A number of Blake students are spearheading projects to support the people and businesses in their local community. From food collections to fundraisers for social justice programs, they are putting their thoughts and feelings into action for a greater cause. Here are a few examples of Blake students’ efforts.
Blake 2020 graduates Rosa Gerdts and Kennedy Rupert organized a food drive for people affected by the destruction in Minneapolis. They write, “We both live in Minneapolis and in areas that were heavily affected by the protests. Both of us are people of color and have seen the racial disparities that exist in our communities in Minneapolis, our workplaces, and even at Blake. We were outraged by the murder of George Floyd and so many others at the hands of police brutality.
Given various supermarkets have been looted and public transportation in the Twin Cities is now limited, many neighborhoods in need are left without access to food. Further, many of the neighborhoods affected were already located in food deserts: urban areas where it is extremely difficult to purchase quality and healthy food, many of which are predominantly minority neighborhoods.
We reached out to our friends and family in the Blake community and beyond, and with their help we were able to raise a little over $2,000. All donations were used to purchase supplies such as quality food and personal hygiene products, which we organized and bagged for individual families. In a little over a week, we had been able to provide for about 60 families who needed it most.”
Maddie '23 and Sarah '25 Hsia are volunteers at Learning In Style School, one of Blake's community partners. Neighborhood store closures following civil unrest in Minneapolis meant an increased need for food and household supplies by families in the Learning In Style community. The sisters continue to promote the need for donations and collected items from others in the community. Maddie says, “Learning in Style School is in need of food such as white rice, vegetable oil, canned chicken or tuna, and snacks (e.g. cereal bars). Additionally, household items such as paper towels, cleaning supplies, and diapers (sizes 1, 2, and 3) are helpful. In terms of donation drop-off, Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays are best. However, there is a lot of flexibility Monday-Friday since there is always someone at the school from 9am to 4:30pm. The address for LIS is 2200 Nicollet Ave, Minneapolis, MN 55404."
Caring for Small, Local Businesses
About 50 Blake community members (including the boys' baseball team) gathered at Hibachi Buffet on Lake Street in Minneapolis to help clean up the grounds and exterior of the building, one of many damaged in the area. Highcroft art teacher Jackie Quinn and her son Ethan Quinn ‘21 designed two murals that the volunteers and the other students painted and displayed on the building. Rising senior John Carland organized the cleanup and the ongoing effort to support Hibachi Buffet owner Crystal as she works to get her business back up and running. John writes, "Beginning last spring road closures and detours associated with the reconstruction of 35W have made [Hibachi Buffet] difficult to access. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic Crystal’s employees (mostly Chinese Americans) were subject to threatening comments and were afraid to come to work, which caused Crystal to close the restaurant even before they were ordered to close under the Governor’s executive order. Finally, the neighborhood suffered major damage during the recent civil unrest. Hibachi Buffet is adjacent to the Lake Street Post Office which was destroyed by arson and is across the street from the Minneapolis Police Department Fifth Precinct, which was the epicenter of the events of Friday, May 29. As of today, one still needs pass through police barricades to access her restaurant."
Shira Aronow ‘21, Anna Johns ‘21 and Noor Naseer ‘22 are working as volunteer interns with Minnesotans Unite and Save Twin Cities Eats, two online platforms that launched this spring to support small local shops and restaurants. Blake alumna Vasiliki Papanikolopoulos ‘12 started both efforts, which create a space where consumers can easily discover and support small businesses in their neighborhood, when COVID-19 first forced businesses to close. She shares that Shira, Anna and Noor have contributed tremendously by spearheading the groups’ marketing and business development to further their exchange in the community. She writes, “Examples of their work include increasing our outreach to restaurants, retail businesses and nonprofit partners such as Appetite for Change as well as launching an art campaign centred around community building, securing local media coverage, and creating initiatives to showcase BIPOC business voices. They've been instrumental and I'm so impressed with their work ethic and perspectives.” If you would like to volunteer your services or have a small business in need of support, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Funding Social Justice Initiatives
Rising Blake 9th graders Jay Bowles and Karn Kaura started a campaign to support the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund. Having far exceeded their original goal, they now hope to raise $18,650 in honor of Juneteenth, a holiday that celebrates June 19, 1865, the date the last enslaved African Americans were liberated.
Jay writes, "For me personally, this time has motivated me to speak out a lot. Time and time again, we have seen police target African American men and women and cause the death of many of them. Often officers are never convicted, yet hundreds of people have lost their lives due to police brutality. At the CAA Amplify Town Hall, co-founder of Black Lives Matter Patrisse Cullors said, 'The safety of white people is predicated on the unsafety of black and brown people.' That line was so powerful and I feel needs to be shared."
Karn shares, "Although I am Indian, I still do consider myself an ally of the Black Lives Matter movement. After watching Derek Chauvin press his knee against George Floyd's neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds, I was shocked by the inhumane behavior against a human being. It was appalling to me that all 4 officers did not let up for a single second even when a man was yelling with his last breath, 'I can't breathe.' This event opened my eyes up to a world of injustice and prompted me to learn about the Black Lives Matter movement and its meaning. Through my learning, I found many people, including co-founder Patrisse Cullors, stated that just saying Black Lives Matter is not enough. Thus, when Jay asked me to join him on this GoFundMe, I saw an opportunity to help make a change in our nation. We chose the NAACP Legal Defense Fund because it helps to provide justice for African Americans and people of color in court. Now after hitting 10k, I have realized that no matter who you are or where you come from, you can and should help to create change and fix the problem of racism in our country. We need to stand together, stand stronger, and help provide justice for those who have been mistreated, killed, abused and harassed because of the color of their skin.”
Teaming Up for a Cause
The Blake girls’ soccer program organized an event and encouraged other high school athletic teams to participate in an 8.46 mile activity — running, biking, walking and/or swimming. The distance symbolized the 8 minutes and 46 seconds a Minneapolis police officer knelt on George Floyd’s neck. They exceeded their fundraising goal of $8,460, which they donated to Minneapolis’ Lake Street Council to help rebuild businesses that had been damaged. They shared on their GoFundMe, “The team worked together to find a way to support both Black Lives Matter and our local community, as we want to continue to raise awareness about racial injustice and contribute to the recovery of areas that were damaged. … Our goal is to engage other high school athletic teams in Minnesota regarding the importance of these topics that are occuring in their own community and encourage teams to actively give back.” Several news outlets highlighted their efforts including the Star Tribune, Pioneer Press, Fox9 News and SunThisweek.