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CET Highlight: ACER's Bottineau Community Engagement and Entrepreneur Training Graduation

March 8, 2013
By Corridors of Opportunity Staff


African Career, Education & Resource, Inc. (ACER) is a volunteer-driven, community-based organization founded in 2008 to decrease the disparities in access to resources, health, and information within Minnesota’s communities of African descent, promoting the achievement of societal and economic independence.  The organization is located in Brooklyn Park, a community situated along the proposed Bottineau Light Rail Transitway.  In late 2011, ACER received a Corridors of Opportunity Community Engagement Team grant to implement “Making Transit Meaningful,” a program aimed to connect communities of color through a series of culturally appropriate engagement strategies.  The organization partnered with the City of Brooklyn Park to identify and engage these communities with the goal of increasing active involvement in public decision making processes as they relate to the Bottineau Light Rail Transitway. 

“We are advocating strongly for the following elements: a reliable transit service that operates daily and is available to everyone and can accommodate the passengers who need it; a predictable schedule with service frequency at least every 15 minutes.  We need to be more connected to the entire metropolitan area.” - Community leader

ACER has achieved significant success over the past year, and was awarded a second round of grant funds from the Community Engagement Team in September of 2012.  The organization’s work toward enhancing the quality of community engagement programs along the Bottineau corridor has raised the consciousness of African immigrants, African Americans, and other minorities to become better informed and more engaged about transit issues that affect quality of life at both the community and individual levels. Over three quarters of community members who participated in their Mobile Guided Tour (see video below) of the regional transit system had not ridden a light rail train prior to the tour.  After experiencing the relative ease and interconnectedness of the service, many of the community members that participated are now parking their cars, taking the bus instead, and connecting to the Hiawatha/Blue Line lightrail when headed to key destinations such as the University of MN, Airport, and Mall of America.

ACER's Mobile Guided Tour Video:


View of the audience at ACER's First Entrepreneur Program GraduationAnother result of this work has been to uncover entrepreneurial interests and goals among community members and provide small business training.  This interest was sparked after learning about the potential for business development and growth that may come in alongside the construction of the Bottineau Light Rail Transitway. ACER sought ways to connect residents’ interest with organizations that could help, and partnered with North Hennepin Community College to implement the Neighborhood Development Center’s 12 week Plan it! Entrepreneur Training Program.  A total of 13 community members graduated from the Program on February 21st at a community celebration and reception before a production of the play The SevenNeighborhood Development Center (NDC) instructor and graduating student talk about their experience in the program.At the inspiring graduation ceremony, the budding entrepreneurs were congratulated by staff from ACER, City of Brooklyn Park, North Hennepin Community College, and NDC.  Many family members were there to applaud their accomplishment.  One graduate presented staff and fellow graduates with t-shirts and other promotional materials from his new screenprinting business, Casual Expressions.    

ACER plans to continue their work engaging community members around transit, alternative transportation, and sustainable development issues. 

ACER’s First Entrepreneur Program Graduates and program staff at the graduation ceremony held on February 21st at North Hennepin Community College