Five years after Prince’s death, his beloved Minneapolis has been in turmoil

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Nowhere does that feel more true than in the city he both loved and helped to put on the map, Minneapolis.

Racial strife existed in the city long before the murder of George Floyd — a fellow Black man who also adored Minneapolis. But the trial of the police officer who caused his death, coupled with police recently killing another Minnesota Black man, Daunte Wright, have heightened racial tensions and attracted a global spotlight.

In many ways it feels like Prince foretold that these days would come.

“Does anybody hear us pray?/For Michael Brown or Freddie Gray?/Peace is more than the absence of a war,” Prince sang on his 2015 protest song “Baltimore,” which was written after Freddie Gray died of injuries following an arrest by Baltimore police. “Are we gonna see another bloody day?/We’re tired of cryin’ & people dyin’.”

“If there ain’t no justice, then there ain’t no peace,” Prince sang.

The man born Prince Rogers Nelson on June 7, 1958 died April 21, 2016 at the age of 57 from an accidental overdose of the opioid fentanyl.
I grew up listening to his music and covered his death extensively for CNN, even writing of my experience attending what would become his last night of concerts.

Five years later, I can’t help but reflect on what the man and the artist might have made of what’s been happening in his hometown. I imagine how heartbroken he would have been, how he probably would have taken to the streets to protest and the great art that may have come from his pain.

Minneapolis became synonymous with Prince, perhaps, against the odds.

He recounted some of his earliest encounters with racism when he was among the students bused from North Minneapolis to a predominately White elementary school in the late 1960s.

“I went to school with the rich kids who didn’t like having me there,” he recalled in his 2019 posthumous memoir, “The Beautiful Ones.” When student called him the N-word, Prince threw a punch. “I felt I had to,” he wrote.

“I was born here, unfortunately,” Prince reportedly said in an interview with his high school newspaper before he became famous, according to Far Out Magazine. “I think it is very hard for a band to make it in this state, even if they’re good. Mainly because there aren’t any big record companies or studios in this state.”

Fame and massive success found him anyway with his debut, self-produced album “For You,” that he released in 1978 at the age of 19.

He would go on to become the architect of the “Minneapolis Sound,” which gifted the world with groups and artists including The Time, Sheila E. and super producers Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

His Paisley Park complex became not only his home, but a sacred space and now a tourist attraction. His longtime hairstylist and friend Kim Berry talked to me in shortly after his death in 2016 about how much Prince loved his city.

“There are homeless people walking around Minneapolis right now wearing coats from Prince and they don’t even know it,” Berry said at the time of the work the singer did through his Love 4 One Another Foundation

And as much as Prince gave Minneapolis, the city and its people loved him right back and gave the intensely private star respect.
“He had the freedom to do stuff here and not worry about paparazzi bothering him,” former Paisley Park security guard Lars Larson told Channel 4 CBS Minnesota in 2016. “I remember he would take trips to Dairy Queen in his BMW. I don’t know if you can get away with that in Hollywood.”

Prince was more public about his work for racial equality.

“Albums still matter,” he said. “Like books and Black lives, albums still matter.”

In keeping with his spiritual beliefs, Prince chose to keep his philanthropy quiet so as not to seek glory for himself.

But after his death, his friend and CNN contributor Van Jones spoke to Rolling Stone about the singer working with him on Green for All, an organization that creates green jobs in disadvantaged communities as well as #YesWeCode that helps educate urban youth about technology.

Prince also sent money to the family of Trayvon Martin after the teen’s death sparked demonstrations and traveled to Baltimore for a concert to bring attention to Freddie Gray’s death.

The music video for his single “Baltimore” ends with a quote from Prince.

“The system is broken,” the quote reads. “It’s going to take the young people to fix it this time. We need new ideas, new life…”

None of us ever imagined that Prince wouldn’t be around to see young people trying to do just that.



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