Meet Edina's Hometown Heroes

Edina is made up of people who pride themselves with making the city a great place for living, learning, raising families and doing business.

Archie Givens Jr.

June 2014 -- Edina is home to the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, Minnesota’s leading voice for the celebration and advancement of that group’s rich and growing literary tradition. Archie Givens Jr. proudly serves as President of the nonprofit, the brainchild and legacy of his parents, Archie Sr. and Phebe Mae Givens.

“Originally, what my parents were looking to do here was put together scholarships to help African American students continue their education. The Foundation was formed for that purpose,” Givens explained.

The Givens Foundation’s core focus shifted in the mid-1980s, when the University of Minnesota approached it about spearheading efforts to acquire a large and historically significant archive of African American materials from a private collector in New York. They accepted the challenge, and quickly brokered a deal. Grateful university staff rechristened the 3,000-piece collection the "Archie Givens Sr. Collection" in honor of the Foundation’s pivotal role.

“This project redirected us toward literature and education more generally, instead of scholarships,” Givens explained. 

The Foundation continues to provide financial support for the Givens Collection, which now boasts 18,000 items spanning nearly 250 years of black history. It also partners with the University of Minnesota on its popular NOMMO African American Authors Series, which brings bestselling and award-winning black writers from across the country to campus for in-depth discussions on their life and work.

Arguably, though, the Foundation’s most meaningful work takes place at the primary school level. Its flagship education initiative, "Spirited Minds and Strong Souls Singing," brings minority writers into classrooms to foster an appreciation for this often underappreciated corpus of literature.

“There is still an achievement gap,” Givens explained, “and our efforts are designed to help where we can with educational disparities. We’ve found that introducing African American literature helps engage minority children.” That engagement translates directly to improved reading and writing skills.

Perhaps most heartening of all, “as kids discover voices that they can relate to, they start to develop their own voice.” Each year, the Foundation and its partners reach upwards of 4,000 students and educators in this way.
Another banner program which Givens is particularly proud of is the Black Writers Collaborative Retreat, a unique, eight-month mentorship for emerging black authors in the Midwest.

All these efforts and achievements have not gone unnoticed. In recognition of its successes to date, the state awarded the Foundation a Legacy Grant to launch Givens Black Books, an annual “community reads” campaign. It can best be described as a statewide book club. “This platform not only showcases African American authors, but encourages reading as an integral part of daily life,” Givens explained. Givens also recently secured Legacy funds to expand the Foundation’s classroom program and writers retreat.

Archie Givens is quick to share any and all credit with the Foundation’s staff and board of directors. Thanks to their efforts, the future is looking bright for African American literature and literacy in Minnesota.

7 of 43  Heroes

© 2015 City Of Edina, Minnesota