The Roof Depot demolition project in south Minneapolis has gotten a lot of media attention, but at the heart of it is a neighborhood’s fight to protect their children’s health.
Nicole Perez is from the Red Lake Nation. But, she and her family live in the Little Earth Native-preference housing development in south Minneapolis.
And, Perez understood the urgency of dealing with the toxic pollution levels in her East Phillips neighborhood, when it started affecting her loved ones.
“I became involved when my granddaughter developed asthma. And so I’m like, okay, I’m going to these meetings that Joe was involved with. I want to hear this out. I watched Karen do that flip chart that she has, and I really like paid attention. I even videotaped so that I could watch it afterwards. They had like 100% of my attention at that point because I’m like, I live here. If this pollution has something to do with this at the SMA, then you know, anything that I could learn about, I was there.” said Perez.
Perez is affectionately known as the “Angry Grandma” of Little Earth. The mother of 5, and grandma of two, was at an East Phillips Neighborhood Institute meeting with her son…
“Joe Vital, volunteer with the East Phillips Neighborhood Institute or EPNI the steering committee that has been fighting for control of the Roof Depot site for the last eight years. Member of the Red Lake Nation and proud Mexican,” said Vital, introducing himself.
And, the mother-son duo are sharing the data that shows their neighborhood faces disproportionate health impacts from pollution.
As Perez and Vital volunteer their time to grow support for the EPNI indoor urban farm project, they’re also fostering a united community group that feels like family.
“Everybody in everything is welcome because this has always been a community-led effort that I’ve learned, and it needs to be that going forward. And that’s why it’s so easy for folks like my mom just, you know, quick in because there is no ego,” said Vital.
While there might not be much ego, they’re trying to make smart moves for their cause.
They’ve got momentum with the Minnesota State Legislature on a bill that would grant them $ 20 million to help build the Urban Farm development.
But, the EPNI proposal has already been rejected by the Minneapolis City Council.
“It was very hurtful because, you know, I’m very close with my grandbabies and I just want better for my family than what I had or, you know, I want my kids to have so much more. And so I’ve had my family very close. My daughters are in college, so we don’t have like the means to move out of Little Earth right now. And so, you know, it was scary,” said Perez
A temporary injunction on Minneapolis’ Roof Depot demolition plan is holding back bulldozers. But, the Minnesota House bill to fund the urban farm is in early stages at the Capitol.
Either way, Vital and his mother will work to keep growing their community family to protect everyone in East Phillips.
“It’s simply just that we need to stop the city project because it’s so polluting in this already overburdened community. And people get that. People get that. It’s just the city to understand that. But the tide is shifting because now the broader public outside of these groups is beginning to see our story and begin to see our reality. I mean, this is an example of that.”
Isavela Lopez reporting for Minnesota Native News
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