This is the first week of Meet Opportunity.
Each week I will interview local leaders starting with Tony Sanneh. Sanneh is founder and CEO of The Sanneh Foundation where he advocates for his hometown and a holistic community model for youth inside and outside of school.
Change for him looks like having every member of the neighborhood engaged and being inclusive and accountable for our community. We can help him by pitching in and putting kids first. Generally soft spoken by nature, Sanneh lights up talking about access, education and soccer. He is the product of a neighborhood and he wants that for everyone, especially kids of color. He hopes to see an increase in success stories of kids by following the lessons St. Paul taught him … take care of your community and your community will take care of you.
Sanneh was born in St. Paul and developed his sense of responsibility and inclusiveness visiting with his father in Gambia. His international adolescence is evident in his holistic approach to the complex challenges facing Twin Cities students. Sanneh believes the community can heal us.
The community effect of The Sanneh Foundation’s model is broader than the metrics. The first time I went to Conway Community Center on St. Paul’s eastside I was impressed with the order amidst the chaos. Each year, Conway Center provides 33,000 free nutritious meals alongside basketball courts and attracts neighboring 3M employees for lunchtime pickup games. The interaction demonstrates collaboration and creativity. The Sanneh Foundation’s approach has provided 30,000 hours of academic intervention in Minneapolis, St. Paul and St. Cloud school systems targeting high school students of color.
Sanneh is a retired professional soccer player who chooses to invest his resources in leading solutions by asking questions such as, “Are we making kids a priority by taking action?”
Sanneh’s solution includes building systems and supporting the school districts. From transportation to food choices, he sees the chance to advocate on behalf of what kids need to be successful.
When asked what’s different because you are from here (St. Paul’s eastside), Sanneh replied, “I’ve experienced the barriers but at the same time I’ve been given access. I am able to see and experience what it’s like to succeed when given support. But I also have friends that don’t have it. I was a kid with a ton of mentors and adults plus scholarship money. I had adults supporting me, even though I had to work, I had the support of not doing it alone.”
He’d like for more young people to have the support he experienced. The Eastside has changed since he was young. He understands believing in change requires more than a vision. He has the historic perspective and understanding of what Minnesota represents. He’s seen the transition of neighborhoods and he wants kids to have safe places to play. Sanneh wants to provide the same variety of educational platforms and support he experienced. Community, for the Sanneh Foundation means bringing together athletics, school tutoring, relationship building with trusted adults and service learning with volunteers. Sanneh makes everyone he meets part of his neighborhood.
If you’d like to learn more about his program, visit www.TheSannehFoundation.org or on Twitter at @SannehFdn.
Meredith Moore Crosby is an entrepreneur and writer working and living in the Twin Cities. Connect online @MeredithMCrosby or info@LeveretteWeekes.com.