For the past 30 years, Violence Free Minnesota has been gathering information on domestic violence homicides that happen in Minnesota. In October 2019, we released the “Intimate Partner Homicide Report: A 30 Year Retrospective” which provided information on the 685 people killed in Minnesota due to relationship abuse. The report included specific recommendations for policy makers and for all people who live and work across Minnesota.
No one else gathers data on domestic violence homicides in the state. Violence Free Minnesota has taken up this task in part to keep the memory of the victims of intimate partner homicide alive. But we also do this work so that we can learn from these deaths, identify patterns of behavior, and to fashion policy recommendations that can improve the prevention and intervention efforts in this state. For example, we know that approximately 50% of all domestic violence homicides are committed with guns. But we do not know how perpetrators are accessing firearms. We recommend that legislators lift the prohibition on the MN Dept of Health to gather firearms data in order to gain the information needed to fashion gun policies that will be targeted and effective.
JJ’s the kind of kid who can slip through the cracks. He quietly finishes his worksheets, but hasn’t had the confidence to believe in his own ideas. This had been holding him back.
Even though over 70% of students qualify for free-or-reduced-price lunch, thanks to donors, JJ’s teacher and COMPAS connected to bring a stop-motion animation residency into his classroom.
Working with the COMPAS Teaching Artist, students turned social studies lessons into something amazing. They planned storyboards, drew backgrounds, wrote dialog, created puppets, and then used technology to capture and edit original movies.
The teacher’s report? The students loved it! FIVE STARS!
JJ was drawn to this new way to communicate. “At first it seemed hard, but then, with my group, it was easy,” he told us. “You can make your own characters, and they can do… whatever.”
Telling a story by combining artistry, technology, and team work captured JJ’s imagination. His ignited imagination motivated him to keep trying until he was excited about what he created.
Through creative experiences, JJ built confidence in his abilities. His teacher reports his new confidence continued to show up in his learning throughout the year and JJ made great progress because of it.
When Sandy first arrived at Animal Humane Society, her fur was so dirty and matted that the 10-year-old Cocker Spaniel was barely recognizable as a dog. Her skin was badly infected and her teeth were damaged and decayed. The sweet senior spent two weeks at AHS receiving expert medical treatment. and Through it all, sweet Sandy remained in good spirits. With her amazing personality, it’s no wonder Sandy was adopted within a few days in the Golden Valley adoption center. Now she’s happy, healthy, and loved in her new home!
Xenophobia was rampant in South Africa when Patricia married a man from the Congo. When she was 9 months pregnant, her family was targeted. As her home was burning down she fled, hoping to make it to Canada. But on her way she went into labor and gave birth to her son in the El Salvador airport. After settling into a homeless shelter, the person who was supposed to be keeping her safe instead tried to steal and traffic her baby. Patricia resisted, and was tortured. Patricia fled again, but this time with an infant on her hip. Patricia walked—more than 1,500 miles—to finally reach the US/Mexico border, where she asked to seek asylum. Patricia and her son spent months in an American detention center while their case made its way through the courts. Thanks to the compassion of strangers, they finally found their home in Minnesota. But Patricia’s journey wasn’t over. She was haunted by the memories of the pain she had endured. When she first arrived at the Center for Victims of Torture, she was in a dark place, overcome with fear, anxiety, and shame. But the pain that broke her all those years ago is the same pain that rebuilt her strength, courage, and resilience. After five years of therapy sessions and intensive case management at CVT’s St. Paul Healing Center she is now the happy and healthy mom she always wanted to be.
This poetical picture story is by Mike Hazard. It is part of a project called Peace House People that will be exhibited at Franklin Library in April, 2020 funded by an Artist Initiative grant from the Minnesota State Arts Board. The Alley is now featuring a regular column to ensure that we hear the voices of a community that is seldom offered space to tell their story. It came about after we engaged our local Native American community to document their work with the Wall of Forgotten Natives homeless tent encampment that sprang up two summers ago starkly highlighted homelessness in our community. We realized that we were missing the voice of those most impacted.
I STILL LIKE TOMORROW
Stories are shared at Peace House,
the living room of Franklin Avenue.
People speak and we, the people listen.
Near the end of a meditation,
Soynavong Sivo Ravong witnessed
murders, violence, and the hell
that has been happening and will.
Then he ended, I still like tomorrow.
Born in Laos, he fought the Vietnam War.
It’s the war we must remember is
also known as the American War.
I stole a canoe to get out of Thailand.
I came to the United States in 1980.
I work with fiberglass in Lakeville.
I still like tomorrow.
A distraught grandmother called us about her grandchildren being taken by their non-custodial mother to another state. We worked with the children’s father to help locate and recover the children, who had been told by the mother for the last two years she had been keeping them from him that he did not want them, and would not take care of them if he ever had them. The father called around Christmas time to thank us. He told us that he was exhausted after a long day, but he was taking his children to see Santa.
He said “I told them we would see Santa today, and that’s what we’re going to do. I will never give them any reason to doubt that they are the most important people in my life. Ever. I never want them to have that be a question for them again. Thank you for this chance to show them how important they are.”
