Why North Minneapolis?

V3 Center is the Right Project at the Right Time and Place

October 15 was one of those gray days, where the clouds hang low and the cold cuts through you. It was the middle of a Wednesday and the once bustling intersection of Plymouth and Lyndale in the heart of North Minneapolis was deserted. COVID-19 was the likely culprit. U of M Professor Ezra Hyland unzipped his fleece pullover and revealed a black V3 Learn to Swim t-shirt. Then he took off his face covering, unleashing a smile from ear to ear.

Ezra Highland near the future home of the V3 Center.

“So, in my mind’s eye, I see this as a place that’s going to be alive and full of activity,” Hyland remarked, pointing to the former Muscle Bound Bindery building, now home to V3 Sports. The location, almost tucked in the shadows beneath the skyscrapers of Minneapolis, was strategically selected for a brand new community hub focused on health and wellness featuring a world-class pool that will drive economic growth.

“We see downtown and to think about the gap that exists, that freeway in some ways almost seems like a border, where you see all the wealth and power. A lot of opportunities, a lot of development goes by. We need things that are anchored here, that are part of the community that can draw more positive activities and organizations here,” Hyland, who is also on the V3 Board of Directors, explained.

That’s the vision and mission for the V3 Center; a hub addressing inequities by ensuring health and wellness opportunities are affordable and accessible for everyone. 

North Minneapolis has been the home for V3 Sports for many years as young triathletes found their own personal drive and determination to train and succeed in regional and national events. V3 alum Isaac De Souza looks forward to the day when children and adults have a place to learn to swim in his North Minneapolis Neighborhood. 

“I think it’d be a huge change because it means access. It means having the ability to learn something that people are learning all over Minnesota, but we don’t have that opportunity here for some reason. It’s a chance to learn to do something that could ultimately save your life,” he said.

A group of young V3 traithletes pose after a competition.
Preliminary rendering of the V3 Center.

The advocates who are tirelessly working to raise funds for the construction of the V3 Center love to hear that familiar question: “Why North?” ‘Why not’ is an easy answer, but it certainly doesn’t offer the context the center deserves.

“People are looking for different ways to connect with their community. I think it will be an important space to have. People can relax, learn about themselves and learn about the people around them,” Analyah Schlaeger dos Santos, a former teammate of De Souza, explains.

While some people see headlines connected to North Minneapolis, they really don’t know much about the community of 110,000 residents. For instance, 25% of those in the community are under the age of 18 and 54% of all residents are people of color. 

Diversity is celebrated in NOMI, as it’s affectionately called, and this part of Minneapolis is known as a hub for non-profit organizations focused on creating economic stability, educational attainment and neighborhood revitalization. But many are fighting an uphill battle. Between 2000 and 2012, income levels in Minneapolis rose 21.6% while the income levels in North rose just 3% in that period. Furthermore, the unemployment rate is more than twice the rate in the rest of the City.

“One of the biggest complaints that we have in our community is we don’t have enough resources, enough things for the kids. I think that once this (the V3 Center) is developed, it will be the opportunity that we’ve been asking for,” North High School Head Football Coach Charles Adams III said.

“This community doesn’t need handouts, but it needs a hand. If we raise healthy children, then we have healthy adults. Then we have a community that can take care of its own health, right?”

— Ezra Highland 

“One of my favorite quotes is ‘it’s so much easier to raise healthy children than to fix broken adults’ and so this is a way you can give to a community that’s vibrant and thriving. This community doesn’t need handouts, but it needs a hand. If we raise healthy children, then we have healthy adults. Then we have a community that can take care of its own health, right?” Hyland wondered.

Now that we have moved past the “why” question, let’s talk about “when. “The world has changed remarkably since the coronavirus took hold of our society, turned it upside down and exposed the health and wellness disparities that exist in every city across the country. The National Urban League recently released a report, citing data from Johns Hopkins University, stating that Black Americans are infected with COVID-19 at nearly three times the rate of White Americans. The report also shows Black Americans are twice as likely to die from the virus.

Ezra Hyland, a national expert on literacy research, particularly as it relates to children, has spent a great deal of time studying coronavirus data recently. And as the national, state and local data suggests, the virus won’t disappear in the coming weeks. 

The scholar and North Minneapolis resident offers a broader view as he considers COVID-19 and the work V3 is undertaking. “The thing we found in the time of COVID is people who have prior conditions, whether it’s obesity or high blood pressure or many other lifestyle related things, are the most impacted. So, imagine if we can take children at an early age and introduce them to a healthy lifestyle. We’re not just dealing with a moment, but we’re creating healthy lifestyles.”

So, on that chilly and overcast October day, donning only a t-shirt and jeans, Ezra Hyland smiles, thinking about the brighter days ahead. Especially on the corner of Plymouth and Lyndale Avenues in North Minneapolis.