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Community pays tribute to beloved North Minneapolis elder

Teacher, artist and beloved mentor Beverly Cottman passed away unexpectedly over the weekend while on vacation in Egypt. (Photo courtesy of Kenna Cottman)

Longtime teacher, artist and mentor Beverly Cottman passed away unexpectedly over the weekend. According to her daughter Kenna Cottman, she died in her sleep while on vacation in Egypt with friends. Tributes have poured out since then from those who knew her, demonstrating the profound impression she made in a lifetime dedicated to education, art and supporting her community.

Cottman, who was 80, taught science to generations of students at North High School in Minneapolis. Many of them took to social media to remember her for the way she demanded excellence from them, and helped them find it in themselves.

Upon retirement, Mrs. Cottman became "Auntie Beverly;" she transitioned from teacher to professional storyteller, sharing tales based on African and African American mythology and folklore with audiences of all ages.

“I practice the African oral tradition for education and entertainment. The stories teach values, instill pride, evoke self-love and celebrate culture,” she said in a 2016 interview with the Minnesota Spokesman Recorder. “I place old stories in modern settings that keep the themes of peace, love, friendship, culture and unity intact. I am a modern-day griot delivering wisdom of the ages in a voice of the present for the future.”

Cottman's artistry also included poetry, dance and theater.

Beverly Cottman at a Juneteenth celebration in 2021. (Photo credit: Bill Cottman)

Beverly Cottman's husband Bill died of cancer in December of 2021. The two met at Howard University in the 1960s, where she was studying biology and he was studying engineering.

"He graduated on a Friday, we got married on a Saturday, and we came to Minnesota on a Sunday," Beverly recalled in an interview with the Star Tribune after his death.

The two were often held up as a model of a happy marriage, regularly seen together at cultural events supporting other artists in the community, or dining out at new neighborhood lunch spots. They loved North Minneapolis, and made a consistent effort to support Black owned businesses. Their close bond with their daughter and grandchildren was easy to see, as the family performed together on a variety of creative projects at Patrick's Cabaret, Northern Spark, and elsewhere. Bill, a photographer, documented their lives with an artist's eye and with the knowledge that sharing images of a loving and joyful Black family is a powerful form of resistance.

Many mourned "Auntie Beverly's" passing, but also said they took comfort in the knowledge that she and her beloved husband were reunited.

Details of her memorial service are still forthcoming.

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