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Northside neighborhood honors 'champions'
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Regina Shannon is one of the neighborhood champions who is being honored by the Hawthorne Area Community Council. Shannon is a registered nurse and an ordained minister, and runs a day care center out of her home. (MPR Photo/Brandt Williams)
Residents of a north Minneapolis neighborhood say they're tired of negative attention brought to their community by crime and violence and are ready to highlight some of its assets. The Hawthorne Area Community Council is honoring more than 100 people they call Hawthorne Neighborhood Champions for their efforts to make the area a better place to live.

Minneapolis, Minn. — Hawthorne, like other nearby north side neighborhoods, has more than its share of crime. According to Minneapolis police statistics, in September Hawthorne was the site of 77 serious crimes, such as assault and robbery. Five homicides have occurred in the neighborhood so far this year.

Two of those killings happened close to Regina Shannon.

"Directly behind me there was a father that was killed over a bicycle," she says. "And then two houses over in front of me, there was another man killed."

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Image Jose and Ilya

Shannon is one of the neighborhood champions being honored Monday night by the Hawthorne Area Community Council. She's also one of just over 6,000 people living in the neighborhood, located just a few minutes north of downtown Minneapolis.

Shannon is a registered nurse and an ordained minister, and has lived in the area since 1998. She runs a daycare center out of her home.

"All those killings prompted me that we needed to do something in the neighborhood that was positive, because every time I kept seeing any of the neighbors it was over a death," says Shannon.

Shannon organized a block party, and through her efforts a local grocery store donated food for the event. Neighobors pitched in to cook and clean up. There was music, cotton candy and balloons. Organizers gave away free backpacks and school supplies to children.

"Now I see the neighbors, we know one another better," says Shannon. "That particular day, there was a lot of communication going on amongst the neighbors, where they were talking and bonding and getting to know one another. And now I see people are waving, and just more bonding that went on in the neighborhood because of it."

Everyday people are champions and heroes. Unfortunately, we live in a society now where champions and heroes have to have a certain athletic skill or make a lot of money. But the reality is the real champions and heroes are out there every single day.
- Jose Velez

"It was a great event, and it happened because this woman decided to step up in her community," says Jose Velez, director of the Hawthorne Community Council. "She saw her community feeling hurt and she wanted to find a way to heal it."

When Velez came to Hawthorne more than two years ago, he found a lot of poverty and boarded-up buildings. He also found people like Regina Shannon. And this year when he went looking for nominees for the award, he learned of others whose actions were more commonplace. He heard about people who raked leaves or shoveled sidewalks for elderly neighbors.

"Everyday people are champions and heroes," Velez says. "Unfortunately, we live in a society now where champions and heroes have to have a certain athletic skill or make a lot of money. But the reality is the real champions and heroes are out there every single day."

The Champions Initiative was created by Family and Children's Service, a private, nonprofit agency based in Minneapolis. Several other neighborhoods in the city have already been a part of the initiative.

Ilya Yacevich, who works with Family and Children's Service, says the certificates and medallions given to the Champions are part of an effort to inspire them to continue their good works.

"Our commitment is for over a year to work with them," she says. "Help to support them. And encourage them in any types of neighborhood community-building types of activities that they are wanting to do, or see happen in their neighborhood."

Those activities include leadership training and mentorship for those who want to learn more about neighborhood activism.

Regina Shannon says she likes the idea of recognizing people for community involvement. But for her it's less about personal recognition than it is about trying to improve conditions and perceptions about her neighborhood. She laments the fact that media attention to Hawthorne focuses on a few drug dealers and gang members.

"And those few people keep enough ruckus going in the neighborhood to make it look like the whole north side and Hawthorne is a bad place to be," says Shannon. "And that's not true."

Award recipients include police officers, teachers and others who work in the neighborhood. The youngest recipient is a nine-year-old girl.

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