Black History Month
History. Tradition. Community.
February is Black History Month.
Since 1926, and the creation of Negro History Week by Carter G. Woodson, the accomplishments of persons of African descent have been recognized each February. The Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights is proud to present Future History Makers, a profile series featuring emerging leaders from the Twin Cities African American community who share our ideals of advancing civil rights and removing barriers to equity. We also recognize the kinship of their work to those who are legacy trailblazers. Thus, in a brief question and answer profile, we uniquely celebrate the past, present, and future.
Future History Maker
Future History Maker Sondra Samuels is the President & CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), a collaborative of over 40 partner non-profits and schools. Along with parents, students, partners and staff, Samuels is leading a revolutionary culture shift in North Minneapolis that is focused on ending multigenerational poverty through education and family stability.
While the NAZ Collaboration is relatively new, formed in 2008, Samuels has long been a staple in the North Minneapolis Community. Samuels and her husband (Don) moved to North Minneapolis with a desire to immerse themselves in community. Samuels quickly became active organizing for progress. She began with gathering together small groups of neighbors for block meetings to address ongoing issues of community unrest and violence. Building on this work Samuels took on leadership roles in the Jordan Area Neighborhood Association and was instrumental in convincing her husband to represent the North Side on the Minneapolis City Council.
Samuels’ passion for cultivating change in her community led her to launch a non-profit organization, PEACE Foundation, which built a grassroots movement across race, class and geography toward the common goal of significantly reducing violence in North Minneapolis. The PEACE foundation was immensely successful in uplifting community and Samuels quickly gained the respect of her peers. Samuels viewed the issue of community violence with a fresh perspective. She says, “If a person has no future or vision, then they are going to pick up a gun. If they instead have a community encouraging them to be successful and providing them with the resources necessary to accomplish such, things will be different.”
In 2008 the North Minneapolis community, desperate for real change and inspired by the results of the Harlem Children’s Zone, pulled together to explore solutions to the seemingly intractable issues that plagued the neighborhood. From this developed an achievement-focused model that creates a permanent solution to the “cradle to prison/grave pipeline”—and builds a roadmap for sustainable community transformation. As a result of Samuels’ proven leadership, the community called on her for this work, and as a result NAZ was created.
Today the NAZ Collaborative is working toward a single goal—to prepare low-income North Minneapolis children to graduate from high school ready for college. NAZ has scaled up in support of over 1,000 parents and 2,300 students as they turn the social service model on its head and lead the creation of a college-bound culture throughout the community.
Samuels, her staff and their partners, work tirelessly to ensure the integration of effective cradle-to-career solutions across the NAZ collaborative; to scale and sustain results across the community, and to achieve the systems and policy changes needed for low income families and children of color to truly share in the prosperity of the Twin Cities Region. Under her leadership, NAZ was named a federal Promise Neighborhood, and has become a nationally recognized model for community and systems change. Samuels serves on the leadership team of Generation Next, (a Strive Initiative); the boards of Minnesota Private College Council, the Center for the Study of Social Policy, and the 2018 Super Bowl Host Committee Advisory Board. She was also appointed by Governor Dayton to serve on the Hennepin County Forth Judicial Selection Commission.
Most Rewarding Work Experience
Being a partner in the NAZ Collaborative. My involvement with NAZ has been a dream come true. When my husband and I first moved to Minneapolis we didn’t have a plan or agenda, but instead a desire to help. We let the community drive what we needed to do. I’m grateful that the community has embraced me and my work.
What Inspires You
The mothers, fathers, and children of the Northside. I’m inspired by their ability to push past life’s obstacles and seek out success. I see people who are not afforded the privileges of education or economic opportunity like I am get up and take on the world with bold confidenc, and serve as role models to others. My community is made up of awesome people and I am blessed to be a part of it.
Advice for Aspiring Professionals
Every generation out of relative obscurity must discover its’ mission, fulfill it or betray it. (Franz Fanon- African Philosopher)
Value and honor people you work with, for, and whom you serve, like your life depended on it.
- Scotch Plains, NJ
- Morgan State University, BA
- Clark Atlanta University, MA
Like Samuels, today’s Legacy Leader William D. Green is an dedicated community leader who marries history and education to empower the communities he serves. Green was born in Massachusetts and as a child spent a lot of time at Fisk University where his father was dean. During this time Green was able to meet such luminaries as W.E.B. Du Bois and Thurgood Marshall. These experiences help shape Green’s love of history and passion for impacting change.
Green is a well-respected and familiar leader in the Twin Cities community. Green served as superintendent of the Minneapolis Public Schools from 2006 to 2010. In this role he was credited for restoring public confidence in this Minneapolis School District’s ability to educate its’ children. Today, Green is a professor of history at Augsburg College. Green is also an award winning author who has published many articles and op-ed pieces, on history, law, and education. He has also published two books on race and civil rights in Minnesota history-A Peculiar Imbalance in Early Minnesota: 1837-1869, and Degrees of Freedom. The Origin of Civil Rights in Minnesota, 1865-1914, which won the 2015 Minnesota Book Award-Hognander Prize. He is presently working on a history of Minnesota during the period of the Civil war and Reconstruction.
Green received his B.A. in History from Gustavus Adolphus College, and his M.A., Ph.D. and J.D. from the University of Minnesota. He has spoken widely at such places as the Ramsey County Bar Association; Bethel Lutheran Church, the Friends of the Ramsey County Library; Unity Unitarian Universalist Church in St. Paul, and William Mitchell Law School. He has also lectured at Peabody College-Vanderbilt University, St. John’s University, and Lincoln College-Oxford University. While serving as Superintendent of Minneapolis Public Schools, he studied school reform at Harvard University. Green currently serves as vice president of the Minnesota Historical Society.