Interview of Makram El-Amin
Interviewer: 00:20 Yeah. So, can you tell us your first and last name, and spell it?
Makram El-Amin: 00:23 Yes, my name is Makram El-Amin, that’s M-A-K-R-A-M. El-Amin, E-L hyphen A-M-I-N.
Interviewer: 00:33 All right. So, can you look at this map and tell us where you live, around this area?
Makram El-Amin: 00:42 Okay. So, I’ve lived in a couple places.
Interviewer: 00:47 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 00:48 I currently live just north of Lowry. So, Lyndale, and a lot of what is in this area, North Market is a little far. So, I live probably right in this area right here, right now. Just off the expressway right here.
Interviewer: 01:08 Oh, I see that.
Makram El-Amin: 01:08 Yeah.
Interviewer: 01:09 Yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 01:10 Yeah. But I grew up right up on 8th Avenue, which is just below, on this map here, North High School. And I’ve lived right across in Harrison neighborhood. Right across over on the other side of Olson Highway.
Interviewer: 01:28 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 01:29 I’ve lived there as well. And bought my first home on 2711 Girard Avenue.
Interviewer: 01:36 I live on Girard Avenue.
Makram El-Amin: 01:37 Do you?
Interviewer: 01:38 Yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 01:38 Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, I’ve lived, and I’ve owned property in and around there.
Interviewer: 01:42 Yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 01:43 So, I’ve lived all over-
Interviewer: 01:45 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 01:45 … basically.
Interviewer: 01:45 So, how long have you been living in North Minneapolis?
Makram El-Amin: 01:50 Let me see. My family moved to`… we moved to basically the projects.
Interviewer: 01:58 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 01:59 And this is 1976 when we moved here. My dad came before we came, we were in Chicago still, so my dad came up probably three, four months, just to kind of find us a place, start his job, and all that. Then he brought us up here then, right. So, it was ’76-ish, right?
Interviewer: 02:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 02:17 You know, ’76, ’77, is when we actually came up here.
Interviewer: 02:24 Okay.
Makram El-Amin: 02:24 We’ve lived in North Minneapolis, we’ve grown up here. For a short stint of time there was a couple years we lived in Brooklyn Center.
Interviewer: 02:34 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 02:34 My family, not my parents, my family.
Interviewer: 02:36 Yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 02:36 My wife and my children. We’ve lived in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park area for a short time.
Interviewer: 02:42 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 02:45 But then we missed it, so we came back. We came back, and we’ve been back for 10 years at least.
Interviewer: 02:55 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 02:55 You know what I mean?
Interviewer: 02:56 Nice.
Makram El-Amin: 02:56 Yeah.
Interviewer: 02:56 So, thinking about from one month here-
Makram El-Amin: 03:00 Yes.
Interviewer: 03:01 … what positive or negative changes have you seen so far?
Makram El-Amin: 03:06 You know, it’s interesting. When we moved here all of my family was in Chicago. So we were kind of like the defectors. We kind of broke the gang up-
Interviewer: 03:14 Mm-hmm (affirmative). (laughs).
Makram El-Amin: 03:14 … and came up here, right? I can remember distinctly being very sad.
Interviewer: 03:22 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 03:23 Thinking there’s nothing like Chicago. I mean, what are we doing?
Interviewer: 03:29 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Interviewer: 03:29 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 03:30 All that kind of stuff. First time riding on the airplane, to come up here, you know. But when I got here, we had this, I don’t know what it’s called, it’s like a bunker mentality. You know, where it was us against the world basically. We’re here, we’re in a new space. Our family was very, very close, tight knit.
Interviewer: 03:52 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 03:53 I can remember growing up having family meetings, and all that kind of stuff. Just making sure we’re touching down with each other and all that. And so my experience kind of grew out of that, right?
Interviewer: 04:06 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 04:07 And what I’ve found is a community. That’s what I found, I found a community. I found when I got over, mind you, I was a kid then, right? So, was I kind of getting over my initial loss of thinking I’m leaving my cousins, I’m leaving all that kind of stuff. I found I opened up and kind of embraced it for my own self. I found a community.
