I was born to Janice and Richard but by God's grace, LeeRoy and Nadene Neal became my parents very early in my life. My dad worked as a laborer at the Pigs-eye waste water treatment plant in St. Paul where he was a proud union steward until he became a plant manager. After that, he worked with them behind the scenes. My mother was a factory worker at Honeywell and a proud union member as well. My parents were active in a Masonic organization and worked hard to open the Cato’s Lodge on Golden Valley Road in the early 70's. They worked hard to support my little brother and I because they were determined to give us a better life. We were raised on 12th and James Ave N., where I still live today. I attended Bethune, Franklin and North High School where I participated in Volleyball, Basketball and Track and Field. Go Polars!
I volunteered at the Hospitality House as a basketball coach for younger teams and often refereed the games too. Throughout my childhood, I attended many DFL events with my parents and passed out campaign literature at the State Fair which gave me an early appreciation for being politically involved. I especially enjoyed days helping register our neighbors in north Minneapolis to vote in front of Kings Supermarket with my dad, Reverend Parker and others from our community. Our family was invited and attended the Carter/Mondale inauguration back in 1977 which is really where I fell in love with politics.
As a young adult, I quickly learned that college wasn't for me at the time and began a career in military service. I guess you can say that I was born to serve, but over the next two decades, I was trained to lead. I had a break in military service and went to work for the federal government as a civilian employee. I attended the Washington DC Police Department Academy where I graduated near the top of my class. I spent less than two years on the street and got a first-hand taste of policing practices and methods. I decided the military was a better fit for me.
I would return home two or three times a year to visit my family and watched as the conditions in my community became worse. Often, I would wonder why someone wasn't doing something about it. Many years later, after moving home, I was finally able to identify why blight and despair had enmeshed itself in my community. I would look north and see that the 4th ward continued to thrive along with the rest of the city but in my community, all the stores and businesses continued to close. Benign neglect and just plain mismanagement at all levels of government will do that to a community.
After retiring from the military, I moved to Virginia to complete my degree in Political Science and History at Virginia State University. At the age of 44, I graduated Magna Cum Laude and was inducted into both the Political Science and History National Honors Societies. I taught intermittently as a guest teacher for Norfolk Public Schools for five years but was always drawn to the struggles going on at home. I became very vocal and started traveling back and forth in an effort to keep North High School from closing. My son and other family members had graduated from the Science, Math and Technology magnet program and I knew the devastation that North’s closure would have on our community. I packed up and made my way back home determined to become a part of positive change in my community. The continuous closing and underfunding of public schools, the over saturation of low income housing in a small area, the housing foreclosure crisis, halfway houses and the concentration of numerous level III offenders from all over the state coming into the community left many property owners struggling to leave an area that was also becoming more violent.
Why I Am Running
Our children and residents are overly-policed, bullied and abused by some in law enforcement, then tossed into the mass incarceration system designed to prosper at our expense. I have watched as politicians come in with promises of making our community better but the parts of north Minneapolis that are being developed were never meant for or included us. Our schools continue to be underfunded and some in law enforcement continue to abuse us because they are protected by a powerful union and aided by state statues and codes designed to protect them, leaving us dishearten and still disenfranchised. It does not have to be this way and I am determined to make lasting change.
My Work In Action
While still residing in Virginia during one of my many social media conversations, I met a teacher who shared my concerns around the continued decline in funding for the public schools in north Minneapolis. I returned home to meet her and brainstorm how best to combat and reverse the disparity in our schools. The result was the formation of the Northside Schools Collective. With others, we fought for the opening of Franklin Middle School with a Pre-STEM curriculum as a feeder school for the newly designed North High School. We fought to return a Science, Math and Technology program (STEM) program to North High School so the parents would have more academic options to keep their children in the community for high school. This is imperative for building a strong sense of community on the Near Northside.
Our next task was to get a pre-IB program at Olson Middle School. The Loring Elementary and Victory Neighborhood Parents wanted to keep their middle school children in their community, as opposed to busing them to Northeast Minneapolis, but there were no pre-IB options for them in their community for the students to pathway into Henry High School. This was quickly accomplished after working with Minneapolis Public School administration and board members. One of the members of the Northside Schools Collective was recently elected to the Minneapolis Public School Board and another member is currently a DFL Endorsed candidate in the 2018 MSP Board race.
My next task was to work on ways to improve Police and Community Relations at a very critical time for our community. I was contacted by the former Chief of Minneapolis Police Department and asked to Co-Chair a Department of Justice sponsored Minneapolis Police and Community Engagement team. Over the next 18 months, our team worked with the community and MPD administration to establish a plan that if fully integrated, has the potential to build a strong relationship between the Police Department and the Community that they serve.
During my volunteer work over the past 5 years, I've come to realize that much of the battle goes beyond the city level and much more has to be done at the State level. It's a battle that I am ready to lead. Born to Serve, Trained to Lead!