In the early 1990s a single mother with three children under eight years of age, moved to Minneapolis from a Thailand refugee camp. The mother spoke no English, had no employment skills and relied on public assistance for housing, food and medical care for her and her children. These experiences motivated her children, including Mai-Eng Lee, who purchased her first home through the City of Lakes Community Land Trust and then sold the home to her brother. Mai-Eng was encouraged to work hard in school and to strive for a life of financial independence and a commitment to community service. “My mom is an independent and strong Hmong woman. No matter the struggles my family encountered along the way, she never let anything get in her way and has always supported my siblings and I. She always reminded my siblings and me by saying, ‘we may not have the education you do, but we will do everything we can for you’.” Of the now five children, three are college graduates, one is currently in college and the youngest is currently planning for college.
When Mai-Eng (the second oldest of the five children) reflects on the experience of living in public housing with her mom and the challenges they had to face with the community she says, “We knew we didn’t want that life for our mom, ourselves, or the next generations, but there was just something we couldn’t control.” Mai-Eng believes that many of the challenges they faced arose as a result of poverty, lack of affordable housing and/or job opportunities and very few activities for children. “As a refugee kid I found myself being treated differently, but I never knew the community to be any different.” Mai-Eng chose to embrace those differences and channeled her experiences to focus on plans for her future career. The first step was graduating with a Masters in Social Work (at age 23!) with a focus on policy work. “When I came back [after college] I found that nothing had really changed and it needs to change. I wanted to come back and contribute to my community.”
It isn’t surprising that Mai-Eng’s career in policy work is both personal and professional. Growing up relying entirely on public assistance for all her family’s medical needs, she became a firm believer in quality healthcare with access to everyone. After graduate school her first job was with a local nonprofit as a MNsure navigator in assisting households to find affordable healthcare coverage and care. “One thing I’ve learned is that our healthcare is complicated and challenging and really hard for people to navigate…We are trying to set up a healthcare system that is super-easy but instead it’s super-complex.” Mai-Eng now works as a Community Health Worker for Hennepin County where her focus is on advocating for racial and health equity among young children and families. “We know there are structural racism and health inequities so we are striving to eliminate the barriers that people face when accessing preventative care such as early childhood screening. I envision our community to be inclusive and available [to our clients] so they feel they are part of the process. I want to make sure everyone has access to the opportunities and resources they need.”
In 2016, her advocacy work took a new turn; her brother, Fue Lee, decided to run for a seat in the Minnesota House of Representatives. “It says so much about the life that we lived and where we’re living that influenced my brother to run for public office. These issues and the struggles, the challenges and the sacrifices are what motivated him to decide to lead a public life. Fue Lee won the DFL Primary and was elected State Representative for District 59A in the General Election.
Mai-Eng says she was Fue’s everything; door-knocker, cook, treasurer, lit-drop, and money collector. She was a part of “…a collective effort to turn out people who don’t traditionally vote or those often overlooked by political campaigns.” Their advocacy work included educating their community about how to hold a caucus, how to become delegates and how to go to the convention to be able to vote. Mai-Eng’s hope is that people will be more involved and more inclusive in the political process and that new people will want to go to the convention every year.
Now that the campaign is over, Mai-Eng says she wants to continue to focus on health equity and use her knowledge and experience to work towards making equitable healthcare policies. “Our demographics are changing and I am on the front-line with the families from ethnic minorities and new refugee communities. I have lived through the challenges as a newcomer myself and it is my hope to be a voice in closing the existing gaps in our systems.”
“My entire life story tells a narrative that is oftentimes left out from mainstream media. Even with nothing, from the beginning, our family never lost hope to rebuild a new life filled with prosperity and rich cultural diversity. My family has made significant progress within our own personal lives and in the community. Life’s challenges and despair strengthened my family’s resiliency. I don’t live my life by default is something I think everyone wants but don’t always get.”
We work on building trust and self-confidence at ComMUSICation. One youth would come to class nervous and would even hide from the class to avoid singing and participating. He had no confidence in himself or his abilities and intelligence and did not trust me or the other youth to support him in class. Through the continuous verbal support of his peers and me, he began to participate more and more. He took almost immediately to a new song that talked about issues we face in our community and world and was eager to add his voice when we rewrote lyrics. His confidence grew as he took lead on reworking the song to be about the youth’s perspective. He would hardly sing and was not even present in our class in the beginning of the quarter and at the end he got up on stage and performed this song and others in front of peers from other classes.
Upstream Arts was founded in 2006 by Julie and Matt Guidry, parents of a child with disabilities who witnessed the positive impact of the arts on their son Caleb. Caleb, who is non-verbal, was born with Cornelia de Lange Syndrome, which affects his physical and cognitive development. Caleb had few tools to communicate, until Matt, a professional theatre artist, exposed him to theatre and dance at a young age. Caleb began to use the physical movements, body language, and facial expressions he learned through the arts to engage with those around him; out of this experience, Upstream Arts was born. Our first program was in Caleb’s Special Education classroom in 2006. Since then, Upstream Arts has grown exponentially in response to high demand. Our programs use theatre, dance, music, visual arts and poetry to nurture the social/emotional and communication skills individuals with disabilities need in school, at home and in the community. Annually, we now work 60+ Special Education classrooms. In addition, we work with Adult Day programs, community organizations and provide professional development on accessible arts programming, serving over 3500 individuals of all ages and abilities annually.