Interviewer: 04:35 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 04:36 I found people who were close.
Interviewer: 04:41 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 04:42 And tight knit, particularly there in [inaudible 00:04:44] area, it’s Heritage Park now.
Interviewer: 04:45 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 04:46 But it used to be the projects. And that’s where we grew up, going to Phyllis Wheatley, Bethune, went to all that kind of stuff. I can remember going there for the community center type stuff, you know what I mean?
Interviewer: 05:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 05:05 And I met friends there that I’m still friends with today, even all these years later, you know what I mean? I found community. We found that, coming from Chicago, and coming up to North Minneapolis, and people talking about negatively, and that sort of thing. It’s like, what you talking about? This is heaven up here, you know what I mean? In fact, I remember growing up, this sounds crazy, we used to say, you know, the saying in New York that says “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere,” right?
Interviewer: 05:45 Yeah, yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 05:46 We said about Minneapolis, we said “If you can’t make it here, you can’t make it nowhere.” Where we thought it was opportunities, it was plentiful, it was a lot from what many of us kind of experienced before. Not to say, we weren’t well-to-do or about any stress. We lived in public housing. So, we weren’t well-to-do anything, the pride of public housing we shared. We were kind of like live-in guests who had a house, and almost like a guest house connected, and our family stayed there until we approved for our public housing. Again, I found community. I found a lot of people I who I can really relate to. Minnesota began to grow on me, and grow on me to the fact that when I went back to Chicago, they said “Man, ya’ll talk different now. What’s wrong with ya’ll? What’s up, ya’ll talk proper.” Stuff like that, we hear that kind of stuff from our cousins, who just a few years earlier, you couldn’t tell us apart type stuff.
Interviewer: 06:57 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 06:58 So yeah. Those are some of my early memories, yeah.
Interviewer: 07:01 Yeah. So, the community that you found back then, do you see any changes compared to back then?
Makram El-Amin: 07:07 Certainly. Certainly. I think it’s becoming more densely populated, there’s a lot more people here now. The black community ha grown. You could basically find us all in one spot almost, but now … Just say you lived in Brooklyn Park back then. It was like, damn, what’s the zip code out there? How many buses did you take? It was like that.
Interviewer: 07:34 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 07:35 It was like that because back then there was no development. There was not even Brookdale and all of that. That stuff was still to come. Back then that stuff was wide open. It was like farms out there.
Interviewer: 07:52 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 07:53 It was still like that. So, I remember what happened with a friend, he said “I live in Brooklyn Park.” Brooklyn Park? Dang, I mean, it just seemed like you had to go on a road trip.
Interviewer: 08:02 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 08:03 When basically it’s just straight, basically. Brooklyn Park is the hood now.
Interviewer: 08:06 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 08:06 That’s the hood, so that’s the change. That’s the change. Where things seemed to be so distant have people living now, not just in North Minneapolis and South Minneapolis, but living in Richfield, and Roseville, and New Hope, and Crystal, and all that has become the hood. And there’s really no real differentiating that now, but back then, oh man, I was like you’re crossing lines basically.
Interviewer: 08:38 (laughs)
Makram El-Amin: 08:38 Obviously with that, the population, folks coming from everywhere. There’s a situation where we’re from Chicago, it used to be kind of thing where everybody used to talk about how everywhere else was better.
Interviewer: 08:56 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 08:57 But yet, we’re all here. It was kind of like that whole-
Interviewer: 09:00 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 09:00 … that whole contradiction.
Interviewer: 09:02 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 09:02 And ain’t anybody going nowhere. That kind of thing,
because life is better here.
Interviewer: 09:08 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 09:08 Say what you want. Say what you want. Even now I enjoy travel, my work is taking me all over the world. But man, I’ve got to come home, I got to touch down. I think that that is when I began to know when I began to miss it. We used to go back and stay in Chicago for summers. At least a good chunk of the summer, and I would miss home.
Interviewer: 09:37 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 09:40 I can remember kind of feeling sort of weight about that. Like, my loyalties was a little-
Interviewer: 09:44 Yeah (laughs).
