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Beverly Cottman, Minneapolis teacher and storyteller, has died

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If you’re looking for an epitaph for Beverly Cottman — a longtime Minneapolis high school biology teacher and prolific Black storyteller who died this month at 80 — just use her own words.

“I aspire to be a teller of universal truths,” the woman known as Auntie Beverly once said, “to provide emotional depth by the way I tell, and to bring wisdom of the ages to these troubled times.”

Or, “An imaginative mind can overcome many obstacles. Storytelling is the key to developing an imaginative mind.”

Or, “A story that makes you feel as if you can do anything, that you have the ability to reach and surpass your goals, or that you have the wisdom of the ancestors pushing you forward with love, is perhaps the most powerful tool of storytelling.”

The story of Beverly Cottman began in California, and added an education in Washington, D.C. There, as a student at Howard University, she met her husband, Bill Cottman. The two became a force in the Twin Cities’ arts and literary scene, Bill as a photographer, writer and radio host, Beverly as a teacher — first at the old Marshall-University High School, then at North High School, and also at arts organizations like COMPAS, where she was a teaching artist.

Beverly Cottman became the very definition of a renaissance woman: a teacher and dancer and fabric artist, a storyteller who interpreted and performed African fables and African-American folk tales, an energetic docent at the Minneapolis Institute of Art, a gracious host who whipped up soul food meals for big groups of fellow artists, a mentor to students and an elder in her community.

“She had such an impact because she was a storyteller, an artist and a scientist — a true teacher,” said Vusumuzi Zulu, co-founder of the Black Storytellers Alliance, of which Cottman was a member. “She had a very nice, soft, smooth style of storytelling with a smile that was infectious.”

As a teacher to thousands of students over the decades, her style was not one of rote memorization or standardized testing. Instead, students became excited about biology when Cottman invited them to tell stories about science.

“There was always this concept of making and sharing and telling,” said George Roberts, the Cottmans’ longtime next-door neighbor in north Minneapolis and colleague at North High School. “A storyteller is more than an entertainer. A storyteller is a teacher who shows us the important moments in history.”

Said Dawne Brown White, the executive director of COMPAS: “She really believed in the power of the arts. She saw something in every person.”

Cottman died in her sleep March 11 while on a trip to Egypt with friends. Cottman was preceded in death by her husband, who passed away in 2021, and is survived by their daughter, Kenna, and two grandchildren. Memorial services will be held Friday, March 31, with a program beginning at 1 p.m. at Liberty Community Church’s Northside Healing Space, 2100 Emerson Ave. N. in Minneapolis. Details and livestream will be posted at www.voiceofculture.org.

“Kids loved her — when you spend 30 years in a classroom, you know how to work an audience,” said Danielle Daniel, a teaching artist at COMPAS and a friend. “She was like the Energizer Bunny, even at 80. I’d tease her: ‘How you get so much energy?'”



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An earthquake brought her to Minnesota, where she’s built a life teaching Haitian dance

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Djenane Saint Juste knows the rhythms of her homeland run deep. The Haitian-born artist moved to the United States in 2009 and founded Afoutayi, a local nonprofit that uses Haitian and Afro-Caribbean music and dance to educate people about her native culture.

“There were many other groups who were doing Haitian celebrations, but most of those people were not Haitian,” Saint Juste said. “It was beautiful what they were doing, but some information was missing, because none of them had been born or lived in Haiti.”

Saint Juste trained in ballet, hip hop, jazz and ballroom at her mother Florencia Pierre’s dance company in Haiti and honed her skills under Pierre Dulaine at Dancing Classrooms in New York. After winning a car in a beauty pageant contest, she moved to California with her son, fleeing targeted robberies in Haiti. But once there, she encountered significant challenges adapting to a new language and culture and the high cost of living.

She planned to return to Haiti after a few years, but the country’s earthquake in 2010 altered her plans.

“We had to start from rock bottom when we moved to the U.S., working all kinds of jobs and being treated differently,” she said. “The arts scene for an immigrant is not a good way to go, but I didn’t want to do anything else other than art.”

That opportunity presented itself when a former student of her mother’s moved to Minnesota and saw the need for Haitian cultural education in the state, after an increasing number of Haitian children were adopted by white Minnesotan families following the earthquake.

“The problem was most of the parents didn’t speak Creole or French, and didn’t know anything about Haitian culture,” Saint Juste said. “These kids, whether it was the language, food or environment, felt appreciative but disconnected.”

Saint Juste’s move to Minnesota marked the start of collaborations with several local arts organizations, including the arts education nonprofit COMPAS (Community Programs in the Arts), where she serves as a teaching artist. She joined the COMPAS roster in 2016, said Julie Strand-Blomgren, the group’s arts program director, who connects Afoutayi with educational institutions.

