Jennifer Brooks
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It’s been six months since Mark Graves had to tell anyone to stop running in the halls.

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And he cannot wait to do it again.

“Just to hear the laughing, the excitement, just to see the kids again” is going to be wonderful, said Graves, who runs the Southside Village Boys and Girls Club at the intersection of 39th and Chicago in south Minneapolis.

One block from the corner where George Floyd died under a policeman’s knee.

“It has been a really tough haul,” said Graves, who watched the toll that half a year of disease, economic downturn and civil unrest took on his neighborhood and neighbors.

But this Monday, for the first time in a long time, the halls of Southside Village will echo with the sound of laughter and running feet.

Five of the 10 clubhouses around the Twin Cities have the space and resources to reopen, with room for about a quarter of the children who usually come for after-school tutoring, mentorship, wellness programs, job training, life-skills classes, games, arts and crafts.

At Southside Village last week, work crews were milling around, cleaning and clearing space for social distancing.

“We have to believe there’s a light at the end of the tunnel,” Graves said. “As tough as it might be to look around right now, the light is there.”

When the pandemic shut the clubhouse doors in March, staff sent the club home to kids. They filled box after box, month after month, with meals for entire families, along with games, educational materials, arts and crafts.

Boys and Girls Clubs around the Twin Cities distributed as much food between April and August as they normally budget for an entire year.

After George Floyd died, Southside Village opened its doors to the entire neighborhood, converting into a free co-op, distributing food, household supplies and other donations to 100 people a day.

We all watched the video, watched the uprising, watched collective grief and trauma bring the community together, watched looting and fear tear the community apart. We’ve all heard the sirens and helicopters and gunshots in the night.

The kids were watching too.

Graves is still trying to figure out what he’s going to say to the children about everything that happened this year. Clubhouses are prioritizing programming for younger children, who are more at risk of falling behind during distance learning at school. But Graves is determined to find space for the teens.

“I’m not sure what I’m going to say yet,” Graves said. “I think I’m going to start by listening.”

Dozens of teens gathered for socially distanced social justice pop-ups on Minneapolis’ North Side and St. Paul’s West Side last week. Some rapped, some sang, some performed spoken-word poetry.

“It was amazing,” said Abiba Lecky, teen-advocacy liaison for the Boys and Girls Clubs of the Twin Cities. “This has been a really, really difficult summer for them.”

The farther this year pushes the teens of the Twin Cities apart, the harder they worked to come together and work on the causes that matter to them.

Some tuned in to virtual Teen Empowerment Town Halls to debate issues like criminal justice reform. Some threw themselves into entrepreneurship and art.

“If opportunity doesn’t knock,” reads the greeting on the No Lock Doors youth development site, “Build a door.”

Some started podcasts. You can find GRL Talk — “Raw conversations about all things (mental, emotional and spiritual),” on SoundCloud, Spotify and Apple podcast.

Teens from the Little Earth Boys and Girls gather on Facebook for Pride of a People — freewheeling discussions of everything from Native American issues to music and video games. Little Earth will host its own social justice pop-up on Monday afternoon.

Not many teens trust the rest of us to fix the mess we made.

“Right now, they just want to do it for themselves,” Lecky said. “They’re done depending on other people, and I get it.”

But these are kids, and they ought to be able to depend on us. So Lecky, the Boys and Girls Clubs and nonprofits around the Twin Cities are working to get them the resources and support they need while they process “George Floyd’s murder and all the other murders this summer of people who look like them,” Lecky said.

A lot of people who don’t live in the Twin Cities and don’t love the Twin Cities have a lot to say about the Twin Cities these days.

Right now would be a good time to follow Mark Graves’ advice and listen instead.

You can follow the teens on Instagram: @bgctcteens.

jennifer.brooks@startribune.com Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks