Vanelia & Versace

Vanelia & Versace

I bring my grandchildren over here to play. It’s close to the house. I can walk them over here and just let them swim and have a good time. I like the community setting, it’s really geared towards families.

I try to find young women who need a mentor or role model, and then be that. I babysit for mothers whose babies are sick and can’t go to daycare. If they’re short on rent, sometimes I’ll help them with that. I do this out of my own pocket because I have love for them.

A lot of them have come through the foster care system and have nobody to love them. So I try to show them family, and this type of gathering is one of the ways that I do that. Some I’ve lost along the way, but there’s others who will make it. I do it for the ones who are gonna make it.

Brenda & Pedro

Brenda & Pedro

Everybody goes to the lakes, but I like coming to this park. It’s nice that it’s only two blocks away from me, and it’s so quiet and peaceful and shaded. I usually come here with my dog and listen to my audiobook, or just sit here and relax. It’s different than the other city parks. There’s not a playground. I don’t have children and it’s nice that there aren’t kids running around distracting me from being in a peaceful state. That could be a pro or a con, but for me it’s a pro.

I joined the Army Reserves for college money. It was a great experience because of the people that I met and the places that I got to go. Mostly it’s the camaraderie that I miss. You get close with people in a short amount of time in a really intimate kind of way. They see you at your worst and you don’t know them that well. They’re lasting friendships if you find them.

My friends and I kind of joke about it, but there’s a slogan called "Army of One." You’re one soldier, but everybody combined together makes the Army. Your actions affect everybody else’s. They really make you realize that when you’re in basic training. So I try to live my life like that every day. It sounds far-fetched to go from one to the other because it’s two completely different worlds, but it made me realize that your individual actions have a huge effect on everybody else.



This has been my home for the last month. It’s peaceful. By far the safest park I’ve ever been to. You can take a nap without having to watch your stuff. It’s the vibe I get from this park. But I know you’re not supposed to be here after 10pm.

My mom spent eight days in the ICU on life support. She was in a diabetic coma and she had hypothermia. They told me and my sister she had a 4% chance of making it and if she did she’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. My grandma had prayer chains out everywhere. The spirit was in the air. My mom made a 90% recovery. Her diabetes is a little worse and she has a little bit of memory loss, but she can walk and talk and live a full life. So there’ve been miracles in my life. But I’ve been homeless ever since ‘cause I lived with my mom and I didn’t have $1250 to pay the rent. They gave me fifteen days to get out, and I was out on the streets.

Technically I’ve a vulnerable adult because I have PTSD. I also have ADHD, severe depression, severe anxiety, and I have bipolar. I ran out of my meds a month and a half ago and my doctor won’t fill them again until I see her. To be honest, when I’m out here, it makes me more vulnerable to make mistakes, like relapsing or getting involved with the wrong people.

I’ve been working with a housing case manager whose been saying he’s gonna get me a subsidized apartment for seven and a half months. I don’t want to rely on my parents because I don’t want to take from them anymore. I want to get my own place, get a part-time job, go to school and live my life. I want to be either a registered nurse, a massage therapist, or an x-ray technician.

How long have you been making artwork?

Since I was young. Because I can’t afford to buy drawing kits, I stick with pencil and pen usually. It takes my mind off all the negative things in my life. I draw about my passions. I draw about things that I’m thinking about or things that are on my bucket list. Everybody sees potential in me, but it’s just hard to find it in myself sometimes.



We’re a Somali soccer team. We’ve been practicing here. I’m a coach. We’re making them run and do drills to get ready for a big soccer tournament. It’s for the Somali Independence Day festival. Usually it’s July 1st, but now it’s Ramadan and we’re fasting for thirty days. They’re not drinking water, nothing. During Ramadan it’s tough, but we still manage to practice. The tournament starts July 8th and ends July 16th at Augsburg College. Eight teams from different states are coming here and there’s six teams from Minnesota. All Somali teams. It’s exciting to have the community come together to have fun and get to know new friends. It makes me happy to play the game. I’m very passionate about it.

