Fostering collaboration, community and exchange

Fostering collaboration, community and exchange

By Melvin Giles, [email protected]

“The cause of freedom is not the cause of a race, a sect, a party, or a class; it is the cause of humanity, the birthright of humanity.” Anna Julia Cooper

Happy summer and Independence Month, Monitor readers.

I was in high school when we celebrated the 200th anniversary of America’s independence from Britain. And now, almost 250 years later, Fredrick Douglass’ moving, courageous, and historic Fourth of July speech/speech still rings true today, especially when we look at the realities of our social, economic, health, housing, and other daily inequalities. Here are a few quotes from Mr. Douglass from 1852:

“…The Declaration of Independence is a LINK in the chain of destiny of your nation; and so I regard it. The principles contained in this document are redemptive principles. Hold fast to them, on every occasion, in every place, against all enemies, and at all costs…The signers of the Declaration of Independence were brave men. They were great men too—great enough to make a great age famous. It is not often that a nation has produced so many truly great men at one time. The point from which I have to look upon them is certainly not the most positive; yet I cannot rate their great deeds with less than admiration. They were statesmen, patriots, and heroes, and I will join with you in honoring their memory for the good they did and the principles they fought for. They loved their country more than their own private interests; and while this is not the highest form of human excellence, all will admit that it is a rare virtue, and one that must command respect when displayed. He who will wisely lay down his life for his country is not a man whom human nature should despise. Your fathers laid down their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor for the cause of their country. In their admiration for liberty…”

To hear more of Fredrick Douglass’ July 4th message, go to or search for Fredrick Douglass on Google.

And in the spirit of Independence, Liberty, Justice and Self-Government, I asked a Minnesota transplant to share some fresh perspective on what he has seen and experienced in the Twin Cities, particularly in St. Paul and the Rondo area. Thanks, Gary Hampton

Fostering Collaboration, Community and Change in Rondo and St. Paul

“Over the past few weeks, there have been countless opportunities to experience and share the positive developments taking place in the Saint Paul and Rondo communities. Just a few weeks ago, the Black Cooperative Agenda National Conference took place at the Union Depot in St. Paul. This event brought together local and national organizations and individuals to share the spirit of cooperatives. This spirit is something I have experienced through the relationships I have developed with community members in St. Paul since moving to the Twin Cities. In particular, Melvin and Metric Giles, Urban Farm and Garden Alliance (UFGA), and Hannah Lewis, Renewing the Countryside (RTC), have been instrumental in this journey. Their work on building community through urban agriculture and climate initiatives has been a blessing.

The conference’s location in St. Paul was appropriate and showcased the vision and spirit of Melvin Carter, Jr., who sees St. Paul as a focal point for future cooperative development in Minnesota and potentially nationally. As an active advocate for the cooperative community, business, and economic development, my heart was full as I attended the conference and contributed to its energy and success. It was certainly the right place for such an event.

The conference resonated with the cooperative spirit of the community and urban agriculture sector, with attendees discussing food sovereignty, systems, and solutions that can lead to greater food security for all. As the conference drew to a close, we had the opportunity to share our experiences at the Association of Cooperative Educators conference in Bismarck, ND. This was a great opportunity to highlight positive developments in St. Paul. Melvin Giles and I shared our ideas on how the community is encouraging collaboration through agriculture and climate initiatives.

We discussed Renewing the Countryside’s (RTC) role as a community partner in supporting urban farmers and ranchers. We also highlighted the mini-forest project and green screen installation in the Rondo community at Pilgrim Baptist Church, a historic site on the Underground Railroad. The green screen and mini-forest will serve as enduring symbols of what community collaboration and solidarity can accomplish. The Urban Farm and Garden Alliance, RTC, the University of Minnesota, Maxfield Elementary School, Great River Greening, and the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources contributed to the research and installation of these projects. A year ago, the community-centered initiative was in the community engagement and research phase, focusing on intergenerational input and participation. The green screen was erected at Pilgrim Baptist Church between the fence line and the urban farm on the property in early May 2024.

If you have the opportunity, visit the community to see firsthand how trust and collaboration can lead to a collaborative, potentially transformative opportunity for both the community and the environment. The benefits range from protecting an urban farm’s soil from erosion outside of the growing season to improving air quality and reducing pollution, which often leads to higher rates of asthma and respiratory problems in urban areas.

“As a result, the initiatives in Rondo and St. Paul are bringing agroecology and climate solutions that will provide value for future generations. The Rondo community in St. Paul truly exemplifies the value of collaboration and how collaborative trust can lead to collaborative opportunities for change.” Gary Hampton, The Original Intertwingler


Keep the good thoughts alive, keep the hope alive, and stay optimistic! Also, congratulations to Sounds of Blackness, a musical group that has been bringing 53 years of inspiring and proactive tones, sounds, rhythms, lyrics, and energy to the Twin Cities, our country, and the world!

Let There Be Peace in Rondo, Frogtown, Hamline/Midway, Como and Surrounding Communities… Let There Be Peace in Our Homes and Communities… Let There Be Peace on Earth (MPPOE).