By Suzy Frisch, Photo by Scott Streble
Photo above: Archie Givens Jr. at the Archie Givens Sr. Collection of African American Literature at the U's Elmer L. Andersen Library
Though other schools came calling, love of his hometown, Minneapolis, kept Archie Givens Jr. (B.A. ’66, M.H.A. ’68) in the Twin Cities to attend the University of Minnesota and play football for the Gophers. This year’s homecoming grand marshal has championed education and devoted his career to building affordable housing. He devotes significant time to volunteering in the community and at the University, including serving as chair of the Alumni Association board in 2009 to 2010, and as a trustee of the University of Minnesota Foundation and a member of the Athletics Advisory Committee.
After playing Gopher football for four years and studying history, Givens earned a master’s degree in hospital and health care administration. He didn’t start out with the intention of following in the footsteps of his father, Archie Givens Sr., who was a storied entrepreneur and developer of nursing homes and housing. But Givens’ first job working for Hennepin County overseeing the development of one of the Twin Cities’ first primary care clinics, and the experience he gained in community engagement, ultimately propelled him into business with his father.
During more than 35 years at Legacy Management & Development Corporation, including nearly 20 years as its CEO, and its predecessor, Rainbow Development, Givens has worked on numerous housing developments. One of the most notable was the Heritage Park project that established 900 affordable and market-rate housing units in the near north side of Minneapolis.
Givens is adept at convincing reluctant cities that building affordable housing is the right thing to do, employing his quiet but persistent leadership style. “The need for affordable housing is so huge, and it has been for a number of years. And it’s always been difficult for communities to accept,” he says. “It’s an educational process, and it became a very interesting challenge for me.”
Givens plays an essential leadership role as president of the Givens Foundation for African American Literature, which his parents started in 1972 as the Archie and Phebe Mae Givens Foundation to provide scholarships to African American students. In 1985, the focus of the Givens Foundation’s mission shifted to African American literature when the foundation partnered with 10 community families and the University of Minnesota to purchase a 3,000-piece collection of African American literature from a New York collector.
Housed in the University of Minnesota’s Elmer L. Andersen Library, the Archie Givens Sr. Collection of African American Literature is a unique collection of more than 18,000 African American literary works and cultural objects. They represent more than 230 years of African American literature and life, including a first-edition 1773 book by Phillis Wheatley, the first published by an African American woman.
In addition to expanding the collection, Givens aims to broaden the foundation’s other initiatives like its Givens Black Books programs, which puts African American literature in the hands of schoolchildren. “We want to bring literature to life in the classroom so that kids get introduced at an early age to stories and picture books with their likeness on it. Then they will become better readers who want to read more and become better students,” says Givens. “That’s really my passion right now—closing the achievement gap.”
Givens is honored to be recognized as grand marshal. “I really love the U; it was really good to me,” he says. “It’s a very significant resource as an academic institution, in medicine, in business, and law, and it has a huge impact on Minnesota and the quality of life here. I’m awestruck by the University and its reach and influence.”