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Around the Neighborhood: Hopeful Messages

By BEN HEATH
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East Phillips Improvement Coalition News: March

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CHANGEMAKERS

Magdalena Kaluza: Direct Action

By GAEA DILL-D’ASCOLI
Reprinted with permission from Minnesota Women’s Press

“By sharing vulnerability, we build deeper relationships. We need deep relationships to face what’s coming — floods, heat waves, climate refugees.”

Magdalena Kaluza (photo courtesy of Magdalena Kaluza)

The story of Magdalena Kaluza starts with their parents. Their mother is a white American woman of Polish and French-Canadian descent with family ties in the Iron Range, who went to Guatemala to study Spanish. Their father is of Mayan K’iche’ mixed race (mestizo) who played the guitar and grew up in the midst of the revolution. Both parents were working towards social justice and solidarity before Kaluza was born.

Kaluza’s day job is working at Take Action Minnesota, which allows them to deepen community ties through storytelling while engaging in social justice work.

In 2019, Kaluza applied to Power of Vision, an arts organization based out of Hope Community in Minneapolis. It enabled Kaluza to listen to and tell the stories of the Phillips neighborhood, as well as support tenants in the Corcoran neighborhood.

At the same time, Kaluza was supporting tenants in the Whittier neighborhood as they fought to claim their buildings from a landlord who charged high rents without maintaining the buildings. After a long legal fight, the tenants won the right to own their buildings in the summer of 2020. Kaluza worked with the tenants group named Cielos sin Limites (Sky Without Limits) to create a mural that celebrates the struggle and victory of the tenants.

During the uprising in late May and early June, Kaluza focused on connecting community: organizing fire brigades, setting up lines of communication to keep community abreast of minute-by-minute changes, and starting the process of political education. As the situation calmed in the Twin Cities, Kaluza continued the long-term work of education, pointing out that community safety is more than “police or no police” — it is everyone having needs met.

Political education coupled with direct action is work Kaluza is engaged in at the local level as well as in the wider city and state. Their work focuses first on housing and then on climate change and immigration rights. Kaluza speaks with passion about the need for housing that people can afford to live in safely and with dignity. Without this, they argue, other fights are impossible. “We can’t work on climate change or immigration rights if we don’t have places to live.”

Wide-Angle View

As a child, Kaluza spent the school year living in the Phillips neighborhood in south Minneapolis and the summers in rural Guatemala with their father’s family.

Growing up, their mother characterized Phillips as a microcosm of what is going on in the world. When the Hmong fled Vietnam, many found refuge in Phillips. When people fled the drug epidemic in Chicago, they moved to Phillips. As people leave east Africa, you can see it reflected in the Phillips neighborhood. At the same time, the social issues that plagued the world, and the ways that U.S. foreign policy impacted other countries, were on display without subtlety in Guatemala. They recalled looking around at the Guatemalan community and seeing darker skinned people than Kaluza, yet the ads and billboards featured people who were lighter.

Kaluza grew up engaged in social justice. They were taught early that they have the power to act and can change the direction of the world. They cannot be a neutral actor, instead they have an obligation to be a positive force.

Kaluza’s connection to art also is rooted in being bicultural. “Growing up across two cultures really drove home a deep desire for solidarity and understanding across so-called borders — cultures, identities, class, races.”

This drive to connect brought Kaluza into the arts, specifically storytelling. In high school, they participated in a spoken word workshop, which led to joining Palabristas, a group of Latinx spoken word and slam poets. Through Palabristas, Kaluza had the opportunity to travel around Minnesota performing, in hope that it would inspire others to share their own stories.

Kaluza believes art creates space for vulnerability, which in turn creates deeper relationships. “Talk to one another — in neighborhoods, apartment buildings, places of worship, workplaces. In those conversations, practice being vulnerable. If we share our stories about how we and our loved ones are impacted, the people we speak with will also have their own stories to share. By sharing vulnerability, we build deeper relationships. We need deep relationships to face what’s coming — floods, heat waves, climate refugees.”

Magdalena Kaluza believes that the pandemic has given us an opportunity to collectively reject systems of racism, patriarchy, and capitalism. To create solidarity around what we need, Kaluza says, more people need to tell their stories and to actively listen to the stories of others.

Read about other Changemakers at: https://www.womenspress.com/category/newsactivism/powerful-everyday-women/.

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Should You Make Student Loan Payments During Forbearance?

By NADINE GALL
Lutheran Social Service MN

Great news for folks with federal student loans! The relief from loan payments due to the pandemic — also known as a forbearance — has been extended through September 30, 2021. This means that no payments will be due and no interest will accrue for federal loans during this time. For those who are unable to afford their payments, this is wonderful news. It’s also great news for anyone still able to make student loan payments.

Why Make Student Loan Payments if No Payments Are Due?

To pay it off faster. Without interest accruing, 100% of your payment goes toward the principal loan balance, instead of part of it going toward interest.  If you want to pay down your loan even faster, consider making slightly higher payments right now.

To bring your loans current. If your loans were past due before the forbearance period, they’re still reporting past due. Bringing your loans current will help you improve your credit score. If you’re unable to make ongoing payments, just paying the past due amount will help.

To rehabilitate defaulted loans. If you’re in default, now is the perfect time to rehabilitate your loans. The payment and interest relief includes defaulted loans. This means you’ll get credit for payments, but you don’t have to pay through at least September 2021. If you can make payments, as indicated above, 100% will go toward the principal balance. Contact your loan servicer to determine your options for getting out of default.

Who Might Not Benefit from Making Payments?

Borrowers seeking loan forgiveness. During forbearance, you’re getting credit for payment. Making payments won’t help you meet the required number of payments faster. However, should something happen to make you not qualify for forgiveness in the future, you’re not reducing your loan balance without making payments. Be sure to consider the long-term effects if you decide not to make payments while seeking loan forgiveness.

Borrowers with reduced income. If you have temporarily reduced income and cannot afford to make your student loan payment, focus on your priority expenses, such as food, housing, utilities, transportation and medical expenses. Reduce spending wherever possible. Also, if you’re having trouble keeping up on your housing payment, car payment, utilities, etc., contact the company/lender. Let them know about your income reduction, and see what options they give you. It is always better to keep them in the loop.

Borrowers without an emergency fund. Consider building your savings first. Once you meet your savings goal, resume payments. For instance, if you have no money in savings and your student loan payment is $200/month, set aside that payment amount in savings while the loan is in forbearance. If you start in February, you’d have $1,600 in savings by the end of September!   

Borrowers with other debts. If you have other debts with higher interest rates, large monthly payments, or one or two with small balances that are close to being paid off, consider paying extra toward one of those debts while your loans are in forbearance. Once you’ve paid off those other debts, add those payments to your student loans, helping you pay them off faster and save money in interest. If you need to get rid of a monthly payment, it’s best to start with the smallest debt. If you want to save more money in interest, then start with the debt that has the highest interest rate.

Need Assistance?

Even though your loans are in forbearance, it’s a good idea to come up with a plan now if you’re worried about future student loan payments, if you feel like it’s taking forever to pay them off, or if you’re in default or behind on payments.

If you have questions about your student loan payments, default/rehabilitation, credit cards or budgeting, LSS Financial Counseling can help. We have experienced, non-judgmental counselors who will work with you to bring your loans current, create a plan to pay off your debts, or just review your budget with you. Call 888.577.2227 to set up your free appointment, visit the website: https://www.lssmn.org/financialcounseling/

Author Nadine Gall is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling. A version of this article first appeared on the LSS Sense & Centsibility blog page.

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Let’s Get This Garden Started!

By MARY ELLEN KALUZA

March in Minnesota. The days are noticeably longer. We are longing to have dirt under our nails. But isn’t it too early? There’s still snow on the ground. It’s the perfect time to get the garden started.

First: Plan your garden

Know your space—how much sun do you get in the different areas? Put your parka on and go outside. Imagine the trees are fully leafed-out and the sun moving high across the sky. Most vegetables need a lot of sun. Leafy greens can do well in more shaded areas and may actually produce larger leaves valiantly trying to absorb as much sunlight as possible. Save the sunniest areas for tomatoes, peppers, and other fruiting plants. Carrots and other root vegetables will tolerate some shade.

Make your wish list, then pare it down to fit your space. Map out your garden with sun and plant size in mind. Buy your seeds!

Thinking about how the light will be when the leaves come out and the sun is in it’s summer trajectory helps know where to put certain plants. Preparing your soil and planning climbing plants, root crops, and herbs saves headaches down the road!

Second: Start your seeds

Starting plants from seed is a great way to save money. Seeds will stay viable for a few years and store easily in a glass jar in the fridge. You can get dozens of plants out of a $2 – $3 packet. 

A lot of vegetables can be seeded directly into the soil. Read the seed packets for planting times and instructions. In short growing seasons, like Minnesota, many plants must be started inside a month or two before they can go outside.

Save clear plastic clamshell packaging from lettuce or berries to start your seeds.You can control the moisture and warmth with the lid. Save other plastic tubs – yogurt, sour cream, anything you can punch drain holes into for transplanting the little starts into later on. 

Set up your own seed-starting nursery when the timing is right (read the packets). I recommend spending a little money on seed-starting potting mix. I’ve tried regular outdoor dirt and general potting soils and had my heart broken. 

You’ll need more light than what comes through the windows. I bought a used 4 foot fluorescent light fixture that I hang a couple inches above the seed pots in the basement. Seeds need warmth to germinate so I drape aluminum foil over the light and plants (which I reuse each year). Adjust the lights as the plants grow. Sixteen hours of light a day is a good rule of thumb.

Thin the little starts to allow room to grow. That’s where the larger containers you saved come in—transplant the babies after they have “true” leaves and can safely be handled into regular potting soil. When the days are warm enough, gradually move the plants outdoors. Give them an hour or two in a protected area outside to start, increasing the time and exposure to sun and wind over a week or two until they are out all night (keeping an eye on the forecast for danger of frost.) The soil will dry faster outdoors, so be mindful of watering.

Third: Direct seed and transplant

Your cool weather plants can be directly seeded when the soil is dry enough to work in early April. Think kale, lettuce, peas, radishes…

After the danger of frost has passed (mid to late May), transplant your babies into their permanent locations. Plant your seeds for beans, cucumbers and other warm weather plants directly into the soil.

Fourth: Feed, mulch, enjoy

Give your plants a nutritious boost to grow bigger and more beautiful. There are plenty of ways to feed your plants, organic or not. Mulch garden beds to keep down weeds and hold in moisture.

When your neighbors tell you how wonderful your garden looks you can proudly say you grew it all from seed! 

Author Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Certified Financial Counselor with LSS Financial Counseling. A version of this blog first appeared in Sense & Centsibility blog page

LSS Financial Counseling offers free counseling for budgeting, debt, student loans, foreclosure prevention, credit report reviews, and much more.

Phone: 888-577-2227 Website: www.lssfinancialcounseling.org

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March 2021

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New Book Casts Loving SPotlight on the “Sistas”

By DWIGHT HOBBES

This article first appeared in the February 4, 2021 Minnesota Spokesman Recorder

Strive Publishing empowers youth through the enlightening tool of literacy, most recently with “Celebrating the Sistas,” an anthology/workbook showcasing Twin Cities role models for girls.

While these are 10 women, it’s worth noting, young males would do well to heed the examples. The subject said Strive founder Mary Taris, is “women of color making a difference in the fields of education, politics, business, health, and social services. This biography series is building a written legacy for the children while celebrating the strength, determination, care, success, power, and beauty of each sista.

“Every child should have the opportunity to learn about the outstanding contributions of these sistas,” Taris said.

The concept originated with Taris and entrepreneur Kevin Johnson, founder of the Twin Cities Steppers Association. “After attending the 2018 Celebrating the Sistas Annual Awards Dinner,” she recalled, “I kept thinking about all the amazing women who were honored. As an educator, I wanted to find a way to share the inspirational biographies of all the Black women who are working hard for the community.

“So, I asked Kevin Johnson, the founder of Celebrating the Sistas, if he would be interested in partnering on a children’s book series. Kevin was interested and we worked together to get the book project going.”

She added, “This partnership creates a pathway for documenting our legacy while inspiring the next generation.”

For example, there’s Sharon Smith-Akinsanya, CEO at Rae Mackenzie Group CEO, the award-winning marketing firm advising corporations on profitably relating to communities of color. Clients have included Minnesota Timberwolves/Lynx, U.S. Bank, Target and Verizon Wireless. Accordingly, she is the author of “Colorfull: Competitive Strategies to Attract and Retain Top Talent of Color” (Morgan James Publishing).

Neda Renee Kellogg co-founded Project DIVA International with Keeya Allen of The Love Initiative Group. Project DIVA, a grassroots community-based initiative, mentors young Black women and girls part and parcel of which is responding to the pressures in urban environments.

As Kellogg told the MSR in a previous article, “They receive guidance and support in respecting themselves, parents, their school situations. How do you handle frustration when you get upset at school [or] when you’re the oldest at home and have to help Mom with everything? Our coaches provide spaces for these girls to grow into young women by encouraging them to self-discover without limits.”

Toni Newborn, J.D. is the director of Human Resources and Chief Equity Officer at the City of Saint Paul, formerly of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights. Saint Paul Mayor Melvin Carter said in a press statement, “Toni Newborn has helped embed a lens of equity across every city department, and in how we serve our community. [She] will further expand this critical work as we continue moving forward together through these uncertain times.”

Also among the contributors are Rep. Rena Moran, Dr. Artika Tyner, Commissioner Toni Carter, and Tracey Williams-Dillard, MSR owner and publisher.

“Celebrating the Sistas,” said In Black Ink executive director Rekhet Si-Asar, “holds up a mirror to reflect the hard work, dedication, grace, beauty, focus, generosity, compassion, creativity…of those many women of African descent who shape and enrich our lives locally and globally. We are fighting for the lives, hearts, and souls of our young Black girls. This book highlights their immense potential.”

“Celebrating the Sistas Book 1 in the Series of 21st Century Heroines Every Child Should Know,” edited by Taris, illustrated by Kprecia Ambers of Kp Inspires, and created to honor African American girls through illustration and design, marks a welcome addition to personal libraries and coffee tables.

In Taris’ words, “With this biography series, we are building a written legacy for the children. Moreover, each contributor’s story will teach, inspire, and empower children to reach for their dreams.”

For more information, visit www.strivepublishing.com.

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A Golden Age, or Fool’s Gold?

Peace House Community: A Place to Belong

By MARTI MALTBY

I try to find positive things to talk about in this space, but I also want to make sure the voices of the homeless and others who come to Peace House Community are heard. Those two goals sometimes conflict, as homelessness and hopelessness often go together, especially in Minnesota in February.

The optimist in me sees how much resilience and creativity people have shown in the face of the covid pandemic. I admire and appreciate how these folks have found ways to carry on and even to thrive in adversity. I find hope in people’s refusal to give up, and I am reminded of Saint Augustine’s comment, “This awful catastrophe is not the end but the beginning. History does not end so. It is the way its chapters open.” (I have no idea which particular catastrophe Augustine had in mind, but neither it nor any of the catastrophes since have ended history.)

But when I read Augustine’s words, I want to ask him, “The beginning of what? What is going to be written in the chapters we are opening?” Over the centuries many people have made wonderful comments about the golden age that is just over the horizon, and about the inevitable paradise that will result from human progress. Here are just a few samples:

“Where children are, there is the golden age.” – Novalis

“The golden age has not passed; it lies in the future.” – Paul Signac

“The 21st century has more potential than perhaps any other in our brief evolutionary history. We stand on the cusp of computing, genetic and energy generation breakthroughs that were only recently in the realm of science-fiction. A golden age of humanity is tantalisingly within our grasp.” – Clive Lewis

And yet every golden age has had its share of throw-away people who have to fight just to live on the fringes of society. The maxim that a rising tide lifts all boats ignores the boats that get swamped and sink. Every promise about the future of society carries an implicit threat to those who don’t have the skills to succeed in the new world, who aren’t being prepared today for what will come tomorrow, or who just aren’t fortunate enough. The community members who come to Peace House Community are some of the most resilient people I’ve ever met, but I don’t think the pandemic is going to reshape society enough to provide them with a basic standard of living that provides dignity and safety. (And when I say “society”, I of course mean you and me and all the other regular people who have the power to shape the future.)