I’ve played soccer all my life, since I was ten years old back in Egypt. That’s where I grew up. I’m originally from Somalia, but I left there when I was two or three years old because of the civil war. I’ve been here close to seventeen years. It’s pretty much my hometown here in Minnesota. I love it.

A lot of teenagers here are doing bad things. Smoking, being in gangs, all that stuff. Soccer is something that will keep you away from that. Soccer is a sport, but at the same time it will keep you with the community.



I live a few blocks away. It’s good to have an oasis to just sit and be outside. The benches are really nice, or I can sit on the grass and write or draw. I love that there’s tons of Somali, Oromo, and Eritrean families that come here. It’s important to me to see black and brown people represented in public spaces because it’s not something I see in all parts of the city. It’s a nice community feel. There’s grills and tables, so people use it for large personal gatherings, which I think is a great use of public space, especially when it’s celebratory. It allows for whatever things people need to do.

My name, Alizarin, is a color. It’s kind of a purplish-red. My mom is a painter, so she’s pretty much had me do art since I was a little kid. She’s Chinese. Having a mother who is a woman of color artist whose purpose her whole life has been to make art, I don’t think I even realize how deeply that’s ingrained in me. Art is a part of life. It’s a part of who we are. It’s a source of a lot of inspiration for me.

They should hire more artists in the parks. It’s cool that you can go to different sites around the cities and see different murals, but you’re always in motion on the streets around the murals. So I think the parks would be a cool place for them because people are stationary for longer periods of time. A lot of artists do community engagement work. They can make a big change by just listening to people and how they want to be represented. Maybe the artist could be the facilitator and the people who live in the community could paint the murals. People would be super proud. And it brings history, too, because it’s painting a picture of how things are now, at this moment, and capturing it. This is how we were feeling at the time and how we want to represent our community.

There’s a lot of transformative potential in creating things. I think some of the best art isn’t necessarily technically good, but when people see it, something about it speaks to them.

Walter and his grandchildren

Walter and his grandchildren

I bring my grandchildren down here on nice, warm days. It’s close to the neighborhood. I like to see them out here playing in the pool. Sometimes I bring them down just to have a picnic. The patrols are going through here a lot to make sure the kids are okay. They give me a workout just sitting out here watching them. There’s a whole lot of enjoyment.

I’ve lived here since 1968, so I go way back. All my sisters and brothers-in-law grew up in the area, plus now my grandkids and nieces and nephews. Raised all four of my kids, ended up being a granddad, and now I’m gonna be a great-granddad. So I’ve done my job.

I’m on disability and I work part-time at the Double Tree hotel. It’s pretty cool, gives me something to do so I don’t get bored. I got hit by a car on December 21st, 1998. I went to a job interview and I got the job. On my way back to my car, another car came around the corner and couldn’t stop. Next thing I knew, I was in the hospital. Threw out my lower back and I had a brain injury. You can tell by how I speak, I stutter. Sometimes it makes me frustrated because I know what I’m trying to say, but it doesn’t come out like I want it to. I just have to take my time. Other than that, I’m okay. It was a hard struggle for me at the time, but step-by-step I’ve been getting along.

What’s your favorite thing about being a grandfather?

Watching them grow up. They make my day.



I grew up in this neighborhood. My grandparents lived in the neighborhood, too. I came here in the summer with my cousins. As a kid this is just where you hung out.

If you need a place to play with your kids, it’s a safe place. Or if you’re a person like myself just reading the newspaper, you can get away from that. If you’re biking through, there’s plenty of room to watch out for pedestrians. It allows access for basketball and baseball. In the winter they put up hockey rinks over there. It’s one of the bigger areas in Northeast that has something to do, especially for kids.

I bike everywhere I go. I haven’t driven in almost three years. Biking allows a person to see their community a little bit more, to see what’s going on. It allows them to find a park like this, to see these hidden gems. It allows me to think and wind down, and then I don’t have to go to the gym. I have my driver’s license, but it’s something I’ve chosen. It helps me smell the roses a little bit more.

