“We’re not saving communities, we’re investing in people so they can invest in themselves.” – Leslie Redmond

With one year to go on both her J.D. at the St. Thomas School of Law and M.B.A. at the St. Thomas Opus College of Business, Leslie Redmond knows what it’s like to be busy. So, it’s perhaps no surprise that she kept the momentum going this summer: working with Restoration Counseling and Community Services (RCCS) in aligning their sober housing and substance abuse treatment for former convicts, and also leading the growth of Win Back the Community, a Minneapolis-based LLC she started last November aimed at empowering members of North Minneapolis.

“You don’t want to fall into that savior mentality. We’re not saving communities, we’re investing in people so they can invest in themselves. I really believe that,” Redmond said. “People don’t need saving; they need opportunities, hope and role models. That’s our vision and what we’re trying to do.”

Redmond, who’s also the vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP, is a native of Washington, D.C., and went to Florida for her undergraduate degree in political science and African studies. As she got to know the Twin Cities while studying for both a business and a law degree, she began developing ideas of how she might empower people to address some of the community’s issues she saw.

That started last summer with a Win Back the Community festival, and in her business classes the following school year she fleshed out how it might evolve. Fast forward to this summer, when Redmond and Win Back the Community have:

  • pooled resources from a wide range of community partners;
  • formed a clean-up initiative for West Broadway Avenue, “Cleaning for Change”;
  • created a storytelling model for anti-violence activists in the community, “Don’t Complain, Activate”;
  • started an ambassador program that connects Win Back the Community’s 15 youth workers with community mentors, and those mentors with mentors from the next generation;
  • gathered people for the second annual “Summer Festival and Cultural Celebration”;
  • hosted an art gallery featuring local youth artists, “New Rules: Be Humble”;
  • and landed a $36,000 grant from the city of Minneapolis to provide payment to the program’s youth workers.

“When I think about activating a community ecosystem, that’s really what we’re doing. I’ve always been about collaboration and I’ve always seen potential in people,” Redmond said. “It’s so much unity being brought together.”

In her work with RCCS, Redmond flexed her law background this summer in, as 2013 MBA grad and fellow RCCS employee Nate Kalkwarf said, “cutting through the red tape of sober housing licenses and permits.”

“She really stood out, with the education at St. Thomas, a really solid background in operations, finance,” Kalkwarf added. “It’s been an enormous help to have her.”

As St. Thomas continues to move into its first year as a Changemaker Campus, Redmond’s work stands out for its social innovation and leadership in the surrounding communities. For more examples of social innovation at St. Thomas visit here.

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