Once-troubled building in Brooklyn Park to become youth empowerment center

An intersection in Brooklyn Park that's long been a hotspot for crime is getting new life.

For more than a year, the violence intervention group Minnesota Acts Now has been patrolling the intersection of 63rd and Zane without guns, forming connections with community members and working to make the area safer.

"This place used to be a place of major drug dealing, of carjackings, of several shots fired on a daily basis. We have turned this strip mall around. We have turned the city around," said Bishop Harding Smith, CEO and founder of the non-profit Minnesota Acts Now.

Earlier this year, Pastor Wilta Harris was in a parking lot at the intersection when eight shots rang out around him.

"That day could have been my last day, but I'm here still standing," Harris said. "Ever since (Minnesota Acts Now has) been out in the streets, there's been a totally drastic change."

Jackson George says he didn’t feel safe pumping gas or buying from the nearby Park Liquor Outlet. But after Smith’s group stepped in and transformed the area, George bought the liquor store a few months ago.

"Since Minnesota Acts Now started, the community's better. The crime rate has gone down. And even women are shopping here now. Women never used to stop by," said George, co-owner of Park Liquor Outlet.

Minnesota Acts Now’s next act is renovating a once-troubled building at 6301 Zane Avenue North into a youth empowerment center. The group held a groundbreaking Sunday.

The center will be a place where teens can hang out, get job skills and be mentored by members of Minnesota Acts Now. The non-profit is trying to raise $550,000 to build the youth center.

"We need to put our best foot forward to make sure that we get these kids that are crying out, that are shooting each other, that are begging for help – to give them something meaningful to do," Smith said.