Infinite hope kindles revival of St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood

 

We must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.

~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

These words of Dr. King ring true as preparations move into high gear for Rondo Days, the week of celebration that fills St. Paul’s Rondo Neighborhood with music, dance, great food, sports and, most of all, stories of a community that never lost infinite hope. One has to be “of an age” to remember the pain and “finite disappointment” wrought by flagrant racism that paved the way for Interstate 94. Since that 1960’s travesty that would have destroyed a lesser community I have never traveled that strip of concrete without feeling the pain.

“Back in the day, my high school rose to its sandstone glory on the fringe of Rondo – we took the bus and got to know the neighbor kids as we walked the last few blocks; we traipsed down to Hallie Q. for mandatory gym class. Though we may have thought of ourselves and our school as part of the friendly neighborhood, local residents must have viewed us as uniformed interlopers with no sense of style… Still, those high school years helped me know a neighborhood of which I was not a part but which I experienced as home to loving parents who went to work early, children who hopped, skipped and jumped with joy as they played sidewalk games, a neighborhood overflowing with clubs and playgrounds, schools, countless churches, hairdressers, tailors and corner groceries that met the daily needs of a vibrant and resilient neighborhood that happened to be, in the language of the day, “Negro.”

Then came the bullies and the bulldozers. Rondo was decimated. Homes were leveled, many residents were forced to move, social and commercial life paused….but only paused. Though the strong people of Rondo “accepted finite disappointment” they never lost “infinite hope.”

That was then, this is now. Today the Rondo community is gearing up for Rondo Days, a celebration of the triumph of “infinite hope!”   Rondo Days 2016, set for July 12-16, marks the thirty-third year that neighbors, former residents and Minnesotans who know very little about the history will gather for the celebration sponsored by Rondo Avenue Inc. to revel in the music, dance, food and camaraderie that reflect the triumph of hope. The event is just one of several initiatives fueled by the creativity, energy, and vision of community leaders. http://www.rondoavenueinc.org

Rondo Days visitors will enjoy the event more if you can appreciate the roots and reasons the for grand celebration!!! And if you can’t make it to Rondo Days, the virtual visit will inform you about the history Minnesotans share, but may not know. The story of Rondo challenges all of us to “accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”

So many stories, so many resources – following are just a few learning options:

To get a geographic fix on the Rondo neighborhood, click on this City Pages link: http://www.citypages.com/news/st-paul-map-shows-how-i-94-cut-through-heart-of-citys-african-american-neighborhood-6541556

To get a “feel” for the original Rondo you might want to start here:

  • Read Evelyn Fairbanks’ Days of Rondo, published by the Minnesota Historical Society in 1990 — ebook and audio book versions are readily accessible
  • View the video of Evelyn Fairbanks strolling and sharing her memories of the neighborhood with historian Hy Berman – though both Fairbanks and Berman have died since the video was produced their lively discussion and keen memories bring Rondo to life! http://www.mnvideovault.org/mvvPlayer/customPlaylist2.php?id=16134&select_index=4&popup=yes — the Rondo piece is just 27 mins long but you’ll want to watch the entire River, Railroads and Rondo video, a delightful historic overview of highlights of the Capitol City.

 To dig deeper into the stories of Rondo explore some of the many options including, but definitely not limited, to these:

  • Walk the neighborhood with MHS staffers to discover the secrets of Rondo. Though a last minute post indicates that “Neighborhood Secrets Walking Tour” is sold out, you might want to check just in case – http://www.mnhs.org/event/1349
  • Keep up with the latest on Rondo Days 2016 by faithfully checking the official website – rondoavenueinc.org

Earlier this month the St Paul Pioneer Press posted an informative – and supportive – editorial reviewing the past and offering a glimpse into what’s next for Rondo. It’s a must read: http://www.twincities.com/2016/06/01/editorial-rebuilding-around-rondo-values/ The editorial, based on an interview with community leader Marvin Anderson, cites several ideas; some fall under the “infinite hope” categpru while others are works-in-progress. The design is on the boards and a July groundbreaking is set for a commemorative plaza at Concordia/Old Rondo Avenue and Fisk Street. http://rondoavenueinc.org — (scroll to “commemorative plaza). Co-founder of the Rondo renaissance, Anderson, who retired Minnesota State Law Librarian in 2002, is just one of the leaders and lifetime residents who waste no time on “finite disappointment.” Instead, they harness their collective strength to get up and do what needs to be as they share emulate MLK’s vision of “infinite hope” for their vibrant neighborhood and for the Capitol City.

* * * *

Personal note: Many of us who learned or taught in the Rondo community “back in the day” were painfully aware of what was happening to our neighbors. Though some of us may be post-peak for the revelry, we celebrate Rondo Days in our memories and in our hearts. We want to learn more about the Rondo neighborhood as it was – and as it will be.   We rejoice as character, health, knowledge and good judgment – fueled by infinite hope – honor the past and shape the new Rondo community! My sincere hope is that the spirit of the historic building at 355 Marshall will bolster the rebirth of Rondo. Though the school closed decades ago there’s residual gumption behind that stern façade.

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