Should Sabathani be a feature of the proposed 38th Street business renovation?

SR: How can it not be? We have the largest facility on the corridor that houses more than 20 organizations serving this community daily. How could we not be a centerpiece of that conversation? We are the second oldest institution in this area, next to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

MSR: What would expansion look like for Sabathani?

SR: Whether that looks like adding to our current building or expanding upon the services we already offer through our partners, those decisions will be based on what the community tells us they want to see.

We also have a lot of land to work with—whether it is utilized through a combination of more community gardens or more housing developments—we will never move forward without input from the influential voices of our community.

MSR: Can you talk a bit about the effects that you’ve seen in the community post-George Floyd’s murder?

SR: I wasn’t here when that horrific incident took place. Feb. 28, 2022, was my first day at Sabathani. But George Floyd happened right in our front yard on 38th and Chicago, and people in this community are still hurting. But I still think that more conversations need to happen within this community and the police department. 

I would love to have had a roundtable conversation with former Police Chief Medaria Arradondo. It is these unlikely conversations that our community does not have with the major players of influence in our communities. What better place to have these conversations than a place like Sabathani.

MSR: What is the biggest challenge currently faced by Sabathani? 

SR: I think more participation from the community to fully utilize all our wonderful services. Also, we started an advisory panel to voice their opinion, keeping us accountable to the needs of our community. It is easy to say whether this worked or didn’t work, but it’s harder to walk away from something when you are a part of it. 

When your input is used to help design these programs and outcomes, it’s harder to walk away. I believe that if the community is a part of our programs from their inception we cannot fail. We can’t afford to fail, because our community needs us.

MSR: There has been some turnover at the management level at Sabathani over time. Do you have any thoughts on why that may be?

SR: I can’t speak for the past. But because the building was always full, programs were well-funded, sometimes we tend to become complacent and disconnected from the community we are meant to serve. I’m speaking in general, not to anyone’s time in particular. 

MSR: Should community centers take stronger positions on important issues?

SR: We have to be ready to speak with a strong voice relating to issues that affect our community directly or indirectly. Take the economic, educational, and criminal justice disparities in our state, for example. It’s so bad that some even joke that [Minnesota is] Mississippi with snow. When you look at how many of our brothers and sisters are incarcerated in Minnesota, it’s hard to separate us from our Southern counterparts.

We have to be more aggressive in preparing our people for the real challenges that we face. That also means that sometimes we have to make some feel uncomfortable. Look at how long Blacks have been uncomfortable in this country.

MSR: Our community has historically faced violence in many ways, from police brutality to violence against each other. Are there any anti-violence programs at Sabathani?

SR: We have several in operation teaching our men how to respect and practice love amongst ourselves. I think that is important. We have to stop these unhealthy competitions among each other, and start focusing on what we can do together as opposed to having to defeat him or her to get ahead. 

We must learn that when done right, there is often enough for everyone. There is a saying that there is always enough for everyone’s need, but not nearly enough for everyone’s greed.