After dental practice is set on fire, Minneapolis dentist vows ‘We’ll rebuild'

Photo of damage
After: Dr. Ali Barbarawi's dental practice was damaged after rioting and vandalism erupted late May 29 following largely peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd.

— It was just past midnight when the notification popped up on Dr. Ali Barbarawi’s cellphone.
Photo of Chicago Lake Family Dental
Fire: "That's when I thought to myself that I've lost everything," said Dr. Barbarawi.
The security alarm in his dental practice had just gone off, and captured on video on his phone was a group of people who had broken in. Rioters had shattered the glass front door with some leaving with computers, personal protective equipment, cameras, a watch, work shoes and dental equipment.
Dr. Barbarawi’s security system service called Minneapolis police but quickly learned no officer would be able to respond until at least six o’clock in the morning.
Rioting and vandalism had erupted late May 29 and through the early morning hours throughout Minneapolis following largely peaceful protests over the death of George Floyd.
“There was so much going on in the city,” Dr. Barbarawi said. “I was sad, aggravated, but I had hoped that was the worst.”
But minutes later, security called again. The smoke alarm was activated. Someone had set a fire in the lobby. And like the police response, the fire department couldn’t respond to the fire until after 6 a.m.
“That’s when I thought to myself that I’ve lost everything,” Dr. Barbarawi said.
Without sleep, Dr. Barbarawi left for his practice at 5:30 a.m. on May 30, and he was shocked by what he saw. Firefighters, police officers and the National Guard seemed everywhere.
Photo of Chicago Lake Family Dental
Before: Dr. Barbarawi was two days away from reopening his practice after closing its doors for two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was like a war zone,” he said. “This is not something we’re used to in our peaceful city of Minneapolis.”
It wasn’t until 7 a.m. that Dr. Barbarawi reached his office. The street to the practice had been closed due to a gas explosion near his building.

He could see other businesses were hit — a restaurant across the street was reduced to rubble, and the bookstore next to his office burned to ashes, he said.
Only two days away from reopening his practice after closing its doors for about two months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Barbarawi said he knew he’ll have to wait much longer.
“I immediately called my dental team one-by-one,” Dr. Barbarawi said. “I told them I’m glad they were safe. I’m glad we’re healthy, our families are safe, and that we’re going to rebuild. We’re not going to do nothing.”
Dr. Barbarawi said he estimates the property loss to be between $500,000 to $1 million, and he is in communication with his insurance company to figure out what will be covered. Nothing could be salvaged, he said, due to smoke and water damage.
However, encouraged by his dental colleagues in Minneapolis, Dr. Barbarawi decided to launch a GoFundMe page with a goal to help jumpstart the rebuilding process and help his dental team financially.
“We want to serve our community again,” he said.
Photo of Dr. Barbarawi
Dr. Barbarawi
Dr. Barbarawi, who graduated from dental school in 2012, purchased the practice, Chicago Lake Family Dental, only two years ago. The practice had been at its current location since 1995. Prior to the fire, it had seven operatories and eight team members.
The clinic is one of a handful of critical access dental providers in the city’s southside community, providing dental care for underserved and underprivileged children, along with uninsured patients, Dr. Barbarawi said.
A father of two young daughters, Dr. Barbarawi added a kid’s play area in his practice to help make children’s experience of visiting the dentist an enjoyable one.
“The surrounding community will suffer with the loss of this resource, as access to affordable dental care is already a challenge for many in urban and underprivileged areas like this one,” he said. “Everything was going well until that day.”
Located only a mile away from where Mr. Floyd died after a police officer was filmed kneeling on his neck for almost nine minutes, Dr. Barbarawi said he understands the emotions his community is feeling and sympathizes with Mr. Floyd’s family.
“What happened to George Floyd was a terrible thing. It was appalling and absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that there were people who took advantage of the peaceful protests that led to destruction.”
Dr. Barbarawi said he knows that there are reports that many of the people arrested for rioting and theft were not from Minneapolis.
“And our community suffered because of them,” he said.
But amid the destruction, Dr. Barbarawi also saw something that touched him. Around the time he arrived to his practice to survey the damage, dozens of volunteers had shown up with brooms and buckets to help him clean up. Some had brought sandwiches to feed other volunteers.
“It was very helpful to receive that support, and it was nice to see,” he said.   
That support has since extended to his online fundraising efforts. As of June 9, Dr. Barbarawi's GoFundMe has raised over $51,000.  
“We’ll rebuild better than before,” he said. “My team is looking forward to serving our community again.”