Interview of Ora Hokes
Interviewer: 00:02 May I have your first and last name with spelling, please?

Ora Hokes: 00:05 My name is Ora, O-R-A, Hokes, H-O-K-E-S.

Interviewer: 00:10 All righty. In reference to this map here in front of you, do you currently or have you ever lived in any of these areas?
Ora Hokes: 00:17 I have, and I currently do.

Interviewer: 00:24 Oh, I’m sorry. What are the areas, and how long have you lived… How long were you there?
Ora Hokes: 00:31 Well, currently I am… Let’s see. Currently, I am at 13th and Russell.

Interviewer: 00:44 I used to live on 13th and Upton.
Ora Hokes: 00:46 Okay. I’ve been there, I think 35 years. Okay.

Interviewer: 00:53 Wow. That’s a long time.
Ora Hokes: 00:54 Then, I lived at 901 Penn for probably about three years. I lived at 1426 Oliver, maybe about six or seven years, something. Time goes.

Interviewer: 01:20 Absolutely.

Ora Hokes: 01:20 Something like that. But, in that general area. And, let’s see. I lived in the Plymouth Townhouses. That’s at Plymouth and Humboldt. The neighbor across the hallway from me had a fire, and so I had to find a place to live, and I moved on Northway Drive in Brooklyn Center. But, I was determined. I worked in north Minneapolis, and so it was right on the bus line.

Interviewer: 02:00 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 02:01 But I was determined to find a place, and I contacted Nerq and they were dealing with housing. And so, that’s how I found the place at 901 Penn. I couldn’t wait to get back on the north side.

Interviewer: 02:21 That’s where you belong, absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 02:21 Yes. Yes.

Interviewer: 02:25 All right. Next question is, thinking back from when you first came to this area to today, what changes have you seen, positive and negative?
Ora Hokes: 02:32 The most changes that I’ve seen has been the removal of what you would call ma and pa shops. Okay? Right at the corner of Penn and Plymouth, we had a clinic, Dr. Thomas Johnson’s office. That was Francis Barber Shop that was there. And with the removal of the clinic, well, we do now have Northpoint. But Dr. Johnson had a personal relationship, I think, with every resident that went to him.

Interviewer: 03:17 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 03:18 I always tell people, “You would pack a lunch. Because you might have an appointment, but you’d be there all day.” You got to find out everything that was going on in the community. And so, as they say, what a barber shop is for the update, that’s what Dr. Johnson’s office was. We had, where UROC is now, the shopping center. We lost that. I am a former staff of The Way Opportunities Unlimited, where the police precinct is-

Interviewer: 03:53 Now.
Ora Hokes: 03:53 … you know, now. And we had Young Brothers Barber, and we had Plymouth Avenue Bank. So, there has been… all up and down Plymouth Avenue, as well as Olson Highway, of course. You know, Sumner, Olson, quote, “projects,” is gone.

Interviewer: 04:14 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 04:14 And we have on Broadway, a lot of different shops. You know, totally different. But what I’ve noticed most of all is that we have a lot of young people who seem to be wandering the street during the day, as opposed to in school. They look like school aged children.

Interviewer: 04:37 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 04:38 And I see a lot of moms pushing strollers, and I see them smoking with their children. I am an anti commercial tobacco advocate. Didn’t used to see that. And I see some young males now pushing strollers with their babies. And so, the transition and the change seems to be that we’re not a family as much as we used to be. We don’t know each other in our community. And there is not that, “Hey, how you doing?” You know, when you meet each other.

Interviewer: 05:21 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 05:22 And to stop and greet, and ask how things are doing.

Interviewer: 05:26 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 05:26 Right now I’m using public transportation, and a lot of people talk negative about our young men, but this is what I’ve observed. You know they have on public transit, where the seats are supposed to be reserved for the seniors and handicapped?

Interviewer: 05:44 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 05:45 I will see the young men get up if there’s a person on there.

Interviewer: 05:50 I was always taught that, as well. Being a young individual, I was raised by a single mother. She always taught me, regardless of where you’re sitting, what you’re going on, if an elder comes on, or if someone that’s handicapped comes on, you move.

Ora Hokes: 06:02 Yes.

Interviewer: 06:02 There’s no questions asked. And I’ve seen… I rode public transportation all my life, until I got my license last year.
Ora Hokes: 06:11 Oh, congratulations.

Interviewer: 06:12 Thank you. Thank you. So I definitely have experienced that, and I’ve experienced people who don’t get up. And that, in my generation, in my opinion, in my household, that’s disrespectful. So, I definitely understand that, as well.
Ora Hokes: 06:22 Yeah. And one of the things that I have not seen to move off of the avenue is the liquor store.

Interviewer: 06:29 Yup. Still there.
Ora Hokes: 06:30 Permanent. Full force. Full swing. You know that’s going on. So, you know. Our unity and our spirit. We’ve lost a lot of our nonprofits, and those kinds of things. But one of the things that I do know, and when I go to meetings and they ask where I’m at, I say, “Northside. Northside pride.” And folks are like, “Okay. I can say Southside.” You know? But, always letting people know that our activism is very strong. What has grown out of the elected officials that we’ve had, of the first? They came out of North Minneapolis, you know. And so, people don’t hear that story or tell that story, about all of the good things and the progress that’s going on.

Interviewer: 07:33 Absolutely.

Ora Hokes: 07:33 One of the things that I have not seen change is the upkeep of North High School’s ground. They will not put flowers there. Not even a dandelion that’s growing there. When you look at other high schools and other schools, they do have some kind of greenery. We don’t have that.

Interviewer: 07:54 Right.
Ora Hokes: 07:54 And so, there’s a neglect still that remains for our high school, that’s permanently in our neighborhood.

Interviewer: 08:02 Absolutely. All right. Moving on to the next question. What do you feel caused the changes you’ve seen in this area over the years?
Ora Hokes: 08:10 I think they’re due to the system. Elected officials. You know, we elect someone based upon their promise, and then when they get in office, they neglect us. I identify 55411 as 411. That’s emergency.

Interviewer: 08:32 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 08:33 The city of Minneapolis has tons of resource, the development and urban renewal, but they do not direct that much resource to north Minneapolis. I learned that the majority of landlords live outside of the state of Minnesota. So you can understand, when people drive by and they say, “Well, why don’t that person keep that house up?” Well, they’re renters.

Interviewer: 09:01 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 09:03 We don’t have as much home ownership as we used to have. And so, when you have someone who is underemployed or unemployed, and trying to keep that rent, to keep a roof over their head for their children, and to take care of their medical cares first of all…

Interviewer: 09:27 Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 09:28 Eh, your budget is a little slack.

Interviewer: 09:31 Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Ora Hokes: 09:32 And so, until the city of Minneapolis directs the money, the taxes that we pay to our neighborhoods, we’re going to see that blight in there. It’s people who do not live in near north, or come through, and I’ll see they may throw something out of their car window instead of… So, it’s not us who’s destroying. Sometimes folks come through, you know and I watch to see, “Okay. Does that person look like they living here,” no matter what ethnicity they are. But there are some things that can be done, to help and to strengthen us. When this facility, the University of Minnesota UROC, was coming in, the university is a research institute. It can help our businesses, our childcare providers, our homeowners. All of those kinds of things, and engage them in learning of how to do whatever is needed.

Interviewer: 10:42 Absolutely.

Ora Hokes: 10:42 So, we don’t get the resources, and so it’s limited resources.

Interviewer: 10:48 Absolutely. All right. Moving on to the next question. We are gathering these stories to increase understanding between the city of Minneapolis and the community, on the impact of historic discriminatory government policies. These government policies include housing and employment discrimination in the early 20th century, and the war on drugs is another example. What impacts have these policies or others had on the community in general? What impact have they had on you and your family personally?
Ora Hokes: 11:18 Well, the impact on my family… And I can just give an incident.

Interviewer: 11:24 Mm-hmm (affirmative)
Ora Hokes: 11:25 I have a son, and he and his friends were going to a house party that they had invited to. So, it’s fashionable that you arrive late, of course. He wasn’t driving. His friend parked round the corner, where parking was.

Interviewer: 11:41 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 11:42 They’re walking to the place. As they’re heading there, people are running away from the place. So, by the time the police arrived, they get whoever they can. They’re asking them questions. They can’t answer the question. They haven’t even been into the party yet, so they don’t know what’s happening.

Interviewer: 12:00 Right. Right.
Ora Hokes: 12:01 Okay. So they take them downtown, question them. The police officers that question them began to tag them, and when they would see them on the street, they would pull them over.

Interviewer: 12:15 Wow.
Ora Hokes: 12:16 So, my son left and went to Atlanta, and stayed for about 15 years.

Interviewer: 12:24 Wow.
Ora Hokes: 12:26 That was the impact. The loss of my son. Because he was harassed just because, you know, “Well, since you didn’t give us the information we want, I’m going to make your life miserable.”

Interviewer: 12:37 Right.
Ora Hokes: 12:38 You know? And that’s unfair, and I know that happen to a lot of young men. But, I don’t know if you’re old enough to remember when the Minneapolis had the drug task force? It had to be abandoned, because they were doing more harm than the drugs were. We know that, as they say, we don’t have any pharmaceutical company. We don’t have any poppy fields. We don’t have any weapons manufacturing. So, the bringing in of weapons, drugs, and other illegal activity into our community has harmed. Now, one of the things that the state of Minnesota and Minneapolis forget, when they talk about African-Americans and drugs and crime… They forget St.Paul, and that it was crime city. That Elliott Ness from the FBI had to come. So, it was already built in with the criminality. You know, the James gang coming from the west up here. So they forget that, but then they want to attribute all crime and violence to us. Okay?

Interviewer: 13:54 Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Ora Hokes: 13:56 So, if you send me to prison, and I’ve got a record, and when I get out, you tell my parents, who live in subsidized public housing, that they cannot have anyone felon living with them or they’ll lose, and I don’t have a job, because I have a record, I can’t get a job, I can’t get a place to stay… So, what
alternatives do I have?

Interviewer: 14:24 Right.
Ora Hokes: 14:25 So, the system has built it in to re-criminalize people for that.

Interviewer: 14:33 Mm-hmm (affirmative). Absolutely.
Ora Hokes: 14:33 When you’ve done your time, that’s supposed to be it. We don’t have that advantage. And so we become stigmatized, and the cycle is repeated over again.

Interviewer: 14:49 Absolutely. Wow. That’s powerful.
Ora Hokes: 14:49 Yeah.

Interviewer: 14:52 Next question is, what gives you hope for the future of this community?
Ora Hokes: 14:57 Well, I live on hope. My faith is built on hope. I know who my creator is. I serve a risen savior, and I know that everything that’s happened, happens for a reason. The thing is, Ora, what are you going to do to make things better? So, each of us have to take an individual inventory. Each of us were given with certain gifts and talents to make a difference. Excuse me.

Interviewer: 15:35 All right. Unfortunately, that’s the last question I had, and we are out of time. Thank you so much for being able to speak with me.

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