Portrait by Randall Nelson
Sondra Samuels was fed up with the problems in her north Minneapolis neighborhood. A successful diversity consultant, she also had ideas on how to remedy them. “We knew that violence wasn’t the problem,” she says. “It was a symptom of a greater problem.” She banded with other community leaders to form Northside Achievement Zone in 2010 to tackle the core issue—multigenerational poverty—from all sides. Samuels became president and CEO.
“If poverty is a disease that affects the entire community in the form of unemployment, violence, broken homes, and failing schools,” she says, “then we can’t just address the symptoms in isolation.” NAZ employs volunteers—primarily fellow northside residents—who help people connect with career counselors, implement improvement plans for their families, and find academic support. The ultimate hope is that those who grow up benefiting from these services will finish college, return to the neighborhood, and give back, creating a cycle of multigenerational success. It’s off to a strong start. “We have a 255-block area now,” Samuels says. Good news spreads.