A changed-up National Night Out takes on new meaning

The annual National Night Out has quietly returned as a summer shaped by the COVID-19 pandemic and police violence began to come to an end.

The pandemic had originally delayed the August event to October, following a national recommendation to help slow the spread of the virus.

But hundreds of Minneapolis neighborhoods went ahead and held events Tuesday night. On 10th Avenue between 38th and 39th streets, masked neighbors skipped rope, played basketball and tried “get to know your neighbor” bingo.

A block from the George Floyd memorial, the block has held parties every month or more this summer, which has been a necessary form of healing, said Julia Eagles. “There was a very intense need to be in safety mode, and very fast relationship-building for neighbors that didn’t necessarily know each other before.”

Tenth Avenue has done outdoor events with the other three blocks surrounding the memorial this summer.

Before Tuesday’s event, some neighbors talked about wanting to distance themselves from the history of National Night Out, which is closely tied to law enforcement and community relations.

“I think a lot of neighbors know National Night Out, so we did a bit of co-branding,” Eagles said, as she answered bingo questions from kids completing the game.

Local restaurants donated boxed meals to eliminate the need for shared dishes, and attendees remained masked when they were not eating.

“Getting to know our neighbors is the best way we can feel safe right now,” Eagles said. “We all went through a shared experience with this that was really intense and somewhat traumatic, so there was a lot of need to process that together early on.”

This summer has taught them how important it is to trust your neighbors and to call one other before calling the police, Eagles said.

Over in the Standish-Ericsson neighborhoods, safety and community-building were also on residents’ minds. Bikes, hoverboards and scooters dotted the streets as children played and adults sipped drinks, masks on their wrists.

Ice cream sandwiches were available, but in typical years, the food at block parties was great, said neighbor Jeff Knecht. “I think it’s definitely good to meet new neighbors and welcome them and I like to just find out what people do, what hours they work. I think it’s good to have tight-knit communities so we can support each other and lift each other up,” Knecht said.

Brynn Kasper organized the event on 23rd Avenue. She moved to the neighborhood with her boyfriend a year ago, so it was important for her to host the event safely this year.

“It’s just nice to meet people and see new faces. This feels like a safe way to venture out and see people within your immediate neighborhood and just hope that anyone who is at risk or who has possibly been exposed is staying home,” Kasper said.

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