Yonci Jameson: On How Community Development Can Lay the Groundwork for Long-Lasting Change

Yonci Jameson grew up in the North Side of Minneapolis, a predominantly black neighborhood. But she went to high school across town, where her classmates and teachers were mostly white.

The contrast was stark, and made a big impact on her. “It was clear that my neighborhood has been historically disinvested in, with lots of marginalized folks living there,” Yonci said. “And it’s starting to gentrify now, which is bringing a lot of change to the area.”

But Yonci, who finished her last semester in the Community Development Program at Minneapolis College this month, says here interest in community organizing and development started at an even earlier age—at her Montessori grade school. “It was very intensive individualized learning, and I think it really helped drive my interest in community development. The community aspect was always present growing up.”

She further developed her interest in community change work in high school, particularly after Mike Brown, an unarmed black teenager, was fatally shot by police in Ferguson, Missouri in 2014. “There was so much light being shed at the time on police brutality and violence against black people,” she said. “I participated in a lot of protests and activism in high school, but it also made me start to wonder: how can we translate this into laying the groundwork for something bigger?”

During her senior year of high school, she began earning dual credits at Minneapolis College. There, the community at the school immediately struck her. “I was like, wow, there’s all different types of people here, from all types of backgrounds, and my teachers aren’t all white,” Yonci said. “Some of the students are older than I am; some are even older than the teachers—I can learn a lot from people here.”

After discovering the Community Development Program, her interest also grew in community development as a potential path towards more sustainable, ongoing change. “During protests, there’s always a lot of momentum going, until it’s over or gets shut down,” Yonci said. “Afterwards, I would always wonder: where is this all going? I wanted something more tangible.”

She particularly enjoyed the practical applications of what she learned as part of coursework in the Community Development Program. In a class taught by Syd Beane, who helped found the CLP program in Minneapolis, Yonci learned about how government funds are used in developing neighborhoods. “He taught us what a community development corporation is, what government funds are used, and the different type of development that can result,” Yonci said. The class also visited the nearby Native American Corridor, a stretch of several blocks in downtown Minneapolis that has been intentionally developed with native-owned business.

“We talked about theories and concepts,” Yonci said, “But we also applied those concepts on the ground.”

As for what’s next for Yonci, she isn’t quite sure yet. “Part of me wants to travel and learn more about community development in other parts of the country and world,” she said. But don’t be surprised if you find her back in Minneapolis, fighting to make the place she’s called home her whole life a better place to live. “I love my community here, I want to do this work full time here, and keep learning how to uplift my own community.”