The Northside Achievement Zone exists to permanently close the opportunity gap and end multi-generational poverty in North Minneapolis.

Sondra Samuels, North Side Achievement Zone (NAZ)

Sondra Samuels, North Side Achievement Zone (NAZ)

Sondra Samuels grew up in New Jersey. At an early age, she moved schools from Newark, where 52% of the population is African American, to Scotch Plains, NJ, where African Americans make up 11% of the population. As she integrated the new school, she said she “nobody had an expectation that I was going to succeed.”

As a teen, she experienced the death of several young African American men. Sondra explained, “They were being murdered by other young African American men. Remember, I’m living in the suburbs, and I’m experiencing young black males being disproportionately murdered by other young black males.” She was not sure what was causing this violence, but she knew what it was not. “What I did not believe was that it was a black problem. What about my community? What factors led to the black-on-black violence? That was always an issue for me, the violence, and specifically the black-on-black violence.”

As an adult, Sondra worked for the Ford Motor Company. Her work brought her to the Twin Cities, Minnesota. Sondra and her husband moved to North Minneapolis. “We wanted to be part of the solution. And we wanted to understand why what was happening, was happening.”

Sondra eventually left her corporate role. She explains, “I didn’t feel like what I was doing in corporate was going to help me find a solution to this.” She joined the Peace Corps in Africa. “It helped me reconnect with who I am as a woman of African origin.” When Sondra returned home from the Peace Corps, her husband launched a nonprofit, The PEACE Foundation. PEACE is an acronym for Public Engagement for Community Empowerment. The purpose of the PEACE Foundation was to end local violence.

“We didn’t have the answer,” Sondra says. “And we would have been arrogant to assume that we did. But what we did know was that, if we stood in the problem long enough, the answers would come.” After participating in the PEACE Foundation for several years, Sondra says that it became clear that “Violence is not the problem, but a symptom of a deeper problem. And that was the opportunity gap.”

To close that gap, Sondra founded the Northside Achievement Zone, or NAZ. The Northside Achievement Zone is a collaborative effort of 40 organizations that have aligned their work to serve more than 1,000 families and 2,200 children in northern Minneapolis. Their goal is to end multi-generational poverty using education and whole family support. These organizations work together providing family support, health services, housing, and education programs.

The Northside Achievement Zone is the backbone of all these organizations and acts as the responsible entity to facilitate sharing of data and management of staff. According to Sondra, “One of the important things that we do is share what we are learning.” This allows for faster growth in organizations throughout the collaborative as they can learn from efforts of others. While this ultimate entity handles the collaborative efforts, it allows each nonprofit to focus on its missions and the communities that it serves.

The Northside Achievement Zone breaks down silos. They focus on the connectivity between organizations serving the north side of Minneapolis.

The group is based in north Minneapolis where there are concentrated areas of poverty. This area is plagued by lack of resources in housing and public transportation. There is an above average prevalence of violence which can be attributed to the lackluster economy. The North Size Achievement Zone focuses on improving school performance. “A real concentration of light needs to be focused here,” Sondra says.

The Northside Achievement Zone is working in schools and with schools and seeing amazing outcomes. Students who participate in Northside Achievement Zone programs have higher reading proficiency. Participants in NAZ early learning programs were 2.5 times more ready for kindergarten than their peers. In 2016, 303 children were supported through housing stabilization. Participants scored higher in reading and math proficiency.

The biggest thing Sondra has learned is that results matter. She encourages social entrepreneurs to measure their results at the level of population outcomes.

Social Entrepreneurship Quotes from Sondra Samuels

“You can’t run a collaborative collaboratively.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “One of the important things that we do is share what we are learning.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We have everything we need, except for each other.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “Because we’ve been so separate, we’ve been siloed.”@SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “40% of the population are people of color, and 50% are below the poverty line.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We have the least transportation, although we have the highest transit ridership.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “When there is no above-ground economy, you start getting an underground economy.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet Closing the Opportunity Gap with Sondra Samuels, Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ) Click To Tweet “A real concentration of light needs to be focused here.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We're focused on the whole family through a two-generation approach.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We’ve been succeeding as much as we’ve been failing.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We have layered our support for the same families and the same children.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “There are models of success.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “What I did not believe was that it was a black problem.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We wanted to be part of the solution.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We didn’t have the answers. We would have been arrogant to assume that we did.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We have to look at what parents need for knowledge and skills.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “We knew that if we stood in the problem long enough, the answers would come.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “Violence was not the problem but a symptom of a deeper problem.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “Results matter.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “What are the population-level outcomes?” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “The siloed approach has not worked.” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet “Plug in!” @SondraSamuels, @NAZMpls Click To Tweet

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Tony Loyd is a leadership development expert. He is a best-selling author, keynote speaker, and coach. He helps purpose-driven business leaders to thrive so that they can connect and contribute at a deeper level. Find out more at

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