Through COMPAS, Saint Juste integrates Haitian and Afro-Caribbean konpa and kizomba dance styles, Creole language and folklore into educational programs at schools, libraries and recreational centers in the Twin Cities and Minnesota. This summer, she is leading daily sessions in Haitian and Afro-Caribbean dance at the Center for Performing Arts’ summer camp in Minneapolis.

“I always think somebody’s easier to connect with when you can see pieces of yourself in them,” Strand-Blomgren said. “Maybe kids don’t always see themselves as a dancer, but they can maybe relate to her through something else because she brings so much of herself to every room.”

Saint Juste’s work addresses the cultural challenges faced by Haitian students in American classrooms. In Haiti, children learn through “song, drumming and movement,” she said. “But in American classrooms, you have to sit down, be quiet and listen. That is a big cultural shock for them.”

That disconnect became more apparent when Saint Juste noticed her son, then 4, struggling in the structured classroom. “For him, everything in school was dancing and drumming,” she said. “Here, there’s not that much space to move around, and teachers at school would tell me he had an issue.”

Saint Juste knew her son wasn’t alone; many Haitian children were facing similar struggles. Determined to bridge the gap, she visited her son’s school and performed Haitian dances. She explained the cultural context of movement and rhythm in Haitian education and how teachers there incorporate it into the curriculum. Not only did Saint Juste’s son begin to thrive, but other students benefited from the more engaging learning environment.

“The kids who identify as troublemakers or have fallen behind a grade level suddenly shine because they have a space to show their energy,” she said.

In 2020 she published “The Mermaid and the Whale,” a children’s book that celebrates Haitian folklore. The book — available in English, Haitian-Creole, French and Spanish — highlights the historical significance of Creole as a language of Haitian resistance and identity.

“For many years, Creole was prohibited in schools,” Saint Juste said. “Children were required to learn French, even though they thought, felt and communicated in Creole at home. This created a gap between those who attended school and those who didn’t.”

The book also challenges stereotypes about Haiti. “A lot of Haitian kids, when they come [to the U.S.], feel frustrated,” she said. “They feel like they are the bad guys because the news only spreads about the economy of Haiti, or violence. We need to value and keep alive the positive aspects of our history so that our children feel proud to be Haitian.”

The local Haitian Flag Day festival, founded by Saint Juste and her mother in 2017, serves as a platform to celebrate Haitian heritage every May 18.

“We celebrate with everybody,” Saint Juste said. “Our suffering is the suffering of all Black Caribbean cultures. We hope people attending the festival see the struggles we face in Haiti and look at us with hope. … I feel so proud, because we’re creating a group of ambassadors who are going to advocate not only for Haiti but for all Afro-Caribbean culture.”



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Man admits he raped, held St. Kate’s student captive in dorm for days; sentence capped at 7½ years

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A 20-year-old man agreed to plead guilty Friday after being charged with holding his girlfriend captive in her St. Catherine University dorm room for four days while he raped, beat and waterboarded her until she escaped.

Keanu A. Labatte, of Granite Falls, Minn., said in Ramsey County District Court that he intends to admit to second-degree criminal sexual conduct in connection with the attack in early September.

The plea deal between the defense and the prosecution calls for Labatte to be sentenced to a term no longer than 7½ years. He remains free on an $80,000 bond ahead of sentencing, which is scheduled for Nov. 4.

A spokesman for the County Attorney’s Office said prosecutors will ask for Labatte to receive the full 7½-year term.

According to the charges:

The woman went to security at the Catholic women’s university in St. Paul to report the abuse she endured from Labatte, who had become enraged by texts, photos and social media content that he discovered upon his arrival on Sept. 7. Security immediately alerted police.

She told police that Labatte squeezed his hands around her neck until she “felt lightheaded and saw stars” and raped her.

On Sept. 9, he forced her into the bathtub and “engaged in waterboarding by covering her mouth with a wet washcloth,” the charges said. He also brandished a knife and threatened to kill her.

The woman escaped after persuading Labatte to let her go to the cafeteria, but she went to police, who noticed black, blue and red marks on her neck. While she was telling police what had happened to her, Labatte was calling and texting her cellphone, which he had given back to her under the condition that she take a photo of herself getting food. He texted at one point asking why the police were outside.

Police went to the woman’s room, found Labatte still there and arrested him.

At the time of his arrest, Labatte was on probation for violating a restraining order issued in November in Yellow Medicine County on behalf of a 17-year-old girl who had been his girlfriend.



