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V E N T U R E S
A Periodic Briefing on What's Happened and What's Coming
Spring 2OO3 Volume Nine, Number One
10 years wear well on tailor's family
The community "sounds off re: 10 years of change
hen Uncle Frankie curls up on the couch to rerun life's top tales, no kid in his right mind would miss it. In fact, the story of his misadventures beats most Hollywood movies by one simple fact: it's true. Telling the unvarnished story of his gang-related family's tragedies, triumphs and comeback is the best way we know to both celebrate and illustrate the role Urban Ventures Leadership Foundation has tried to play in the Central and Phillips neighborhood for 10 years. A rural Arkansas native, Frankie grew up milking cows, shoveling manure, and embalming cadavers. Well ... his dad did the embalming, but he watched, and dug his share of graves. "It scared me half to death," he says. Certain stories come out after the kids are in bed, such as ones about life as a drug addict; or the escape from prison with 21 female convicts in a stolen school bus; or when he had a business sewing G-strings for strippers. "One foot of fabric went a long way!" says Frankie, sheepishly. In 1979, a woman named Velma, who grew up the youngest of 13 children only 30 miles from Frankie's home town, moved to 37th Street and Portland, only one block from where his parents' settled in south Minneapolis and seven blocks from Urban Ventures. "It was love at first sight," says Frankie. But Velma kept her distance. She could see Frankie needed coaxing off of life's fast track. And she put down her foot, setting a condition for their friendship: choose her or the striptease business. One would have to go. He chose Velma.
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A solid board launches 10 more years
Frankie and Velma Tyson have weathered many rocky roads to become pillars of strength in the Central Neighborhood.
Couple shuns the dark side, builds a family
Most non-profits have a "poster child" to launch new efforts and show the community their potential to bring life transformation. "I'm learning that friends Urban Ventures told the story of Frankie's "turn that gang bang, take cars and around" 10 years ago in one of its first videos. But not snatch purses are not the kind of friends until we interviewed Frankie with his wife and I want," says Demetrius children recently did we fully appreciate the extent (far right in photo below). of the whole family's comeback. By 1989, Frankie and Velma were raising four _^^^___^^_ children, sharing the most stable life either of them had experienced — except for one thing. Crack cocaine had become delivery, call 612-227-6955) "He irresistible within their circle of friends. went from sewing G-strings to stitching love seats," says Ralph, Soon Frankie and Velma were heavy addicts, selling their kids' food and clothes for another "hit." Failed promises to pay dealers led to a visit from loan "restoring the antique leather couch that sits in Art's (Urban Ventures' sharks and Frankie looking down the barrel of a gun. He narrowly escaped. President's) office to this day."
Mission 1: Creating meaningful work
oon after Urban Ventures opened in 1993, staff members heard a knock on the door. It was Frankie and his children. Velma had kicked them out of the house after a fight over crack. He was greeted candidly. "You want to get off drugs?" Frankie recalls a staff member saying. "We're going to start a drug treatment program and you are the first clients. Go get your wife and all of your drug paraphernalia." "Velma was hesitant, but we went and took everything with us," said Frankie. "They said, 'Don't lie. Tell God you like it, but you're through. Tell him you can't quit by yourself, and to take the desire away.' On that day, the desire for drugs was gone, and we haven't had it since." That was only the beginning of a long rebuilding process. "I had hurt my back and no one would hire me," explains Frankie. Urban Ventures hired him as their first custodian, a job he still holds today, kicking off one of our three missions, to "create meaningful work" in the neighborhood. Later, Urban Ventures' Vice President Ralph Bruins helped Frankie add an upholstery business. (For an estimate, free pick up and
Mission 2: Strengthening lain families
oon the changes in Frankie and Velma's lives began to trickle down to the 12 children, including nephews and nieces, to whom they have provided a place of stability.
It doesn't take much to bring out Frankie's playful side.
Mission 3: Developing youth leaders
wash windows, clean bathrooms and vacuum," says Frankie's nephew Demetrius, 13, proudly. Demetrius admits he's been tempted at times to run with teenagers who are now in jail. "The pressure on these kids is tremendous," says Frankie. "If you're not in a gang, you risk becoming a victim of one." Frankie's involvement has been critical. "I'm learning that friends that gang bang, take cars and snatch purses are not the kind of friends I want," says Demetrius. "I've been trying to get God in my life and take care of my responsibilities, to pray before school and get to class on time." One of Urban Ventures' mottos is, "It's not about programs. It's about relationships." The Tyson kids say these mentoring relationships have made a difference. "Judy (Jones) is always there to help me out," says Constance. "The challenges of life used to overwhelm me. Judy taught me to pray in my own room and leave my problems with God." Constance will soon graduate from a technical institute as a medical assistant. Demetrius wants to be an auto mechanic. He practices repair by working on videos, radios and VCR's donated to People's Exchange. Frankie's niece Rachel, 18, and her brother Sam, 16, go to Urban Ventures' computer-based Learning Lab twice weekly to receive academic help. "At first I used to go to school, play around a lot and On a break at Urban Ventures' Learning Lab, Rachel hones her hairdressing skills, hang out in the hallways," says practicing on her brother Sam. Sam. "But ever since I came to the Lab, they've been keepin' in touch with my teachers, so now I've been in class trying to do my work." "Urban Ventures is a place that sees potential in kids everyone else has given up on," says Frankie. "Like Velma saw potential in me." (See an expanded version of this story at www.urbanventures.org)
Tyson's oldest daughter Constance, 21, graduates this year as a medical assistant.
The Tyson's oldest girl, Constance, 21, spoke of the changes: "We used to lie to cover up our parents' behavior. But we can talk to our parents now and trust them. Now we have family times and do things together." The Tysons like to skate, go to amusement parks, and are regulars on camping trips with Urban Ventures staff. Urban Ventures filled a huge gap in Frankie's parenting skills, he says. "My fathering was no good." When Urban Ventures' Center for Fathering opened in 1997, Frankie was its first participant. "Frankie is just not the same person he used to be," says Velma. "He's more patient with the kids than I am. He used to get angry and just react. Now he talks with them and shows them how to do things." For example, for over 10 years Frankie has used his work at Urban Ventures to mentor and train eight neighborhood kids including his own, in building maintenance. They all now work responsibly without supervision.
"We used to lie to cover up our parents' behavior. But we can talk to our parents now and trust them. Now we have family times and do things together," says Constance.