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Making Rondo documentary ignites a new generation

Margaret Lovejoy
Rondo: Beyond The Pavement
Margaret Lovejoy, right, being interviewed by student Aubrianna Jackson for “Rondo: Beyond The Pavement.”

Margaret Lovejoy was a little girl growing up in the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul when bulldozers and cranes came to make way for highway I-94 in the mid-1950s. Last week, Lovejoy came up with a new phrase for what happens when the powers-that-be make way for progress, people be damned.

“Rondo should become a national experience: ‘Rondo-nizing.’ We’ll start a new word here,” said Lovejoy, sitting in a conference room at the High School For Recording Arts in St. Paul with a few of the students and advisers who produced the new documentary “Rondo: Beyond the Pavement.” “All communities across the United States have gone through this Rondo aspect, so hopefully what this [documentary] will do — especially with this video going out to high schools — high schoolers will know that change has to happen, and they’ll be the impetus for change.”

What’s the latest manifestation of Rondo-nizing? All concerned point to Allianz Field and concerns about rising rents, affordability, rising property values, the effect of the Green Line, and the gentrification of the Hamline-Midway neighborhood.

“With the soccer stadium, I mean, do they think they’re slick with that?” said student Morgan Welch. “They’re just trying to run everybody out. These buildings are all hidden behind construction, and there’s signs that say, ‘We’re still open for business, please come.’ That’s horrible that they have to spend extra money just to make themselves seen.”

“What is happening is white eyes now see that community as a good place to be,” said Lovejoy, who grew up in and lives in the Rondo neighborhood. “You can buy a house for very little, and fix it up, and if you want to flip it, you can. We don’t want this whole ‘buy out’ of our properties. If you’re a moderately incomed family, you can’t afford to live in Rondo. You can’t afford the property, and that’s not right. If I were to sell my house now, I couldn’t move back into Rondo because I couldn’t afford it.”

“I went into Sally [Beauty Supply in the Midway neighborhood] and the owner was crying because her business has gone down and I bought something extra because I felt bad,” said student Jasmine McBride. “Why should people see this film? The idea of progress, right? The people putting the stadium in are for progress, but progress for who?”

Those questions are why some of the HSRA students are talking about making a new documentary about the gentrification of the neighborhood that’s going on now. Lessons that speak to the here-and-now came from their experience of making “Rondo: Beyond the Pavement,” which has been making the festival circuit and which screens Friday (7 p.m.) and Saturday (2 p.m. and 7 p.m.) at The Family Place, 244 10th Street East in St. Paul.

“My main take-away from making this documentary is that there is no justice, and if you want justice it’s one of those things that you’ve just got to get for yourself in this type of world,” said student Angelo Bush.

New York Times columnist Charles M. Blow regularly tweets out a quote by James Baldwin, and it can’t be re-quoted enough, as it has everything to do with why the story of the highway 94 corridor the treatment of the Rondo community remains relevant: “To be a Negro in this country and to be relatively conscious is to be in a rage almost all the time.”

Rondo: Beyond The Pavement crew
MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh
Some of the High School For Recording Arts students, faculty members, and advisers behind the documentary “Rondo: Beyond The Pavement” (left-to-right): Katharine DeCelle, Margaret Lovejoy, Angelo Bush, Aubrianna Jackson, Jasmine McBride, Morgan Welch, and Scott Herold.

Baldwin wrote that in 1961, five years after city and state planners plowed over the homes of 600 African-American families to make way for the highway. The Rondo story is an oft-told one, and it will continue to be told and have new resonance in these times of reparations and renamings. For many who know the history, the highway’s existence in the Rondo neighborhood itself is a daily reminder of Minnesota’s institutional racism, and thus a source of Baldwin’s and a people’s “rage.”     

“I want people to see this video and get fired up, because that’s what it did to me. It fired me up,” said student Aubrianna Jackson. “There’s a lot of things that happen that people don’t know about. There’s a specific pyramid of power in each state, in each city, any little area that needs to be controlled. I lived in Frogtown, but I never knew about Rondo, and that just goes to say that these types of things are kept in a particular area, and the people who are in charge are in on these types of conversations, and you literally have to dig and ask questions in order to find these answers to why the 94 highway was actually placed there.

“Because as everyday people, we’re just led to believe that it was placed there for convenience, and that wasn’t the case, and the whole idea of this film was to bring that to light — that it wasn’t just for convenience; it was because there was a population of African-American people and a community that was targeted, and that’s why they put it there. Because to them, it was like, this is sparing the people who have more money. It’s all about money.”

Fitting that “Beyond the Pavement” comes from the High School of Recording Arts, many of whose students identify as homeless.

“Teaching here at this high school, I see the effects of systemic racism every day,” said Scott Herold, founder of Rock The Cause Records and a teacher of media and business at HSRA. “I see the effects of what has happened to people of color. I see what has happened to people who have been born into a situation where they are not on equal footing with others, and for our young people to come to this school every day and overcome the incredible trauma that they’ve had to overcome in their lives and work on a film like this and get paid for it and tell this story and be able to transform this into something that can hopefully heal a community … it’s powerful. People should see this.”

“What I got from [making the documentary] was our responsibility as the youth to make things change, as it was for our elders and they did what they did, but we have to pick up the baton,” said student Jasmine McBride. “That’s the biggest thing I’ve taken away from it. My parents grew up in the Rondo community and still live there, and I grew up in the Rondo community. That area now, somebody just posted on Facebook, ‘Selby looks like a mini Grand [Avenue],’ because it’s literally changing and they’re taking everything all over again.

“I’m not saying that progress and new developments aren’t good, but the problem is still that we don’t own any of that. Still, our community is being taken and as the youth and as the next generation … . They’re going to continue to keep taking our land, taking our communities, splitting and dividing our communities even more if we don’t take action. And that means getting into positions, getting into politics, getting into real estate — we have to strategically start taking over.

“We have to start getting into those positions that matter. That’s one of the reasons why I think it’s a big deal that Melvin Carter is mayor: He’s in a position where he as a person of color can actually call shots. We can protest, we can march all we want to, but if we don’t start actually getting in the positions to take back our community, they’re going to continue to take it.”

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