NEWS & VIEWS OF PHILLIPS SINCE 1976
Thursday August 22nd 2019

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A Letter of Gratitude to the Phillips Community…from Leon Oman

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Leon Oman (right) at the Alley annual meeting

by Leon Oman

Dear Community of Phillips,
Let me express my deepest thanks and gratitude to the Phillips community upon my retirement from Community Education at Andersen School. It has been a profound joy and honor to serve with you over the past 28+ years. I appreciate all the well-wishes that people have shared, both formally and informally, for this next chapter of life.

As I reflect on these many past years, gratitude also swells up within me for all of the ways that Phillips, both you as individuals and you as organizations, have supported Community Education: You have participated in classes and activities; involved yourself as volunteers, teachers and staff; used our gym and meeting facilities; provided input and feedback for programming, both informally as well as formally through our Advisory Council; partnered with us on out-of-school time programs for youth and lifelong learning for adults; provided financial support for many initiatives; collaborated on events; and many other ways. Your personal support along that way has been so fulfilling and motivating.

The community has changed a lot in the years I’ve been here. I can so clearly recall my first day in June, 1981 – getting off the #21 bus on Lake and 10th Ave. and walking up to Andersen – stepping over tree limbs that had fallen when a Sunday tornado had ripped through South Mpls. I traveled a lot on foot in those days, trying to get a close-hand view of the neighborhood and meeting the folks that lived here and were leaders here. The Egg and I on Chicago Ave., was a great place to meet with people, much like Maria’s is today. It was then that I came to know the great community activism that is such a hallmark of Phillips – both leaders who work in the neighborhood organizations as well as folks working on their blocks to make improvements. A wonderful case in point some years ago – a drug house that was down at the end of Andersen Lane, a threatening place for neighbors as well as school children – was removed by the persistent efforts of neighbors and is now a beautiful community garden. It is also wonderful to know that this spirit is being passed on the youth of our neighborhood – civic engagement and service has become a vital component of many of the youth programs in Phillips.

Phillips has always been a landmark of diversity. Back in 1981, it may have been most known as a huge residential center for Native American residents. Then a growing African-American population put roots in Phillips. More recently, large numbers of Latino and Somali residents have established themselves. All the while, this diversity has been a gift. So many people like living (and working) in Phillips because of it being such a multicultural community. The recent development of the Midtown Global Market is a symbol of this but it is in the day-to-day interactions inside of and across cultures that will continue to enhance Phillips as a place to live, work and do business.

The physical transformation of Franklin Ave., the re-development of Chicago-Lake, and the countless housing initiatives led by the neighborhood organizations have been amazing things to see in Phillips over the last three decades. This has extended to many improvements, block-by-block. Yet it has often pained me to be at neighborhood meetings and heard some residents talk about battles with crime on their block and sometimes right next door. It is good to know that though the efforts of the police, including Community Crime Prevention, huge strides are being made. But continued strong neighborhood organization initiatives in housing, crime, and with the criminal justice system, along with constant efforts to outreach to individuals and groups and building coalitions, across cultures, are needed.

There have been many changes at Andersen School too. When I came in 1981, there were three different principals and four different programs – an effort to make alternatives and choices available to inner-city students. Now there is one school – Andersen United Community School. Though there are continued challenges to meet federal and state guidelines, it is and always has been a wonderful place of learning. When I came to Andersen, I was just in beginning of raising a family but it didn’t take long to reinforce to me that public schools were a great resource – where we would educate our children (even if we lived in St. Paul – be gentle with me!). Andersen has always had amazing teachers, administrators and other staff who were/are excellent in their professions and compassionate about the kids. I encourage you to stop over to Andersen – consider becoming a volunteer – you may be surprised at changes inside, including new school informs which all of our K-8 students now wear.

Our Community Education program has changed too. When I first arrived, the expectation would be that we should try to be all things to all people and operate programs from pre-school through older adults. As mobility patterns changed and adults expressed greater interest in going to larger centers of programming, our department made a change and our sites became more specialized. Andersen was changed to become more focused on youth, so we expanded the time we served students after school, began a Saturday program and invested more resources in summer activities. In the team I supervised, South High became the primary location for adult enrichment opportunities. But as that new model took hold, it was still obvious that we needed to better provide for underserved adult populations, including the new immigrant communities. So we developed a new Latino outreach initiative. Building on a successful computer literacy program for Latino adults and a Spanish-English language exchange opportunity, Community Ed has developed a flourishing Latino Women’s Group, leadership initiatives, financial literacy with the NeDA organization and a brand new partnership with La Conexion. All of this, along with continued utilization of the great Andersen facilities, like the Fitness Center, has led to a community center feel with fun and learning for many ages. Forgive the shameless plug, but please contact Marija Nicholson (herself a alumni of Andersen School) at 668-4215 for information about any of the programs or ways to become involved.

As for the future, I will continue to still bleed Phillips, Community Education and Andersen – keeping in touch as well as trying to stay involved in various events. I am not much of a be-at-home person, but I also want my retirement activity to be built on a sense of “purpose”. Right now. I’m working a little part-time (at Roosevelt Community Ed) but am also exploring new opportunities of service and already sprinkling in several volunteer involvements – including remain working with the Alley. I hope that our paths will continue to cross. Thanks, for the great memories.

All the best,
Leon

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