ST PAUL, Minn. — Located in what is now St. Paul's Summit-University neighborhood, the Rondo Commemorative Plaza was established in 2018 to honor the city's first African-American neighborhood, Rondo, and its homes and businesses that were destroyed during construction of Interstate 94.
Los Angeles-based music artist, Taylor J, grew up in the area.
"Yeah, the Ellis family," he said while visiting the outdoor plaza Sunday. "It goes back generations. My great, great, great-grandfather I believe. His name was Booker T. He had a Booker T. restaurant."
The restaurant is marked on a map on the plaza's museum-like wall. Further down, there is also an image of educator Nate Galloway, who was forced to move out of his home at 6 years old.
"That was my mom's teacher and my teacher," Taylor J said. "That was my gym teacher."
The stories continue beneath your feet on a pathway called the History Walk. Every year, caretakers replace some of its blank bricks with commemorative ones engraved with names, dates, places and quotes. This year, they're gearing up for a milestone.
"This is our fifth year of our Engraved Brick Program," plaza president Marvin Anderson said Monday. "This year, we're doing 25 [bricks]. We've done as many as 50 and that's what we're trying to get back to."
This year's installments will be revealed Wednesday, Sept. 13 at 4 p.m. in a public ceremony that will also be live streamed for the first time on the Rondo Commemorative Plaza Facebook page. Anderson says some people are flying in to share stories behind their bricks while others will join online, including a woman in France who bought a brick to honor her mother.
"I love this brick here," Anderson said of the woman's brick. "'Katie traveled the world, and her heart remains in Rondo.'"
Each brick costs $125. Two or more bricks purchased at the same time may be added for a discount price of $100 each. That is, unless you're one of Rondo's eldest residents.
"If you've lived in Rondo and you're 100 years old, you get a free brick installed," Anderson said, noting this initiative is new this year.
Proceeds benefit the Rondo Center for Diverse Expression and its work to keep the neighborhood's memory alive. While Taylor J and his family plan to buy a brick next summer, Anderson says you don't need Rondo ties to support the cause.
"I have a list of 150 names of places, events, in the Rondo community that they can choose from," he said.
It's too late to order this year, but anyone interested in purchasing a brick next year is encouraged to save the date of June 19, or Juneteenth, when sales open. They'll then host another ceremony in mid-September.
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