Brian Coyle Community Center

The Heart of the Neighborhood

Tucked behind Riverside Plaza is the Brian Coyle Community Center—the busiest building in Cedar-Riverside.

Hundreds of people pass through the Coyle Center’s doors every day. Neighborhood residents go there for work, to get connected to job opportunities, attend ESL classes, get help with their homework, meet with community organizations, volunteer, vote, play basketball, access a food shelf and attend cultural celebrations. Students from local universities and colleges go there to be tutors, attend public events and to get to know their neighbors. Politicians, civic and community leaders stop by for meetings and to address issues facing the neighborhood. It has been described by many as the “heart” of the neighborhood.

The Coyle Center is the modern outgrowth of the Pillsbury Settlement House, which served Scandinavian and European immigrants and other residents in the area from the 1890s to the 1960s. The “Pill House,” as it was affectionately called, was part of an international movement of settlement houses established in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to provide civic, social, educational, and recreational services to newcomers in dense urban neighborhoods (Jane Addams’ Hull House in Chicago is among the most well-known). In the 1960s, Pillsbury House merged with other settlement houses to form Pillsbury Waite Neighborhood Services.

In 1968, when the building was torn down to make way for a highway, Pillsbury continued to provide youth programs and opened the Currie Center to serve youth and adult residents in Riverside Plaza. But the space was small and inadequate to address the needs of the community. Together with neighborhood and civic leaders, Pillsbury led a multi-million dollar campaign to build a new center.

The Coyle Center opened in 1993, named after Minneapolis City Council member Brian Coyle who was a dedicated advocate for affordable housing and civil rights. When the new building opened its doors, most of the people it served were African Americans, whites and Vietnamese refugees. Coyle Center director, Bob Frawley, hired staff who could speak Vietnamese to make the space more welcoming and better serve these new residents.

The following year, Somali refugees began arriving in large numbers. They started the Confederation of the Somali Community, which became a community affiliate of Pillsbury United Communities and was housed in the Coyle Center for two decades. This is the oldest and longest-running Somali organization in Minnesota. Mohamed Ali was the first director of the organization. As Frawley recalled, “We stepped out of our first meeting and there were ninety chairs lined up in the hallway. All were filled with Somalis waiting to talk with him. I knew then it was a good decision to support this organization.”

The Coyle Center’s mission is to empower residents and adapt to the needs of the communities it serves. It offers programs for recent immigrants and refugees including resettlement services, ESL classes and employment training. It also hosts community organizations, adult and youth programs, a food shelf, a gym, recreational activities and community meeting spaces. Innovative programs for East African youth include a youth council that advocates for youth concerns in the neighborhood, a basketball team for Muslim girls, and a program that encourages youth entrepreneurialism.

Coyle staff believe passionately about making this center “a place for everyone,” and though the demographics change over the years, it strives to be a place where people of diverse backgrounds can build community.


Images

Brian Coyle step dancers, 1993

Brian Coyle step dancers, 1993

The Brian Coyle Community Center's official opening was October 26, 1993. Civic and community leaders and neighborhood residents turned out for the big celebration. There were performances by the Brian Coyle step dancers, Hmong dancers, a Vietnamese fashion show and a poetry reading. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center | Source: Deb Wolking, "Brian Coyle Center Opens," West Bank, November 1993 View File Details Page

Vietnamese Language Class, 1994

Vietnamese Language Class, 1994

Vietnamese refugees were the largest new community in Cedar-Riverside in the early 1990s. Adults attended ESL classes at the Coyle Center, while some second generation youth started weekly Vietnamese language classes to help them maintain their skills and preserve their culture. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center | Source: Whitney Sanford, "Multiculturalism a daily reality in Cedar Riverside highrises," The Surveyor, June 1994 View File Details Page

Basketball at the Coyle Center, 1995

Basketball at the Coyle Center, 1995

When the Coyle Center opened, one of the most important spaces it provided in this dense urban neighborhood was a large gym for recreation and community gatherings. That is still the case today. The gym is most frequently used for basketball, a favorite sport among neighborhood youth. The court at Coyle hosts hundreds of neighborhood basketball players every week and city-wide championships are held there. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center View File Details Page

