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Gada Roba, AFE Blog- Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood (SPPN) Wilder Foundation


My AFE, with the educational initiative Saint Paul Promise Neighborhood, or SPPN, shed light on the many challenges faced by urban citizens in America. It also gave me hope—with communities in the neighborhood collaboratively working with anchoring institutions, it is possible to fight generational poverty through education. This summer, it was an honor to be a part of the committed team of SPPN researchers, program coordinators, staff members, parents, and the partner agencies I had the privilege of working with.

SPPN Initiative is based at the Amherst H. Wilder Foundation, a non-profit social services and research organization. SPPN partners with four schools in the Frogtown, Rondo, and Summit-University neighborhoods to bring much needed programs and services in order to ensure positive educational outcomes for generations of elementary school children throughout the year. During the summer, SPPN runs educational, recreational, and social activities. This summer, I have had the good fortune of working closely with the director and researcher Muneer Karcher-Ramos by assisting him with literature reviews of different perspectives on the roles of schools in driving neighborhood change.

Working with the director on the literature review gave me a deeper knowledge of poverty in America, and the complicated challenges to address it. I was exposed to critical race theory looking at the relationship between schools and property; economic development and the role of schools as anchor institutions; conventional school financing “per pupil” funding formula; community schools as neighborhood resource hubs; neoliberalism view of school as a tool to produce workers; and finally, the importance of schools as the cultural hubs, serving as a site for cultural knowledge production and transmission. I now look at schools through a different perspective as the means of addressing poverty.

In addition to weekly meetings with the director, I also had the opportunity to help with The Freedom Friday School at Maxfield Elementary School. The Freedom School is an all-day program designed to prevent learning loss during the summer with activities such as reading, academics, cultural activities, and nutrition. I coordinated my role with MK, the program manager, and Ebony, the program assistant as needed. I had the wonderful opportunity to interact with the students: I accompanied them to sporting events, academic and social activities, and field trips once or twice a week. Some of my favorite trips include visits to the Minnesota Science Museum, Como Regional Park Pool, and Jimmy Lee Recreation Center. I also helped at the Rondo Day Parade, the Rice Street Festival, and the Wilder Foundation Block Party.


Top: Me, Ebony, Muneer & Jr.              Bottom: Me & Mr. Melvin Carter, who helped create SPPN


What I got out of my AFE with SPPN

During my time in the Humphrey Policy Fellow Program from 2012-2013, I worked on a project entitled Collaboration, Community Engagement, and the Achievement Gap. I was introduced to the “Collective Impact” model, by John Kania and Mark Kramer, that can be used to address social problems. This model states that large-scale social change comes from collaboration rather than silo intervention. That is to say, more progress can be made on many social problems if “nonprofits, governments, businesses, and the public were brought together around a common agenda to create collective impact.”

This summer, I experienced first-hand how SPPN fulfills the collective impact model. SPPN mobilizes all stakeholders—the neighborhood, family, schools, service-providing agencies, and philanthropic community—around the same goal. Through my interaction with SPPN staff, partner agencies, students, and parents, I learned that high-level, collaborative, and collective efforts truly do provide a strong sense of community to change the status quo. High levels of community member participation in the process of change will undoubtedly lead to sustainable community development.




Rotary Club of Minneapolis University

About a month ago, I attended a talk by my former human rights professor at the University of Minnesota, Barbara A. Frey. She gave a speech entitled “Protecting Human Rights in a Turbulent Time.” She talked about basic legal instruments and institutional framework designed to protect international human rights. She elaborated on how the institutional capacities are sustaining the current threat to human rights’ principal and a shift in global alliances. It was a timely presentation and her inspirational talk gave hope to many aspiring human rights defenders. As one of her former students, it was an honor to be there and share a table with her.


Me with Professor Barbara Frey


Last week, I gave a talk on “Understanding Social Conflict and Fragility in Ethiopia.” In the last two years Ethiopia, an important strategic US ally in the region, has been in the global spotlight. The government that has been in power since 1991 has been accused by human rights organizations of committing serious human rights violations against their own citizens. To bring about stability and security, the government imposed a state of emergency beginning in October of 2016, just ending last week.



I used Protracted Social Conflict (PSC), a multidisciplinary theory, to explain the root cause of the ongoing social conflict in the country, how we might better understand the complex historical legacy that led to the current situations, and the possible paths to be taken toward achieving peace in the country.


Me with Bob Margolis


Bob (Robert Margolis) the club president, Jerry Yanz (Program Co-Chair) and Emily Grobelny have been great hosts and very accommodating.

Special Acknowledgements
I would like to give special thanks to Rotary Club of Minneapolis University. It is where my journey to become a Rotary Peace Fellow began, 4 years ago. I read an article about Rotary Peace Fellowship that was written by Dr. Ellen Kennedy (co-president). She invited me to the club for an informational session. Not only I was given the opportunity to become a Peace Fellow in Uppsala Sweden, but this “small and mighty group of local professionals…with a big heart” has been with me throughout the setbacks in my life.

I want to give a big shout out to the leaders and members alike, specifically Ellen Kennedy, Bob Margolis, Bob Narotzky, Carol Cline-Hedblom, Carole Peterson, and Erica Fields. You all have a special place in my heart. 




2 Responses to “Gada Roba – AFE Blog – Wilder Foundation, Minneapolis, Minnesota”

  1. David

    Another great Rotary moment. It’s wonderful seeing our young people reach out to others.

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