Desralynn Cole’s laugh is singular, contagious in its warmth and inevitable in the ability to bring you into conversation. Though her spirit is inviting, she’s not one to turn the spotlight on herself. “I’m much more of a Gayle than an Oprah!” she says. Desralynn is a self-proclaimed village auntie in North Minneapolis where she grew up and returned after graduating from Fisk University. She has a long career in social services, planting seeds of growth in her clients and making sure that people have the resources that they need to succeed. Still, Desralynn insists that her real job is to give back to the community that showed her so much generosity growing up. She talks about her neighborhood with a special fondness.
“North Minneapolis has a very rich history. It’s a phenomenal place to live. I have an opportunity to unveil that, to deepen that.”
In the aftermath of protests demanding justice for George Floyd this summer, many residents in North Minneapolis found themselves without access to groceries or basic necessities. In response, she worked alongside Ashli Henderson, who founded the Northside Emergency Resource Pop Up. “It was personal for me,” she says,
“Because I can get resources, but there are people who cannot. And if we’re going to shut down buses because we’re afraid of civil unrest, then I’m going to step up in a way that is going to even the playing field.”
She threw herself in, coordinating over 150 volunteers, distributing food and supplies to 8,000 people until lines dwindled. Nowadays, the past President of the Minneapolis Urban League Young Professionals continues to serve and lead in the community, including the launch of her own coaching and consulting firm to support start-up nonprofits. And at any moment, she’s likely dreaming up a new project, finding others to bring into the fold. In all of her seemingly infinite incarnations, she remains a fearless advocate for the health and wellness of her community.
Virginia McKnight Binger Unsung Hero Awards recognize the significant impact four honorees have had on the state of Minnesota and its communities.
Meet the other heroes: