We have some unfinished business to take care of in 2014. Multiple priorities that were on the table in the last session need a renewed commitment now. In 2013, legislators adopted the Dream Act to offer opportunities to young immigrants. Now, leaders should turn their attention to making drivers licenses available to Minnesotans, regardless of immigrant status. Last session, organizers pushed through the Homeowners Bill of Rights and a more fair tax system. This year, it is time to raise the minimum wage. Now that we have improved employment opportunities for individuals with a criminal record through the Ban the Box law, it is time to restore voting rights to people once they have served their time in prison.
There is growing awareness of the systemic barriers to true opportunity for people of color and low-income people in Minnesota. Understanding that disparities exist – ours are among the worst in the nation – is a first step toward action to remove barriers. Many groups working to address racial disparities have been calling attention to the structural racism that affects how opportunities are available to different communities. A recent report by the Minnesota Department of Health has joined those voices by drawing attention to the necessity of addressing structural racism in pursuing health equity. In its comprehensive agenda, the Council on Black Minnesotans has called for a commitment from state leaders to study and assess multiple disparities, including those in criminal justice and homeownership, and develop a plan of action for each.
As the recognition of structural barriers grows, so must the focus on structural solutions. Communities of color know and understand the barriers – and are in the position to develop solutions. Among the solutions should be a process that allows for a robust racial and economic equity impact analysis of policy proposals. Legislators should be asking thoughtful questions about impact on the front end, and include the perspectives of affected communities in answering those questions. Breaking down barriers to opportunity requires this intentional process and engagement. The assets that communities of color bring to the Minnesota landscape are many – if we honor and pay attention to those voices – all in the pursuit of a Greater Minnesota for all of us.