Jesse (with Anika and baby Esme)

Jesse (with Anika and baby Esme)

We come here a couple of days a week because the pool is great and they have a free lunch every day. I couldn’t believe it, last year was the first year I’d seen it. So we sit under a tree or at a picnic table and she gets to eat with her friends. Plus it’s a pretty healthy lunch. Fruit, veggies, sandwich. Sometimes there’s yogurt or applesauce. They had chef salad last week. There are no nuts in anything and it’s pork-free. It’s great. Now that I’ve got two kids, we would never get out the door packing lunches and everything, it just takes too long. So it’s nice to know you can just come here and you don’t have to worry about that. Plus kids eat better together. She wouldn’t normally eat celery, but she might do it because her friends are doing it.

There’s a page I follow on Facebook for Northeast moms. That’s how I found friends who live in this area. It’s a neighborhood group of parents who decide what they’re doing with their kids for the day. You can check and see where they’re going in the morning and then you can all go to that park. So I started coming here and the moms are super nice. They also post about different library activities in the area, or when there’s a parade over here, or other fun stuff that’s going on. There was a DJ here last week, the kids danced their energy off. It’s just nice to be like, ‘Oh, this is where some of the kids are gonna be.’ It’s awesome because as a new mom I had no idea where to even begin to look.

Roberto & Aurelia

Roberto & Aurelia

I’m from Mexico and she is, too. We met in New York and then we came to Minnesota because it’s quieter and safer. In New York there were too many gangs.

We come to this park all the time. We’ve lived in this area more than twenty-six years. I take a walk here maybe three times a week. I play baseball on Sundays. Sometimes the whole family comes to play basketball, our three sons and us. When they were younger, we used to bring them here to the playground and the pool. Sometimes their friends ask them to come and play soccer, so my wife and I sit down somewhere and watch. That’s fun. For me, this park is safe. That’s why I like it.

In Mexico, you have to work one week for ten dollars. Here you can make ten dollars in one hour. That’s the reason why a lot of people come to this country, to change their lives. Now I have food. I have a car. I can work, and my son is working, too. He works at Dairy Queen in Edina and I work at a warehouse in Shakopee.

My wife does everything for me. Cooking, doing laundry, cleaning the house. When I come home from work, she’s got my dinner ready. I told her if she wants to work (outside the home) she can, but she doesn’t want to and that’s fine. Right now me and my two older sons are working, so it’s not necessary that she works. She can stay home. I know how to cook soup or rice, maybe. The more easy food. But if there’s something I really like, she makes it for me. I appreciate that. That’s why every weekend I tell her ‘No cooking, I can buy us something.’

She loves me a lot and she watches out for me and our boys all the time. Since we married, she and I have never been separate. No days, no hours, no nothing.

Damontay & baby Rain

Damontay & baby Rain

My whole family comes to this park four or five times a month. We’ve got a lot of kids at home during the summer, so we all come here. My mom and my uncle are over there barbecuing and everybody else is over here at the pool. We still have more coming. We’ll have maybe forty-five people here. We had to get them out of the house. If everybody came to my mama’s house or my auntie’s house, everybody all in one spot, we’d be all stuffed up. So we come to the park and everybody can get out and enjoy themselves. The parents can relax and just have a good time.

I love to swim. I’m an artist, and if I can’t listen to music or write music, I’ll swim to clear my head and take a breather. Over the past three weeks I’ve been here seventeen times using the lap pool. Some of my cousins can’t swim, so I teach them. It’s kind of hard when everybody wants to learn at once, but they’re getting there. I taught them all how to doggie paddle and so far that’s what keeping them safe.