Naturalization Ceremony, 1995

Naturalization Ceremony, 1995

The Brian Coyle Community Center has hosted naturalization ceremonies for immigrants and refugees in the neighborhood. The first ceremony was held in 1995 for 106 Koreans, many of whom had come to the U. S. to live with relatives and had decided to live in Cedar-Hi and Riverside Plaza to be near other Korean elders. The opportunity to fully engage in U.S. democracy was a big motivator for Tae Gil Han, an elderly Korean woman, to become a U.S. citizen. "Citizens can vote, and I will vote. This is very important. This is part of what it means to be American." Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center | Source: Warren Wolfe, "Making a home in Minnesota: First such ceremony grants 106 Koreans U.S. citizenship," Minneapolis Tribune, September 28, 1995 | Creator: Cheryl A. Meyer View File Details Page

Food Shelf, ca. 1990s

Food Shelf, ca. 1990s

The food shelf is an important resource for many area residents, some of whom don't have easy access to food because of income, health issues or lack of mobility. The food shelf is often staffed by youth volunteers from the neighborhood and nearby educational institutions. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center View File Details Page

Foosball at Coyle Center, ca. 1990s

Foosball at Coyle Center, ca. 1990s

Neighborhood youth flock to the Coyle Center for fun and games as their predecessors did to the Currie Center and, before that, the Pillsbury House. The Coyle Center is the only community center in the neighborhood that is open to all residents and is heavily used by young people. The youth programs at the Coyle Center run all-year long and offer a wide variety of activities including homework help, employment training and health and wellness classes. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center View File Details Page

Triple C Coffee Cart, 2016

Triple C Coffee Cart, 2016

One of the unique qualities of the Coyle Center is its dedication to help residents help themselves. For decades, youth have struggled with a lack of employment options in Cedar-Riverside so they decided to create their own jobs by opening a youth-run coffee shop in the Center. They took business management classes at the African Development Center and created a business plan. The Triple C Coffee Cart opened in 2010. | Source: Randy Furst, "Money to jump-start Brian Coyle Center expansion is caught up in standoff over lease," Star Tribune, October 28, 2016 | Creator: Renee Jones Schneider View File Details Page

Cedar Riverside Youth Council, 2012

Cedar Riverside Youth Council, 2012

Youth activism is an important part of what makes community collaboration successful at the Coyle Center. The Cedar Riverside Youth Council is a group of young people who advocate for youth issues and concerns in the neighborhood. One of their big events is the Youth Awareness Week which offers workshops, job training, meetings with local leaders, music and cultural performances and recreational activities. | Source: Minnesota Daily, July 11, 2012 View File Details Page

Basketball Champs, ca. 2015

Basketball Champs, ca. 2015

Basketball is one of the most popular activities at the Coyle Center, but for a long time the gym was mostly used by young men. Young women from East African communities did not participate because their Islamic faith prohibits mixing between men and women. Many young Muslim women wear hijabs and long skirts which makes it hard to play sports. Things began to change when volunteer Fatimah Hussein started a girls basketball team at Coyle. She went on to create a line of athletic wear for Muslim girls so they could be more comfortable but still preserve their cultural traditions. Image courtesy of Brian Coyle Community Center View File Details Page

Video

Building Peace by Pieces: Cedar-Riverside Inside Out, 2010

A youth-produced documentary about life in Cedar-Riverside. A collaborative project with youth in the FANS program at the Brian Coyle Community Center and the Department of History at the University of Minnesota. Created in 2010. View File Details Page

Street Address:

420 15th Avenue South, Minneapolis, 55454 [map]

Official Website:

Brian Coyle Community Center, https://www.puc-mn.org/brian-coyle

Cite this Page:

Anduin (Andy) Wilhide, “Brian Coyle Community Center,” Augsburg Digi-Tours, accessed July 23, 2017, http://digitours.augsburg.edu/items/show/16.
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