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A Bridge to the Next Generation
By Brandt Williams
July 13, 2000
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Retired U.S. General Colin Powell introduced a new community development project planned for South Minneapolis during a stop in the Twin Cities. The Colin Powell Youth Leadership Center is designed to hold four basketball courts, a learning lab, an arts facility, a fitness center and a Central Hall. And while the center will have the general's name, the idea for the facility comes from Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation, a Minneapolis-based economic development corporation.

Colin Powell

Listen to Colin Powell's speech to Minnesota Meeting.

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Photo Credit: Brandy Isom and Fatima Rivas
URBAN VENTURES PRESIDENT Art Erickson says when it came to naming the new multi-million dollar complex they had three criteria. "One, that they came out of the urban experience; two, that they were a leader and, three, that they wouldn't disappoint us after five years, he said"

Colin Powell was born in New York City and was raised by his Jamaican immigrant parents in the South Bronx. Powell was a professional soldier for 35 years. His last assignment from 1989 to 1993, was as the 12th chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the highest military position in the Department of Defense. During this time he oversaw the Persian Gulf War in 1991. Currently, Powell is the chairman of America's Promise, a national organization which partners with local groups to help them achieve their community development goals.

Erickson said Urban Ventures sent a letter to the general to ask him for his permission to use his name. After a couple months, Powell's staff members called back for more information about the organization.

"two weeks after that we received a letter back saying, 'I would be glad to lend my name to this project,'" Erickson said. There was a great sense of awe. I actually took the letter and put it in my desk for about a week to just think about it. This man has given you his name. This is awesome We want to use that properly not misuse it or abuse it."

Erickson, co-founded the non-profit, faith-based organization in 1993. For over 40 years, he has been working with urban youth and aiding community development. Erickson has served as the West Metro Area director for Young Life International and as youth director of summer programs at Park Avenue United Methodist Church. He also served as the president of the Park Avenue Urban program and leadership foundation.

A resident of Minneapolis since 1967, Erickson has been witness to the process of urban decay. He refers to the problem as the Metropolitan Doughnut Paradigm. He says this occurs when resources accumulate in the suburban ring, leaving a hole in the middle which represents the inner city. And, if left alone, Erickson says the hole grows bigger, eating away at the rest of the doughnut.

"If we don't solve the urban problems in the city, in the doughnut hole, we're going to export our problems to the first-ring suburbs and we're doing that. Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park, Richfield; we're exporting our problems to the suburbs."

Urban Ventures is located in a former potato chip factory on Fourth Avenue South near Lake Street in Minneapolis. The organization has created and maintains several programs which target the causes of urban blight. The programs focus on three primary objectives: developing youth leadership, strengthening families and creating meaningful work opportunities.

In the area of work opportunities, Urban Ventures has attracted 11 businesses to the Phillips and Central neighborhood. Combined, these businesses have created 286 new jobs in seven years. To strengthen families, there is the Center for Fathering, which helps men be better parents. For youth, Urban Ventures has a learning lab and the Urban Stars Athletic Club.

T.J. Jones, a member of the Center for Fathering, says these services all work toward the same goal. "Making a whole family healthy, makes a neighborhood healthy, which makes a community healthy," he says. "And when you've got healthy people doing healthy things, you help other people, who are unhealthy, to be healthy."

The center will be located between 29th Street and Lake and between Clinton Avenue and Fourth Avenue. Urban Ventures' communication specialist Todd Svanoe looks at the site from the top of the Fourth Avenue bridge. Carved on the bridge is a quote by John F. Kennedy, which is of particular importance to Urban Ventures.
Every generation needs to build a bridge for the next generation.
"We feel that the Colin Powell Center is that bridge for South Minneapolis," says Svanoe.

The center is estimated to cost $10 million and Urban Ventures is looking for another $6 million for an endowment. Although the organization doesn't have the money to build the center, Erickson is confident that foundations and corporations will get behind the project. He also says that the endorsement by Powell will make it easier for them to raise the money.