Breakthrough: Lutunji Abram
Posted by: DVULI | March 16, 2023
by Kimberlee Mitchell, Staff
It started with a prophetic word from Richard DeVos (RDV).
Lutunji Abram (Twin Cities 2008) and her fellow cohort participants were at a DVULI luncheon at the RDV Sportsplex in 2008 when RDV spotted her. He beelined through the packed room, directly to her. He read her name tag aloud, “Lutunji. Seems like a person with the name Lutunji would not live in Minnesota.” RDV gently took her hand and looked into her eyes, “You’re supposed to be an entrepreneur. Work for yourself,” he said with conviction. Intrigued by this beautiful yet curious interaction, it would be years before Lutunji realized God spoke to her through Mr. DeVos that day.
Equipped with a BA in Community Development and a minor in Performing Arts Management, Lutunji was completing her MA in Organizational Leadership during her DVULI training. Working in the Democratic-Farmer-Labor (the Minnesota affiliate of the US Democratic Party) in the Minnesota House of Representatives, she strategically put herself in a position to fulfill her mission—to start a charter school for disenfranchised teen moms and dads.
As she prepared for an important meeting with a pastor of a historic church in South Minneapolis to discuss the charter school, Lutunji packed up some homemade peach cobbler. “Everybody grabbed a plate, and we began hashing out the plan for the school.” That’s when Pastor Jeff blurted out, “Girl, you’re going to sell this cobbler in our farmers market!” Skeptical, Lutunji laughed, thinking, “Lord, I went to college, got in all this student loan debt to pursue my teaching degree, and built a career.” She was a woman on a mission, yet she also realized she had just received yet another prophetic word. Two months later, she launched Lutunji’s Palate at Whittier Farmers Market in South Minneapolis, and her career took a divine and delectable detour.
Today, Lutunji has a lot of plates spinning. Her famous cobbler opened the doors to Lutunji’s Palate Cafe in downtown Twin Cities in 2022, keeping her busy full time and then some. Her passion for delicious treats and the joy they bring serves as the catalyst for her outreach organization, Voices of Effective Change, Inc., which she runs from the cafe. “Impact is literally baked into our model,” she explains of her cafe/organization hybrid. “We’re a social enterprise that offers the community employment opportunities and direct support. Her organization has contracts with the city of Minneapolis that help provide resources for teens and young adults, as well as a work reentry program for the previously incarcerated. She also partners with community organizations to develop collaborative programs for disadvantaged teens and young adults.
While serving the community tasty treats, her staff learns baking skills and gains business acumen. She’s clear to point out, “It’s not only a place of employment but a way to learn life skills while discovering one’s gifts and life purpose.” She continues, “It’s a ministry, but they don’t even know they’re being ministered to through dessert! Every pie is blessed! I have prayed over those cobblers ever since God started me on this journey.”
Plans for the charter school are still in her sights, but right now, she’s being obedient to His call. “Until God opens the doors to the school, this is the way we do community. “I’m loaded with degrees and a plan, but that doesn’t matter,” she says with resolve. “God said, ‘You’re the one,’ and I love being the person He chose.”
Meanwhile, Lutunji works hard to keep her work and personal life in balance—a core value she neglected prior to her DVULI training. “In order to lead, one must be whole enough to make a significant impact for change,” she said in her breakthrough plan. “Without my health, how could I make wise decisions and articulate thinking that mobilizes youth?” Lutunji works hard to prioritize work, daily living, family life, and recreation. You can’t convince her to share her prized peach cobbler recipe, but she’s more than happy to dish on her favorite self-care practices. Lutunji starts each day belting out worship music in the cafe before the open sign turns on. She loves walks through the city, and during slow periods, she enjoys the quiet for reflection and meditation. Lutunji met with her cohort and other Twin Cities DVULI alumni last fall at the bakery, and they aim to collaborate on a project soon.
Her motto on the cafe wall is telling, “Built with Purpose; Fortified with Love.” Lutunji’s strong work ethic and love for cultivating community among the disadvantaged were baked into her being. Perhaps Mr. DeVos saw that in her back in 2009—two kindred entrepreneurial souls brought together by a shared love for Christ and the human spirit. When Mr. DeVos passed away in 2018, Lutunji overnighted peach cobblers to Grand Rapids. They arrived warm—baked with love and fulfilled purpose.