I’ve been singing in church since I was seven and I’ve been writing poetry since I was fourteen. I started rapping when I turned sixteen because my uncle passed away and it was the only way I knew how to express myself. He was killed in a car accident. That was my father figure. So I wrote a poem and then my friend started singing it. It was perfect, so she wrote a chorus and we recorded a track and it was just something I was feeling at the moment. So that’s what led me to sticking with rap.

Music has always been my best friend. Old school R&B, gospel, it’s always helped me if I’m feeling upset or mad. It’s like food for my soul. Artists have been there for me, so I want to be that person other people can look up to. I want somebody to be like, "Your song got me through this situation." I just want to have that impact on somebody else ‘cause I like helping people.

I’m a PhD candidate at the University of Minnesota. I study technical communication. I come here probably four or five times a week, I live two blocks away. I come here running in the morning. Some days I do some writing or reading. Sometimes I take pictures. Sometimes I don’t do anything, I just walk around. It’s a nice place to be outside.

I have fifty-one volumes of journals that I’ve written in, just by hand. I tried typing and I liked that, too. You can get a lot more down faster. But I find something really relaxing about having my pen touch the page.

I was in second grade and we had these notebooks. And we would write in them maybe once a week, then we’d turn them in and the teacher would read them and write notes back to us. The year after that, my mom was like, "I know you really enjoyed doing this last year, so I thought I would do it with you." So I was in third grade and I would write back and forth to my mom. I would leave it on her bed and then she would leave it on my bed.

I remember writing about going to a park with my friends. I wrote about how I went outside and played in the sandbox. Just whatever I was doing. I loved it. She would write about things she was doing and how she was proud of me for what I was doing. She would be like, "Thanks for helping your younger brother set the table." She gave me a lot of confidence. By fifth grade I didn’t write to her anymore, I just wrote to myself. I still have a really good relationship with my mother.

It’s like meditation. I feel a sort of catharsis. There’s just a beauty in writing. It helps me make sense of things and clarify who I want to be and what I want to do. It helps me act deliberately and not just go along with the flow of things.



How long have you been playing kickball here?

This is my third year. I know the guys who formed the league. It’s a fun time. Especially with things going on the way they are, it’s good to be able to have a family environment. Sort of an oasis. It’s just good all around. ‘Cause you’re on the Northside. And we know the stereotypes and the perceptions of the Northside. You have to have things like this to sort of counterbalance. Because everything is not gonna be positive. That’s just not realistic.

The Northside is battle-tested. I’ve been to a lot of places and there’s nothing like it as far as the togetherness of the people. There’s things that go on, yeah. But overall it’s excellent.

Tell me about your business...

Necessity is the mother of invention. My company is because I needed a way to get some money. Simple as that. The clock was ticking. You need an income. So Salery Cap was born from that thought.

It’s a logo company. A hat is a good way to sell a logo and still own the logo. This is the Northside logo that I created for anyone who considers themselves Northside. They love that one. I do like ten hats with ten different logos, but Northside is number one based on units sold. If you look around you’ll see a lot of them. So it all comes back to the togetherness thing again.

This company is not for me. It’s for these people. How many seats does the Twins stadium have? Let’s say 60,000. The TC logo is seventy years old, give or take. That logo is for the people who go to the games for the most part. I said, "I want to create something for the people who can’t or don’t go to the games." There’s many more people who don’t go. So that’s what it was.

I come here at least once a week, I live just a block away. I live in an apartment, so I kind of use it as my yard.  It’s a very quiet park. There are bigger parks around here, so there’s not a lot of traffic. Being outside is important to me and my partner. It’s one of the reasons why we live here.

Hammocking. It’s gotten super popular. These lightweight hammocks were made for camping. They’re super easy to pop up and they have straps that don’t damage trees. You don’t have to tie knots or anything. It’s an easy way to get out and have a very relaxing spot anywhere you go. It’s just swinging in a hammock, breeze in the trees.

I work for a cycling distributer called Quality Bicycle Products. We own and manufacture eighteen consumer brands like Surly, All City, Salsa. Bikes you see around the cities because we’re located here and there’s a lot of great bike shops here.

