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“Here’s to the Crazy Ones"

Posted: August 01, 2016

This phrase launched the revival of one of the world’s most beloved brands and companies, Apple. According to Forbes, December 14, 2011, “The Real Story Behind Apple’s ‘Think Different’ Campaign, the author of that line is Rob Stilanen. When he wrote the epic poem, “Here’s to the Crazy Ones” he was trying to describe what it takes to achieve greatness. The last two lines of the epic poem, “Because they change things. They push the human race forward. And while some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius. Because the people, who are crazy enough to think they can change the world, are the ones who do,”1 describes business genius, and anyone seeking to change the status quo.

Justice and poverty initiatives often make people uncomfortable, because they often require a lot of sacrifice. Undaunted, visionary leaders press on… They share a passion for excellence and a commitment to the people they serve even when there are overwhelming odds against them. Sondra Samuels, President & CEO of Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) has emerged as a force on the Northside. Sondra has also achieved national acclaim because under her leadership, NAZ was awarded a five year Promise Grant the Federal Government. 2 Most recently, NAZ received the honor of being named the 2015 Nonprofit of the Year by the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce.3

Sondra and her colleagues at NAZ are creating a new paradigm in North Minneapolis by challenging old assumptions on multi-generational poverty by focusing on academic excellence, with the end goal of sending, “scholars” to college. The geography of the “Zone” reflects one of the widest achievement gaps, highest violence and unemployment rates and poorest health outcomes in the City of Minneapolis. But this isn’t the whole story…

When I reached out to Sister Mary Frances of the Visitation Monastery recently and shared that many people at St. Patrick’s were inspired by the people we met from the Northside at our Fall Forum last year. I said they we were looking for another way to connect. Sr. Mary Frances offered to introduce me to one of the visionary leaders, Sondra Samuels. She thought that Sondra would be a great speaker for our 2016 Fall Forum. After her recent fundraising trip to Washington, DC, Sister Mary Frances and I had a chance to meet with her.

As we learned last year, headlines only tell one part of the story.  People who care deeply about the community are living another truth that goes beyond bleak statistics. The audacious task of rebuilding a community struggling with deep poverty and closing the, “opportunity gap” would create despair for even the most seasoned and resourced executive of a Fortune 500 company. Sondra is undaunted by the task and has embraced her work with passion, dedication and joy.

When the vision for NAZ emerged out of the Peace Foundation, the strategy of building in “place”, “family by family,” “block by block”… 255 city blocks in all, was embraced.  It’s an, “inside-out” approach, leveraging the strength of parents, building assets within families and collaborating with over 40 community partners providing support services to over 1,000 families. It’s a, “high touch” approach!  According to Sondra, their goal isn’t to, “beat the odds; it’s to change the odds.” This is accomplished by rigorous data collection and evaluation, focus on “best practices,” accountability and continuous improvement in “real time.”

What’s at stake? The future of a generation of children in Minneapolis.  The Northside Achievement Zone and its Community Partners believe that investing in children and parents is a way to create positive outcomes for an aspiring community. The Wilder Foundation has documented that for every $1 invested in NAZ, over $6 is returned on investment. This is a smart ROI of tax dollars.  More importantly, NAZ is building a future that reflects a community’s highest aspirations and dreams…for every child to go to college. If we think about solving poverty the same way we have always done, we will achieve the same results... Perhaps genius lies in thinking differently.

Join us for a game changing conversation with Sondra Samuels, President & CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone at St. Patrick’s Annual Fall Forum on Tuesday, October 11 from 6-8 p.m., registration at 5:30 p.m. in St. Martin’s Hall. The event is free and open to the community. It will include a presentation, dinner and discussion! Reservations requested by October 6 to Maura Schnorbach in Social Justice at

1.       Forbes, December 14, 2011, “The Real Story Behind Apple’s ‘Think Different’ Campaign
2.       Northside Achievement Zone, Mission & Values,, 2016
3.       Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce,, March,2015
4.       Northside Achievement Zone, Prospective Return on Investment of the Northside       Achievement Zone,, February, 2015