Makram El-Amin: 09:46 One time, the Vikings and the Bears were playing football, and I’m cheering. I want the Vikings to win. And my cousin’s look here like, “Who are you?” And at that point I had basically crossed over. (laughs).
Interviewer: 10:00 You knew it was official.
Makram El-Amin: 10:05 Yeah, it was official. It was official, man. I was, even now my wife’s from Chicago-
Interviewer: 10:11 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 10:11 … from Chicago, I went back to Chicago after high school, went to college there for a couple years.
Interviewer: 10:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 10:16 That’s where we met, in college. But even now, she moved
up here with me, and then go back, we can stay three days, four days, but then it’s time to come home.
Interviewer: 10:30 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 10:31 It’s time to come back home now.
Interviewer: 10:32 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 10:35 I know you didn’t ask for all that, but I’m just, you know.
Interviewer: 10:37 (laughs) No, that’s fine. It’s fine. So, we’re gathering this story to increase understanding between the city of Minneapolis and the community.
Makram El-Amin: 10:46 Yes.
Interviewer: 10:46 Yeah. The impact of historic discriminatory government policies-
Makram El-Amin: 10:53 Sure.
Interviewer: 10:54 … and practices in areas like housing-
Makram El-Amin: 10:58 Yeah.
Interviewer: 10:58 … transportation, economic development, and things like that.
Makram El-Amin: 11:02 Yes.
Interviewer: 11:03 So, can you tell us what impact have you seen in others-
Makram El-Amin: 11:09 Yeah.
Interviewer: 11:09 … or even in your life in the community?
Makram El-Amin: 11:12 It’s interesting. We’ve seen the historical divestment within North Minneapolis. In fact, there’s a program on, I think Carrie Levin did this, it’s maybe a month and a half, two months ago, when they talked about North Minneapolis, you may have saw that. And they talk about the old maps that was in the city planner’s office, not just somebody’s map. It was in the city planner’s office, where they had our area as the quote the negro area, the ghetto, right?
Interviewer: 11:42 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 11:44 And the same thing, in the same part, where Rondo and all that over there, that area, same-same. Same-same.
Interviewer: 11:49 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 11:50 But there was a historical way to where the investment, and all that kind of stuff, economically and all that kind of mess coming about. It was all around that space. In fact, even the way we were designed, North Minneapolis was cut off.
Interviewer: 12:07 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 12:08 In many ways, it was cut off and disconnect, even from downtown, as close as we are.
Interviewer: 12:12 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 12:13 It was disconnected. That seemed like a different world.
Interviewer: 12:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 12:18 So, we saw that. Even along West Broadway. If you think about West Broadway and Lake Street being on par, as far as economic corridors and whatnot.
Interviewer: 12:31 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 12:32 You see the investment that happened over on Lake Street, and how Lake Street has just transformed. That still has not happened, definitely not happened, definitely not the scale-
Interviewer: 12:43 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 12:44 … as what other places had happen. So we’ve seen those kind of things all the time. We’ve seen programs come, and programs go. This program name, it’s like putting lipstick on a pig type thing. Where they kind of try to dress it up, whatever, but it’s still is trash. It’s garbage, right? And they would present various things as though it’s going to redo this kind of stuff. All that stuff comes and goes. No real substantive change has happened for years. For years. So, when you get folks speaking out politically, social activism, community organizing and what not, coming against these sorts of, I would say oppressions really.
Interviewer: 13:29 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 13:31 These things are not figments of people’s imagination. They’re not. These things have historical contents, historical reference from my appearance to others. Even my children, they’ll come to know, I think seeing things happen now is great. We love to see development, but you can see how they would do it. They’ll develop North Loop.
Interviewer: 13:55 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 13:56 And still not North Minneapolis. And that was all warehouse stuff, we’d just ride our bikes through that kind of stuff. It was like an adventure, because it was junk basically. It was all junkyards, and all that kind of stuff around too. Now, you can’t afford to live over there. Which is just another form, or another reiteration basically, of the same old stuff. You know what I mean? And it’s just so close, which makes it even that much more frustrating, you know?
