After raising funds from several key donors to renovate a Minneapolis building for its youth programs, Migizi moved into a new space in 2019. The building was within two blocks of the Third Police Precinct. Migizi’s new building was among those significantly damaged during the 2020 uprisings.
Migizi was founded in 1977 to counter inaccuracies about Indigenous people in the media. Its First Person Radio evolved into a First Person Productions program that equips youth with 21st century media skills focused on videography, photography, digital marketing, and social enterprise management.
After the building was destroyed, Migizi’s three primary programs found temporary shelter with neighboring organizations. Seward Redesign facilitated rental in one of the nine buildings it maintains in the neighborhood largely for diverse businesses. Migizi would share space alongside Du Nord Craft Spirits, a distillery and cocktail lounge founded in 2015 by Shanelle and Chris Montana.
Housing a youth program in a building with a bathroom that included patrons of a cocktail lounge was not possible, so the Montanas agreed to keep its bar area — shuttered during the pandemic — closed until perhaps July 2021.
As parents of three young children, coming from simple means in rural Cold Spring and South Minneapolis [picture right], it was not an easy decision for the Montanas to forgo what was 60 percent of the distillery’s income in 2019. Yet, as Chris Montana explains it, it also was an easy decision to make.
“We are living in a moment where we have to focus on needs. Youth programming is a need. Sitting in a bar getting a cocktail is a want. Youth, especially those of color, have unique challenges. Having been a kid in that neighborhood, there is a lot going on that can put you in a bad position. It is more important that Migizi does what they do.”
Du Nord has adjusted much of its original business plan. Although it continues to produce bottled liquor, last year Du Nord’s distillery produced hand sanitizer with other partners that were largely distributed to nursing homes, homeless shelters, and childcare spaces.
After its own space was damaged during the uprisings, an online fund was set up. Donations poured in. From the time it took Chris Montana to drive from Bloomington to Minneapolis, after the fund had been set up, it had met its $30,000 goal. They raised it to $100,000, then $250,000, and finally $1 million.
“We got donations from more than 12,000 people from around the world. We got more money than we needed. The pandemic might take us out, but the building damage would not. We needed to get money to people who were not insured or who were underinsured. ”
The Du Nord Foundation was established quickly. By August the team behind it had given out $15,000 grants to 73 local business owners. One of the first people the Foundation met with wept during the vetting conversation because she had lost everything — her business was looted, her home was above the business, her car was wrecked.
The Foundation now operates a food bank. More than 3,000 neighbors have received tens of thousands of pounds of culturally appropriate food and supplies. “There is no clear line between [the business of a distillery and a food shelf],” says Chris Montana. “When things are better, rock on, open the cocktail room, play music, let’s have fun. But if people do not have what they need first, you are not serving the community. That’s not what a business should do.”
“Our best business decisions have not had a business purpose,” adds Montana. “It is about what people need. People remember that we tried to help — now they want to help us. We have been selling more booze in retail than we ever did before.”
Next up for the Montanas is creating a BIPOC wealth development and incubator project that focuses on people of color who are establishing food and beverage businesses. In general, Chris Montana notes, venture capitalists might invest $1 million in a new business — but only $47,000 if it is led by a Black woman. “It is made harder than it should be. The odds of success are miniscule.”
Du Nord started with a $60,000 loan, whereas others launched similar businesses with millions for equipment and staff. “It is a miracle Du Nord still exists today,” says Montana. In the future, with a kitchen space, the Du Nord Foundation wants to give free access to BIPOC food entrepreneurs to help them generate revenue with sales in the cocktail lounge.
On May 29, 2020, Migizi’s board of directors released a statement about how devastating it was to lose their new building. “We are very, very sad today. It hurts to see hard work, dreams, and spirit — yes, spirit — go up in flames. But the Migizi circle is still strong and we will rebuild.”
Within a few months, 35,000 donors from around the world had contributed $2 million to help Migizi rebuild.
Migizi has selected a new, larger property space that it will own — with space to expand, closer to the South High School where most of the teenagers in its programs attend school. It hopes to break ground on its new space in Fall 2021 with a re-opening in Spring 2022.
Migizi’s youth production program will include a new top-of-the-line media studio.
Its Green Jobs students will have room to expand into a high-quality training center, with two different programs for teenagers and young adults. The team will be hands-on in assessing the 1950s boiler of its future home to determine how to reduce energy costs with solar and more energy-efficient mechanicals.
“I never would have thought this was possible a year ago,” says Migizi executive director Kelly Drummer. “We have been an unknown gem across the state, working on behalf of American youth for 40 years. Our work got international attention, from Japan to Ireland. It was heartwarming and uplifted us [at such a difficult time.]”
The Migizi board released a statement after the uprisings, on May 29, 2020: “The struggle we all face today is a collective struggle, no matter your skin color. Our tribal culture is about collective well-being. We are not an individualistic culture. We define our success in the context of the circle — how we can use our talents and resources to make the circle stronger.
“We lift up everyone in the circle. We share, we help, we support, we love. Your well-being impacts my well-being.
Coming up: The work of Lead for Minnesota fellows, and the regeneration of Greater Minnesota Main Streets