NCRT Didn’t “Wander in Circles” Following North Minneapolis Tornado, Says Louis King

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Click on Photo to Hear Interview with NCRT Leader Louis King

Click on Photo to Hear Interview with NCRT Leader Louis King

Following last year’s May 22 tornado that devastated North Minneapolis, a coalition of nearly 60 local organizations came together to form the Northside Community Response Team (NCRT) to confront both the short-term and long-term needs and challenges facing north siders in the wake of the storm. Louis King, CEO of Summit Academy, a nonprofit vocational training center, became the de facto head of NCRT, which over the summer and fall distributed services and $1.3 million raised by the Minneapolis Foundation.

NCRT, the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County also faced criticism for the pace of its aid. By the end of last summer, much of the money was still sitting in church coffers and hadn’t yet aided tornado victims. Meanwhile, many tornado victims were kept for weeks in overcrowded shelters, calls to the NCRT’s aid hotline went unanswered, and some residents who flocked to a disaster recovery center encountered not food or hygienic necessities but informational brochures telling them where they could go downtown for help.

Reflecting on a year of recovery

On the one-year anniversary of the tornado, Louis King reflected on NCRT’s performance.

“Thank you for telling us how to be better the next time something like this happens. We need to hear feedback on what didn’t work right. It took (time) to figure everything out. What is the money for, who does it go to, how will you disperse it, how will you account for it? Who knew what to expect? We wanted not to have false starts, and I think we did it right. We spent very little time wandering in a desert going in circles. I’d say within 48 hours of the event — considering the fact we never had any emergency drills, we never worked together, we had no prepositions, supplies or plans — we were in business and moving forward.”

“My in-laws lost their house. I’ve worked in this community for 23 years. It is my community. So to walk through it and see the devastation is just heartbreaking. I’m proud now to be part of a movement over the last year that came together, put our differences aside and focused on helping other people, and made a commitment to be professional while doing it.”

Asked what North Minneapolis residents need most now, with the tornado in the past, King talked about jobs.

“The majority of the people in North Minneapolis are African-American. African Americans have a 21 percent unemployment rate in this town. And so if you’re renting, or owning or sleeping on a bench, you want a job. Lets start there and put this community to work.”

“At Summit Academy we believe the best social service program in the world is a job. In 20 weeks we can take you from $3,000 a year to $35,000. We helped build the TCF Stadium; we’re helping to build the Light Rail; we helped build the Twins’ stadium; put a green roof on the Target Center, we’re gonna help build the Vikings stadium.”

“Most infrastructure projects don’t happen here. The main thing is, let’s get the people of North Minneapolis working anywhere and everywhere, from North Dakota to North Minneapolis to East St. Paul. We want those people bringing home checks so they can take care of their own families.”

Jacob Wheeler

In addition to shooting videos for The UpTake, Jacob Wheeler is a contributing editor at the progressive political magazine In These Times, publishes the Glen Arbor Sun in his native Michigan, and authored "Between Light and Shadow," a recent book about the Guatemalan adoption industry. Wheeler's stories have appeared in such magazines as the Utne Reader, Earth Island Journal, Rotarian and Teaching Tolerance magazine, and newspapers including the San Francisco Chronicle and Christian Science Monitor. He speaks fluent Spanish, German and Danish.

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