Interviewer: 14:34 So, what changes have you seen in this community that raise your level of trust and concern? And what do you think the city of Minneapolis can play in relieving that stress in the community here?
Makram El-Amin: 14:43 Yeah. There’s the issue of crime and safety, it’s just a real issue. I figure that’s just intensified over time. Whether it’s homicides, those sorts of things, I mean, those things happen.
Interviewer: 15:02 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 15:04 The drugs, how drugs ravage the community. I can remember even in the ’80s. In the ’80s, I graduated from North High School in 1988.
Interviewer: 15:18 Oh wow.
Makram El-Amin: 15:18 This is just for time’s sake, right?
Interviewer: 15:21 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 15:21 Okay, so ’85, ’86, and ’87, right around that time, crack was booming. Crack hit the scene, it was booming, right? And it was plentiful, everybody had it. Even square dudes, like, look man, this ain’t your… They all in, you know what I mean? It was craziness, and that brought about another level of viciousness, and of violence that took place. Gang violence. Then we had the Crips, came from West Coast, they were here and all of that. Vice Lords, Disciples, all that kind of stuff was in it. Which even predates honestly, predates crack, right?
Interviewer: 16:09 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 16:10 Vice Lords, the Disciples, the Crips was a little after that. But even then, even the street life was a little more organized than what it is today. You know, today is kind of hit or miss Helter Skelter, in terms of it’s a little more cliquish. Now, it’s territorial, low end, high end, that kind of stuff. Whereas for us, we walked around, there was certain areas… Well, it’s territorial, you didn’t necessarily want to hang out at Willard too much because then there was those other guys up there. That’s going to be a situation. But nonetheless, it still had a little more order to it. I will put it there. It was a little more order to the chaos.
Interviewer: 16:56 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 16:56 If that makes any sense, right? So, that’s the difference that I see. I think that even the levels of policing. All the code fours, and we used to have helicopters and stuff flying all around the hood, that kind of stuff. Real aggressive tactics in terms of stopping, harassing, it’s the whole broken window concept. Where they was nuisance kinds of stuff. It was basically to kind of harass. People talk about the issues with policemen. And I’m a chaplain for the Minneapolis police right now, all right? So that’s something, knowing my history, I felt that at this point in my career, and what I have vested in this community, that I need to be in places and spaces that matter.
Makram El-Amin: 17:52 So, I wanted to get into that space, and help liaise between the community and the department a bit, because clearly historically that relationship has been broken, to say the least, right? But people remember, a lot of guys who grew up, we remember guys, cops, we didn’t know their name. Their name was Batman, and Robin, and Wild, and West, and people like that. To where they are just as much as part of North Minneapolis as we are, in terms from a historical perspective. And when I say that, their names or whatever, it wasn’t because they were good guys. It was because those the guys that, if you got caught up, you was going to pay a price-
Interviewer: 18:45 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 18:46 … with these guys. They made no qualms about that. It’s common language for those who are kind of out here though. It seems like everything else today. I mean, everything is caught on social media now, and all that. It’s like, you asked a question. Is it happening more now? Or can we see it now? I think there’s tension between those two things, because many of us argue that, man, this is just kind of how it’s been.
Interviewer: 19:12 Right.
Makram El-Amin: 19:12 We just didn’t have iPhone’s.
Interviewer: 19:14 So, what are your concerns for the future then?
Makram El-Amin: 19:16 I would say that at some point in time, like now, that we have to, particularly when it comes to issues about policy, issues around crime and safety, and things like that. I think that these things should be more handled by the people that it’s directly affecting. I love to see an African American police chief. I think we need to see more on his down line. I’ve talked with them, spoke with them, working on very serious problems with him, right? But he readily admits, it’s the culture there, too, right? So, I think that that, city hall or what not, it’s kind of seen some changes in this last election. that sort of thing, I think that that’s just the way, that’s where it’s going to go. And I think it needs to continue to go there. I think more of our kids, my sons included, right? And his friends going into civil service. You need to be police officers, you need to be fire…
Interviewer: 20:21 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 20:21 You need to get into those sorts of areas as well. That was never presented to us when we was in school as a viable option. That’s basically like, we settled. We settled, if you didn’t go to college and all that kind of stuff. But now, people got college degrees that can’t even get work. You
know what I’m saying? And now you’ve got trades, and things that people, that they frowned on, but they steered us away on that kind of stuff here. But now, so much is needed now. If we could only have just seen what the future would bring, many people would be in better positions.
