Nelima Sitati Leads Equity Rubric Pilot Project

Nelima headshotThe Organizing Apprenticeship Project is delighted to welcome Ms. Nelima Sitati to our staff team!

Nelima has joined us in the position of Education Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator, and will be leading our work on this innovative, collaborative project. Nelima brings a unique blend of creative and respected community organizing, policy leadership and successful and innovative work with youth, parents and community leaders from very diverse communities to this position. Most recently a lead organizer at Harrison Neighborhood Association, she created and led complex collaborative projects around housing, education, and employment. Strongly committed to policy work that puts communities at the center, she is a current policy fellow with the Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs, and serves on the Metropolitan Council’s Housing Policy Planning Work Group. She is one of the founders of the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, which has had an important role in winning support and protections for those facing foreclosure, and of the Northwest Community Collaborative, which is addressing employment, education, and other issues important to communities of color in the Twin Cities’ Northwest suburban region.

As Equity Rubric Pilot Project Coordinator, Nelima will be working with pilot school districts, and with a set of local community organizations in communities of color to build a shared analysis, assessment and action plan to strengthen equity practice and leadership in schools. This pilot is part of a state level campaign and commitment from the Minnesota Department of Education to explore ways to recognize equity practice as part of how excellence is defined in schools. This project was developed and is led by the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative (EEOC), which includes 11 organizations or organizing projects in communities of color. The EEOC is convened and staffed by the Organizing Apprenticeship Project. Learn more about the project here.

Welcome Nelima!

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Incarceration & Children: How a Little Phone Call Can Make a Big Difference

By Sarah Orange, Certified Student Attorney, Community Justice Project at the University of St. Thomas School of Law. The work of the Community Justice Project civil rights clinic focuses on training law students to serve as social engineers who create new inroads to justice and freedom.

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Children across the Nation are often the invisible victims of mass incarceration. In June 2013, Sesame Workshop, the non-profit organization behind the popular children’s TV show Sesame Street, recognized this challenge when it launched a new program called “Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration.” This program seeks to reach the 2.7 million children in the U.S. with an incarcerated parent through videos, crafts, music, and more. In one of the Sesame Street videos about incarceration, Alex (if you haven’t watched the show in a while that’s the orange puppet with blue hair) talks about how his father is incarcerated and the difficulties that he and other children like him face, including not always being able to talk to their parent. This program recognizes the importance of maintaining communication between children and their incarcerated parent. Maintaining routine communication is essential for helping children to understand and successfully cope with this difficult situation. A little phone call can make a big difference in the lives of children with an incarcerated parent.

Did you know: of the 2.7 million children with an incarcerated parent, 15,000 of them live right here in Minnesota?  However, Minnesotan children are often denied the ability to maintain close contact with their incarcerated parent. First, because prisoners are incarcerated an average of 100 miles away from their families making in person visits difficult. Second, because it costs over $17 to make a 15-minute collect phone call out of a Minnesota prison. It is cheaper to call Singapore. These phone calls are so expensive because prison phone providers attract government contracts by offering the state a kickback – a percentage of the prison phone provider’s profits. In Minnesota, the prison system receives 49% of the profit that the phone provider makes from prison phone calls. However, community members and local civil rights organizations are taking action to stop this injustice. The Federal Communications Commission recently adopted policy changes regarding interstate prison phone calls which will lower phone rates across state lines and in federal prisons, however, these reforms do not affect intrastate (local) calls in Minnesota. Much more work is needed to address this issue within Minnesota in order to support children and families. For the children impacted, this cost barrier to communication can have devastating effects, resulting in emotional stress and behavioral challenges.

The impact of limited contact between children and parents has a far-reaching impact on Minnesota’s children. Studies have demonstrated that “lack of regular contact with incarcerated parents has been linked to truancy, homelessness, depression, aggression, and poor classroom performance in children.” (Federal Communications Commission, Report and Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking, FCC 13-113 (Sept. 26, 2013)). Furthermore, studies indicate that maintaining contact with an incarcerated parent is one of the most effective ways to improve a child’s emotional response and reduce behavioral problems. But in Minnesota the high cost of making a phone call from prison prevents this critical communication between the parent and child.

This problem most significantly affects children from communities of color. African American children are nine times more likely to have an incarcerated parent than White children. But the problem does not stop there. Forty-four percent of African American households in Minnesota live below the poverty line. For these families the cost of communicating with a loved one in prison can mean having to forgo basic necessities and places on strain on family budgets. The high cost of prison phone calls can be a significant barrier preventing African American children from maintaining communication with an incarcerated parent. Hence, the impact of the high cost of prison phone calls is far-reaching. However, a solution to this challenge is within our reach.

We can make a big difference in a child’s life today by raising awareness related to prison phone justice and educating others about this important issue. By reducing the cost of a prison phone call, we can ensure that families can remain connected. This is essential for promoting strong families and safe communities in the state of Minnesota. Take action today by visiting the Prison Phone Justice Campaign website at www.phonejustice.org and signing up to help fight for prison phone justice in Minnesota.

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An Organizer’s Story: Change, Discovery, and Leading the Fight

3611273461By Justin Terrell

One of the best parts of being a mentor is the look on Malik’s face when he discovers something new.

Malik is 16 and a junior at North High School. He plays football and helped the North High Polars move to the second round in the playoffs this year.

Now that football is over, the kid needs a job. When I asked him where he would like to work, he smiled and said Target. So last week, Malik and I went down to Target and filled out an application in the store. At the end of the application I asked him “any questions about criminal background?” He smiled and said “no.”

Discovery is powerful, and even though he didn’t say it, I know that Malik understands that change is possible. He was at the Target the Racial Jobs Gap event a few weeks ago when Target announced they would be removing the question about criminal histories from their applications across the country. He was also there when I told him we were flying to Denver to talk with Gregg Stienhafel the CEO of Target about fair hiring. And Malik was there when we called, door knocked and brought the community together to encourage Target to be a stronger partner. But, I am not sure he understood what all that meant until he filled out an application.

So what does it mean?

We know that our state has the worst racial jobs gap in the country. African Americans are 5 times more likely to be unemployed and 10 times more likely to be impacted by the criminal justice system. This creates barriers to economic growth and I would argue even safety concerns in our community. Minnesota has a recidivism rate (percentage of people re-offending and going back to prison) of 61%. People have a hard time staying out of the streets if they can’t get a job. Removing barriers to employment is one way we can start to close the gap. This year when Second Chance Coalition partners and Target Corp. supported Governor Dayton when he signed”Ban the Box” into law, our state moved one giant step forward.

To do that, we had to connect people to each other and to their democracy. Now we are going back to the Capitol and asking that our state take the next step. We want to see reforms to expungement laws. When an applicant for expungement stands before a judge and earns the sealing of his criminal record, that record should be sealed from their criminal history. We want employers to no longer have access to arrest, dismissed, sealed, or any type of non-conviction records. Bottom line, if a judge says I am innocent, an employer should not be given the right to judge my suitability for employment based on my non-convictions.

The good news is that people are working on all of the above. Senator Bobby Joe Champion and Representative Deb Hilstrom are leading a workgroup and have people from both sides of the political spectrum looking at this issue. This work is backed by dedicated community leaders like Representative Raymond Dehn and the Second Chance Coalition. My hope is that the next thing Malik discovers is that he is also leading this fight.

Justin Terrell is the Justice 4 All Program Manager at TakeAction Minnesota, which is a partner of the Second Chance Coalition.

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