Bill is the president of The John and Denise Graves Family Foundation.
I grew up in the West Metro area around Lake Minnetonka. My father grew up in St. Cloud and to him Lake Minnetonka was his own very concrete symbol of achieving the American dream. Lake Minnetonka is a very specific culture. Think bullies from 80s movies on jet-skis coming up and splashing you. I’m glad to live in Minneapolis now where I feel much more like this is home. I graduated from college in 2006 and my wife, who has Polish heritage, really wanted to live in a Polish neighborhood in Minneapolis. We quickly moved to Northeast and I’ve been there ever since. I have lived in Minneapolis my entire adult life. We’re here for good.
My father retired from the business that he built, which ended up earning far beyond my parents’ capacity to even imagine that they should have earned for themselves. My parents were really attracted to the idea of forming a foundation and giving back to our state and our community, and they asked if I would run it. This is a dream come true for me.
Our main initiative is to build affordable housing for young people aging out of foster care. Peris Housing will provide services to support up to 15 young people who have aged out of the foster care system, and also provide affordable housing for people that want to live in a community that is creating normalcy for these young people.
In education, we make grants directly to school leaders who have a vision of how their school can become strong and stable. Academic growth, social-emotional growth, talent development — all of that flows from this idea of a strong and stable school.
I’m driven by wanting to see our community be more inclusive and create a sense of belonging for everyone. Our society is not giving everyone a fair shake, and Minnesota is not the place that it wants to be. I have the privilege of being able to find and support ideas that can help address those things.
But it’s a strange world giving away money. It begins to make you question who you are, because so many people are motivated to show you who you want to be. “Do you want to be a funny person? I’m going to make you seem like you’re a funny person.” I mean, maybe I am a funny person! But I also see that there is another motivation for a lot of it.
I want to see a more small-d democratic Minneapolis, where people that have community connections and credibility have a pathway to positions of power in our city. If you have people supporting you, not because they work for you but because they see you as a leader in your community, you should have access and opportunity to be an elected leader. I am just incredibly encouraged and energized by what I see as this incredible wellspring of energy and intelligence and strategic depth and ambition in our community. So I’m long-term optimistic. In the short term there is still struggle.
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