The event was held to celebrate community, but for most of the north Minneapolis residents and scores of homeless guests who enjoyed free corn on the cob, sloppy joes and rap music Sunday near the Masjid An-Nur mosque, it was just plain fun.
They were celebrating the second annual Day of Dignity at the mosque, which sits a block south of West Broadway in the heart of north Minneapolis. The event was sponsored by the mosque and Islamic Relief USA. About 15 social service providers offered a variety of free services, including food, used clothes, hygiene kits and haircuts at outdoor booths near the mosque.
Atmosphere, Stalley and other rappers provided free live entertainment for more than 1,000 listeners on a lot behind neighboring Cub Foods.
"It's a way for us to reach out to the community," said Jaamel Montgomery, who had volunteered his moving truck to haul chairs and equipment for booths. "There are a lot of negative connotations about Islam. This is a way to show people we are just like everybody else."
He said his faith says that "when you see a need in the community, you reach out to fill it. It doesn't matter if [the needy are] Muslim or not."
The visitors included 100 or so homeless people bused in from five area shelters, said Makram El-Amin, the mosque's imam.
Tours of the golden-domed mosque, which is attended by U.S. Rep. Keith Ellison, also were offered.
"We need to bring services and goods right here in a place where they can come and get them," said the imam, who has led the mosque for 13 years. "We must be of service to the community."
The free concert by local rappers was hosted by hip-hop artist Brother Ali, a mosque member, who said the performances, sound equipment and setup work were all donated.
"We want to represent everybody in the community, not just one culture," he told the mostly young audience. "We want to come together and enjoy each other and enjoy our families ... to feel like the community that we are."
As he spoke, a siren suddenly blared behind the crowd. "Don't panic," Brother Ali said with a smile. "It's just the kids on the siren."
He was referring to a fire engine brought by members of the Minneapolis African American Professional Firefighters Association, who let excited kids sound the siren, turn the wheel and climb on the red truck.
Later, Brother Ali said he hopes the event shone a positive light on Islam and the North Side, in contrast to what is often portrayed in television newscasts.
"We want people to see that there is a complete life over here, and precious people are contributing to the community," he said.