The Colombian adoptee who became a quintessential Minneapolitan.
ph. brad ogbonna
From The Land of El Dorado to The Land of 10,000 Lakes
I was born in Santa Fé De Bogotá, the capital of Colombia in 1975. Sadly, as an infant I was separated from my biological family and for the first year of life was cared for in the famous Casa de la Madre y el Niño orphanage. About a year later I was fortunate to be adopted by an American couple and, with another child—my beautiful sister Anjie—I was brought to Minnesota.
Growing up between Forest Lake and Bemidji afforded me a very Minnesota upbringing. Luckily, our parents had the good foresight to also raise us around other international adoptees and Latinos in particular. This gave me an important sense of identity which helped combat an often racially harsh daily reality. As the years went by my Colombian sister and I were joined by two American children of color—my brother Troy and my sister Laura. We depended on each other. In many ways we still cling to one another.
A New Life Downtown
Through the ups and downs of growing up—diversions like history, art, soccer, music and speech team paved my way and helped me survive what some would call the traumatic childhood of a little queer immigrant boy of color. After meeting fellow adoptee and soul mate, Nathan Yungerberg and about two weeks after graduating from high school I moved downtown. It was the early 90s and there was an open minded sense of freedom to be enjoyed in our city's coffee houses, creative circles and nightlife. I lived on Stevens Square as many of us poor art kids did back then—I always like to say "we've all done our time in Stevens!" Thank God for those affordable old brownstones.
The Birth of An Iconic Minnesota Company
Soon after, I moved with Nathan to 200 Oak Grove and that fall we headed to Miami Beach where the roots of my professional life can be traced. We were 90s club kids—we hobnobbed with models, agents, promoters and artists. From this mix of fashion and marketing came my life's work—Vision—the iconic Minnesota modeling agency established in May of 1996 when I was only 20 years of age.
Redefining What It Meant To Be Minnesotan
From 1402 Spruce, to the Rockler Fur Building and Nate's on 4th and finally 1506 Nicollet—Vision changed people's perceptions of beauty. We represented the changing demographics of Minnesota—the new all-American—and we worked hard to see change reflected in a commitment by our local corporations to diversity and inclusion in advertising. Our models worked for Target and they walked for Calvin Klein—they also helped raise countless dollars for charities in Minnesota. We sent a diverse army of Minnesotans all over the world and established the careers of several industry insiders. Through it all, we stood for diversity, fair compensation and the offering of opportunities to those who might not otherwise receive a chance. We survived over two decades against all odds as a small business of color.
Celebrating Art City Wide
In 2015 I established the critically acclaimed inner city art gallery, City Wide Artists. Again the idea was diversity, opportunity and economic development—this time through art. We introduced an amazing roster of artists to the community and, by presenting an outstanding contemporary art program, within two short years we were able to change the face of local art. It was at the legendary opening of our 1 year anniversary exhibition that I realized I could use my platform to perhaps be of more service to the community. Then as things often do—it all fell apart. We were unceremoniously told to vacate as our building—my workplace and home—was scheduled to be demolished with a so-called "affordable housing" development planned to take its place.
A New Personal Direction and a Vision For My City
It was this foray into art and the loss of my home and workplace that brought me into neighborhood politics. With over twenty years of continual and recorded contribution to the economy, vitality and culture of Minneapolis—I saw a space in which to bring the loving perspective of a Minneapolitan who is deeply connected to his community.
I am an HIV+ LGBTQ Person of Color, a small business owner, an immigrant, artist and proud member of the Twin Cities recovery community. I am deeply concerned about the challenges we are facing as a city and I see an opportunity to protect my neighbors and the Minneapolis I love—a town that I've invested my entire adult life in and that has given me so much in return. Please join me. Our city needs us.