Interviewer: 20:56 So, how do you feel the city of Minneapolis can help with…
Makram El-Amin: 21:01 First of all, I think this is a great step by beginning to help people tell stories, right? Because I think that in that you’re going to find, really, the gem. I don’t believe that it is any entity like this that is going to come in and solve no issue for us, right? I think, if anything, facilitating sorts of things that allow them to come from the community, I think, is really the best hope for the city of Minneapolis or anything like that. I think that there is a underutilization honestly of communities of faith, of ours as well. Whether it’s from the city, or the school board, for all that. I said it to the mayor, and I said it to the superintendent of schools. Look, you don’t ask enough of us either. We have hundreds of families we deal with every day. And really, we’re like first responders, to be honest with you. When someone is having a crisis, when somebody is having an issue in their home or something, whatever, we hear that stuff first.
Interviewer: 22:04 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 22:04 We hear that stuff first. And I think that partnering more strategically would be something that could help, as far as a role the city could play, because they have resources. And they can mobilize in that way if it’s done correctly.
Interviewer: 22:22 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 22:22 If it’s done correctly. That’s my hope. That would be my hope.
Interviewer: 22:29 And speaking of hope, what gives you hope about this community?
Makram El-Amin: 22:30 You know what? I think, first of all, I have faith. I’m a person of faith. So, I think that that comes inherently with that, right? But I also believe in people. I believe in people, and I live among people. And I walk these streets with these people, right? And I know that these are good people, and I know even when I encounter somebody who is struggling, whether it’s homeless, or something to do with an addiction, I can see through the rough stuff as well. I’ve been sensitized to do that by my parents and others who were invested in me. You know, we don’t have throw away people.
Interviewer: 23:16 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 23:18 So, it gives me hope when I can actually be a part of the change as well.
Interviewer: 23:23 Mm-hhmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 23:24 And I think that’s what we try to do as an institution here.That what I try to do personally, and instill in the folks who I can touch and influence in any way. So, I’m very hopeful. I’m very, very hopeful. And the more hopeful I become, the more vocal I become also with things that ain’t right. So, I don’t want people when they hear me on the one venue, try and say that he’s not hopeful. I’m very hopeful. That’s what I’m pushing. If I wasn’t hopeful, we’d probably lay down and just let it, you know. But that’s not who we are, and that’s not what we’re going to do.
Interviewer: 24:04 And as we finish up, do you have any last thoughts?
Makram El-Amin: 24:09 I will say that this community is an untapped gem. If we think about what it has produced in terms of the human resources it has produced, just the quality of human people that’s come out of this community, I think that speaks to the strength of the community, you know? Do we have to change some things for the health and well-being of the community? Sure we do. Certain, we do. But I think that, again, projects like this and others, can help us find our voice, when it’s going that way. And the more people that we talk to, man, the more you’re going to hear. Especially those folks who’ve lived here for some time, and they’ve been able to see things, like the before and after’s scenario. And I think that that would be really helpful. I wish my father, unfortunately he’s hospitalized right now, I wish you could talk to him, and what he saw when he, basically, and our mother decided to bring us up here from Chicago in the ’70s, and him being in his ’80s right now.
Interviewer: 25:27 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 25:28 He has a story to tell.
Interviewer: 25:29 Yeah.
Makram El-Amin: 25:30 He has a huge story to tell, right? I’ve been blessed to come from a lot of story. I have some good storytellers. Folks that could help us create narratives around things, and I think the community could benefit from folks like him, too.
Interviewer: 25:48 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Makram El-Amin: 25:49 So yeah.
Interviewer: 25:49 Yeah, well thank you so much for-
Makram El-Amin: 25:50 My pleasure.
Interviewer: 25:51 … your time.
Makram El-Amin: 25:51 My pleasure. Thank you all for doing this. This is amazing. Amazing, yeah.