Why is biking so big here?

One, it’s the money that the City puts into supporting it. It makes it easier to get around. And then companies like QBP give kickbacks to employees for riding their bikes. You ride your bike, you get a buck a day. You ride your bike so many times and they’ll put twenty bucks into your Health Savings Account. They really support it and want to encourage it as a method of transportation. There’s a lot of those like-minded companies here.

Minneapolis has the whole spectrum of cyclists. Everything from road racers to mountain biking. Lots of commuters. If you ride your bike, you automatically have hundreds of friends out roaming the streets with you.

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    Malika, left, with her stepmother Samiya, right

Malika, left, with her stepmother Samiya, right

We usually go to another park in Northeast, but all the tables were taken. It’s my son’s seventh birthday and he wanted to play with his friends and be outdoors. So we invited a bunch of kids and a few families. It’s a birthday party / play date.

We’re new here. We’re from Canada, but Somalia before that. I was born in Somalia and all my siblings were born in Canada. I got married and moved to Memphis for ten years right after college. My family was still in Canada. Then we all came to Minneapolis to be closer together. It’s been about a year.

I love Minneapolis. I like that there’s a huge outdoor life despite the weather. I like that there are parks in close proximity to anywhere you are. And I like that there’s a huge Somali community. You’re not just out there by yourself. It reminds me of home. I can go to the Somali mall and there are familiar scents and smells. There are people in stalls and they’re yelling and bartering. Before that, the only home cooking I was getting was from my stepmom, but now I can go out and there are a huge number of restaurants I can pick from. Or I can go to a coffee shop and there are other Somalis to talk politics and religion with. You just relate to each other. Do you know what I mean? People that know where you’re coming from and understand you’re situation without you always having to explain.

Here you’re not an anomaly; you’re not a curiosity. People aren’t approaching you from that sense. You’re family, you’re familiar. You’re safe. As a Muslim woman, as a black woman, and as a Somali woman, there are all these intersections. But here I feel like all those intersections are accepted in my community. I can be myself. I feel welcome.

People see all these Somali women just walking around. For me, I see all their strength and beauty. My stepmom is a pinnacle of strength and she kept our family together. I see all these beautiful women and I think of her and that’s what I emulate. And I’m glad I’m in a community where I can show my daughter what it’s like where I come from and share our stories. And there are beautiful role models right there for her.



I’m practicing archery. I started as a little boy in Wisconsin with my grandparents. My brother and I both had bows and we’d spend most of our summers out shooting around their place. I like it because it’s a good way to take my mind off of work, relax, and improve my skills. It’s good eye-hand coordination. You learn to know what distances look like. You can see the tangible results of what you do and whether you progress or not. A lot of it is muscle memory and eye memory. So it’s good to stay with it through the summer. And then it prepares you for the fall hunting season, too. I haven’t hunted archery for eight years and I wanted to get back into it this year. I look forward to a nice fall. It gives me a reason to be outdoors.

The rewarding part of archery is the closeness of your target. So whether you’re shooting paper, like I am here today, or deer hunting, there’s a proximity to your target that makes it challenging. You have to be really mindful of your surroundings, so you absorb a lot more of your immediate environment. You’ve got to be aware of which way the wind is blowing, where the sun is, what’s behind the target. If I’m hunting, I look at which way the game could approach, which way they would exit. If there’s anything that would prevent a shot, you don’t want to take that shot. You wouldn’t want to injure the deer in any way. You want to make it a good, clean shot. So you have to be really aware of everything that’s going on around you.

The phrase that’s popular now is "field to table," and that’s exactly what it is. It’s great food. I actually picked up a love of cooking as a result of my love of hunting. It also makes you aware of where your food comes from and you appreciate that a little bit more. The types of meat you can enjoy and how you cook it expands as well. It’s definitely organic.

And it’s more than just the hunting part. It’s what kind of birds are out, what other animals you might see. It’s quiet. It brings everything a little bit closer to you.