About Don Samuels
Don has been a member of the Minneapolis City Council for 9 years and chairs its Public Safety, Civil Rights and Health Committee. He has served in North Minneapolis in both the 3rd and 5th Wards, working tirelessly to make the Northside a safe, engaged and prosperous community. Under his leadership violent crime has seen double digit reductions each year and once pervasive community blight has become a rarity.
Don is co-founder of the PEACE Foundation, dba, Northside Achievement Zone, which won a Promise Neighborhood $28.5 million grant to enhance educational outcomes for North Minneapolis children. He believes all kids can learn, all neighborhoods can be safe and prosperous and that service to those goals is the ultimate citizenry.
He serves on the board of Twin Cities Rise, Meet Minneapolis, the Criminal Justice Coordination Committee, Twin Cities Community Land Bank, Minneapolis / St. Paul Housing Finance Board, Teach for America, the Interchange Working Group, the Target Implementation Committee and several transportation working groups. He is also a founding member of the African American Leadership Forum.
Don is married to Sondra Hollinger Samuels, CEO of the Northside Achievement Zone. They have four children: an adult son Andre and three daughters, Zaina, Asante and Amani. Fifteen years ago, they moved into the challenged Jordan Neighborhood because they believe that strategic residence and neighborhood leadership are the highest forms of social activism. Don says, “We must first deal with the Jordans if Minneapolis is to become the Promised Land we dream of”.
Don obtained a Bachelor of Industrial Design degree from Pratt Institute in 1975. He was Sr. Director of Research and Development at Playskool Toys until 1989, then a Partner at Red Racer Studio, inventing toys for Fisher Price, Mattel, Hasbro and other manufacturers.
Don obtained a Master of Divinity degree from Luther Seminary in 2001. He has never been a pastor, but has been a lifelong church volunteer, especially in service of children. That is why he celebrates the Northside’s 42% participation rate in the city’s Step Up youth employment program, that hires 2,000 youth annually and the Power of You that has sent hundreds of low income Northside youth to twin city colleges free of charge.
In 1992, Don began to shift his focus from exclusive church volunteerism to community engagement and considers community leadership a sacred act of service. He and his wife, Sondra, became block leaders and neighborhood organization leaders, helping to drive crime from and stabilize streets around them and taking a pledge that “no child on our block will ever join a gang.” The effectiveness of his community leadership inspired neighbors to urge him to run for public office.
Don grew up in Kingston, Jamaica and migrated to the US at age 21 in 1970. His father was a pastor in a poor community but his parents’ vision launched all of their 10 children into the middle class and beyond. He believes the black middle class has incredible obligation to “play it forward” for those still left behind. He says, “this is our historic obligation and our reason for being.”