As I said at the start of this column, I want to see the positives. I want to be optimistic about the future. But I do not want to do so by ignoring unpleasant realities. I don’t want to use the intellectual equivalent of placing my hands over my ears and singing “La-la-la, I can’t hear you!”, like a three year old who doesn’t want to cooperate when his mom tells him it is bedtime. I hope there are enough people out there who are willing to face these uncomfortable truths so that, eventually, we really will reach some kind of golden age.

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Down But Not Out: The Future of Uncle Hugo’s

By CARZ NELSON

Don Blyly might reopen the Uncles. 

During the George Floyd uprising, twin retailers Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction and Uncle Edgar’s Mystery Bookstores were burned to the ground. The loss of these neighborhood institutions was deeply felt. Hugo’s is the oldest science fiction bookstore in the country; its importance to the science fiction community can’t be overstated. The two stores, known collectively as the Uncles, routinely attracted customers from all over the Upper Midwest.

Blyly started Uncle Hugo’s in 1974; the original location was at Fourth and Franklin Avenues. The companion store, Edgar’s, opened in 1980. The bookstores relocated to 2864 Chicago Avenue in 1984; they were fixtures in the Phillips neighborhood for 36 years.

Deciding whether to reopen the stores won’t be easy. At 70 years young, many assumed owner Don Blyly would retire from retail business after the fire. Such assumptions are premature, however. It takes a lot of drive to start over from nothing, but Blyly seems to be equal to whatever tasks he sets himself.


Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction and Uncle Edgar’s
Mystery Bookstores 2864 Chicago Ave. after the
Fire (photo by Uncle Hugo’s Bookstore)

He admits that he has a knack for bouncing back from adversity, “I’ve noticed that I seem to have more resilience than most other people and I’ve wondered why. Partly it is stubbornness. Partly it is because the more of a track record you have at overcoming previous difficulties, the more confidence you have of overcoming the latest difficulty.”

Blyly says the city has a lot to answer for when it comes to the uprising, “Back in 2015 the Department of Justice made recommendations for reforming the Minneapolis Police, but the City Council has done nothing to implement those recommendations. The judge in the trial of Mohamed Noor for the murder of Justine Damond raised issues about problems with the Minneapolis Police that have never been addressed.” 

Since the uprising and subsequent looting, he’s concerned that many people think the area is too dangerous to visit, “About half of my sales were to people outside the I-495/ I-694 loop, and they are now scared to come to Minneapolis to spend their money. Customers in South Minneapolis told me that they would be scared to return to the Uncles if I rebuilt in the old location. The city is going to have to actually work on fixing the problems with the Minneapolis Police instead making ‘defunding’ speeches before people will feel comfortable about spending their money in Minneapolis again.”

Although the last year has been an ordeal, there have been bright spots along the way. With the help of a good lawyer, Blyly’s experience with his insurance company was relatively positive. “There were a few small disagreements that we eventually worked out, but I was very happy about how the claim was handled.” 

When asked if there was anyone he wanted to give a shout out to for their assistance, he said, “The demolition company I hired, Bolander, was very helpful. And Lake Street Council was very helpful.”

Blyly keeps a close eye on the local real estate market, scouting potential locations for a new storefront. He’s been looking primarily in Richfield and South Minneapolis. As of this writing, he hasn’t yet found a suitable place.

Uncle Hugo’s in better days (photo credit: Uncle Hugo’s Science Fiction Bookstore)

Blyly’s daughter, Mina Blyly-Strauss, is working on The Uncles Story Project, a collection of memories about the Uncles. People are encouraged to contribute their stories at the website www.unclesstoriesproject.weebly.com/.

Items from Don Blyly’s personal library are available at Abebooks.com listed under Uncle Hugo’s SF/Uncle Edgar’s Mystery. Nearly 2000 items are up for sale. 

Head over to GoFundMe.com to see the fundraiser that’s been started for the stores. The name of the campaign is Official Help Save Uncle Hugo’s Fund, but you can also try typing Hugo in the search bar and finding it that way. 

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