Responding to Jordan's question about the Magic 8 Ball, I am not involved
with that group and actually have very little knowledge about the details of
how they work.

I was interviewed for this article because I was the founder and chair of a
group that came before this group that raised a couple hundred dollars for
charities that attempted to attack the core issues of poverty.

About 15 years ago a group of friends who were active in various charitable
groups decided to have an annual fundraiser for "emerging inner cities
charities that attacked the core issues of poverty."

Each year we went through a very lengthy process of visiting non profits and
interviewing their directors to find a group that was just emerging and
doing more than just applying Band-Aids to social problems.  We hoped to
both raise money and awareness.

The event was called "Night of the Penguin" (which came from the fact that
it was the first event ever in the old Munsingwear building after it became
International Market Square.)

Over the years we raised money for a variety of groups, including Red School
House (an alternative Native American school in St. Paul), Project
Offstreets, (which provided shelter and direction for homeless kids esp.
GLBT kids who were ostracized from their homes), two programs for victims of
domestic violence) and several other groups.

During that time we raised a couple hundred dollars for charities, and,
probably even more significant, raised significant awareness for groups that
were just starting out or were operating under the radar. I'm also happy to
say that many of the people who were members of that group went on to be
active in a variety of non profit groups around the city, including those in
the arts, education, social justice, the environment and human rights.

We stopped about five years ago--most of us were having kids and couldn't do
all the work-- and two new groups started in our place: The Bull Moose Party
and the Magic 8 Ball.

I haven't been involved in either of the groups but generally they took up
the idea of having an annual event that raised money for charities.  I don't
know much about how they go about picking their charities, and I don't know
if they take the same approach to choosing a group that attacks the
structural causes of poverty. My general impression is that they are a bit
more focused on the party and a bit less focused on the giving than we
were....but I'm happy they are at least out there raising money.

A few months ago I got a call from someone doing a story for Mpls St. Paul
magazine about the Magic 8 Ball and its party in the jail.  She called me
because she wanted to understand how the group got started and heard it was
inspired by Night of the Penguin.  My understanding was that they were going
to be having a party that would raise money for a group that would have a
long term impact on attacking some of the core issues that led to
incarceration.  If handled right I thought it would be a great teachable
moment in which the community could stand back and take a look at doing more
than just building jails but, instead, focus on how to keep people from
ending up there.   So I gave the quote:  "The county spent millions on a
building to lock people up . . . It's great there is an opportunity to spend
one night raising money to attack the core issues that land people in jail."

When I saw the invitation, and the Web site, I was disappointed that this
did not become a "teachable moment" and in fact found it very troubling.
When we did our events we always included a very detailed explanation of the
group we were raising money for and how that attacked the core of poverty.
I'm sorry to say that the invitation and Web site did not have that. I found
them both tasteless and did not see the connection between the charity and

I am glad that the group continues to raise money for charities but can't
say I know much about their criteria.

Jordan questioned my ability to understand the dynamics of oppression and
advocate for victims of socio-economic and racist oppression.

Any person in a majority culutre probably needs to be questioned for that,
and I have to say I found the way this event ended up being handled to be
pretty tasteless.  But I would say that the work I did over a decade
founding and leading Night of the Penguin was focused directly on trying to
address some of the racial and economic issues that led to poverty.  I don't
pretend that our efforts were anything more than tiny steps but I'm happy
that we were moving in the right direction.

R.T. Rybak

Minneapolis Issues Forum - Minnesota E-Democracy
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