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Massive expansion of MSP airport will bring with it years of demolitions and disruptions

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Terminal 2 will more than double in size. Concourses and parking ramps at Terminal 1 will be reconstructed or demolished. And an “automated people mover” may ferry travellers between the two terminals.

These are some of the changes included in a $9 billion expansion of Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport. The Metropolitan Airports Commission (MAC), which operates MSP, recently approved a comprehensive plan that will fundamentally change the airport’s terminals, parking and airfield to accommodate growing throngs of passengers through 2040.

The plan “is a roadmap, a recipe, if you will, and it’s all subject to change,” said Bridget Rief, a civil engineer who is the MAC’s vice president of Planning and Development. “We’re very good here about building when we need things, we don’t build things and then wait for people to fill it up.”

The plan takes into account demand for air travel in the post-pandemic era, the fickle cycles of the airline business and the economy and the challenges of growing in the confines of its urban Twin Cities location.

Efforts to craft the long-term plan, which is required by the Federal Aviation Administration and the Metropolitan Council, were delayed nearly 15 months due to the COVID-19 outbreak, which decimated air travel.

Leisure travelers have since returned to the skies with a vengeance: MAC officials predict the number of annual passengers will surge by nearly 50% to about 56 million by 2040.

What’s happening next:

Terminal 2 continues to get bigger, with the addition of 21 gates by 2040.

In the near-term, 11 gates will be added to the south side of Terminal 2. Work is already underway on a $240 million two-gate expansion, with construction beginning on another two gates later this year.

Terminal 2 is home to Minneapolis-based Sun Country Airlines, as well as Allegiant, Condor, Frontier, Icelandair, JetBlue and Southwest. Rief said the gates under construction have not been assigned to an airline yet.

“We’re actively planning the phasing and what the structure will look like,” Rief said. “This is due primarily to Sun Country’s growth.”

The plan also calls for Terminal 2 to be converted to geothermal power, a renewable energy source that has a smaller carbon footprint than fossil fuels.

The Orange and Purple parking ramps at Terminal 2 are expanding. This includes includes two more levels of parking atop the Orange Ramp and seven additional levels at the Purple Ramp.

The second level of the Purple Ramp will be reconfigured for passenger pick up and drop off, with access to the terminal through the skyway. A similar configuration could result at the Orange Ramp.

“We have congestion at certain times during the day and during the week and this will hopefully help,” Rief said. “It’s not a ton of space and we want to see how well it works and see if we can divert people into the parking ramp.”

The Federal Inspection Services Facility in Terminal 1 will be improved to move international passengers arriving at MSP more efficiently.

Mid-term changes

At Terminal 1, Concourse A will be reconstructed to accommodate larger aircraft and Concourse B will be demolished. The two currently fork off the tip of Concourse C.

Both were designed when 50-seat aircraft were common, but MSP dominant carrier Delta Air Lines no longer flies them. Post-pandemic, Delta and other airlines are increasingly relying on larger aircraft with 130 seats or more to meet growing demand, according to industry group Airlines 4 America.

The plan calls for Concourse F at Terminal 1 to be reconstructed to handle larger aircraft and some international flights. All told, the plan calls for nine fewer gates at Terminal 1 by 2040.

The aging Green and Gold parking ramps will be reconstructed into a new multi-purpose facility that will include parking and Federal Inspection Services for processing passengers from international flights.

This work will complement an effort to widen both levels of the roadway serving the terminal for departures and arrivals, which can clog with vehicles picking up and dropping off passengers at peak times.

“The whole renovation of the Green and Gold [ramps] creates a huge opportunity to do all kinds of things,” Rief said.

Longer term:

Nine more gates on the north side of Terminal 2 will be added, allowing for airlines to expand there, and accommodating reconstruction of the Terminal 1 concourses. This will require the relocation of fixed-base operator Signature, which provides business and private aviation service to the public, elsewhere at the airport.

Terminal 1′s Concourse G is slated to expand by seven gates, and Concourse E will be reconstructed, absorbing Concourse D. That will make it necessary to rename all of the concourses in Terminal 1.

“What we’re trying to do is better balance the number of passengers between the two terminals as a long-term play, so we’re not so heavily over-weighted at Terminal 1,” Rief said. “Recent growth at Terminal 2 has kind of organically provided some of that balance already.”

And there’s a plan to construct an automated people mover between Terminals 1 and 2, eliminating the need for passengers to use Blue Line light-rail service to travel between the two.

“The basic idea is that, like many other airports, you would have gone through security and, while on a secure side of the airport, you could get on a tram or a bus or something that would take you between the two terminals,” Rief said.

“That’s very long term and a significant undertaking,” she added. “What it would look like hasn’t been defined.”



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