The Conversation Begins: Racial Equity in OUR MPLS

By Vina Kay, Director of Research and Policy, Organizing Apprenticeship Project

In the two weeks since introducing the OUR MPLS Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice, I and multiple community partners have been meeting with local elected leaders to begin a conversation. In many ways, I can hardly believe it has been only two weeks since the bitterly cold on the outside and warm on the inside afternoon at All My Relations Gallery. The conversation we started that day with Mayor Betsy Hodges has continued in City Council offices piled high with moving boxes at City Hall. It has also continued at coffee shops with Parks Commissioners throughout the city.

Through these conversations, some themes are emerging and some next steps are building. This is just the beginning of a 100 Day Campaign to establish a framework for racial and economic equity.

A meeting with Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. OUR MPLS partners included Owen Duckworth (Alliance for Metropolitan Stability), Chaka Mkali (Hope Community), and Brett Buckner (Organizing Apprenticeship Project).

A meeting with Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. OUR MPLS partners included Owen Duckworth (Alliance for Metropolitan Stability), Chaka Mkali (Hope Community), and Brett Buckner (Organizing Apprenticeship Project).

One Minneapolis is not OUR MPLS – yet. Political leaders love the term One Minneapolis and it has become a recurring slogan for a city that has the energy to overcome an economic recession and that seeks to grow its population by over 100,000 residents. But I and the communities of color-led groups that I work with know that we are not at the goal of being One Minneapolis just yet. Instead, we are a divided city where opportunities for employment, education, and housing are not evenly available across communities.

The OUR MPLS that we envision is one where all people truly have a sense of belonging and opportunity. When our group envisioned what that city would look like, the vision included goals like all students graduating from high school (our current rate for students in Minneapolis hovers around 50 percent, and it is even lower for students of color), no employment disparities (Minneapolis has the largest gap in the country between whites and African Americans), and no racial profiling (in Minneapolis, African Americans are over 11 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites – compared to a 3.7 percent disparity nationally).

One Minneapolis is a goal we all share. Achieving a truly inclusive OUR MPLS will get us there.

The door to change is open. We were very quickly able to schedule meetings with almost all City Council members and Parks Commissioners. Even as offices were being set up and committees being assigned, we found a willingness to take an hour to meet with community members about our agenda and a plan to work together. This has been encouraging.

One aide reminded us that influencing policy is very possible at the local level and that elected leaders like her boss pay attention to the phone calls, emails, and meetings. Another aide praised our strategy of taking to the time to meet with everyone and begin developing relationships and a spirit of partnership.

Will the result of these many meetings be the policy change we seek? Time will tell, but also necessary is the willingness of our city leaders to keep listening and the work of community members to stay engaged in the process.

We share the same goals. None of the leaders we have spoken with disagree with the goal of ending the disparities our city faces. Nobody sees any benefit of allowing inequities to continue. Everyone agrees that the success of our city depends on making sure the growing numbers of people of color prosper.

So what do we do about it? That is the hard work ahead of us. The OUR MPLS Agenda offers some solutions, as well as a path for developing more strategies that work. I am encouraged by the culture we are encountering at City Hall – one that recognizes the harm of racial and economic disparities in Minneapolis, one that believes that change is possible, and one that is willing, at least for now, to work together to make it real.

This post first appeared on Opine Season.


CONQUERING THE RACIAL DIVIDE: Salvador Miranda Reflects on OAP’s 20 Years

In the Fall 2013 semester, OAP worked with a team of students in the New Media class at Metro State University. This is a blog post the team wrote after interviewing OAP Director of Training Salvador Miranda.

Recently, our team had the pleasure of stealing an afternoon with OAP’s Salvador Miranda. Sal is OAP’s Associate Director and Director of Training. The Minnesota native’s credentials are nothing short of impressive; he was a founding member of the Minnesota Coalition of the Homeless, worked with Interfaith Action, ISAIAH, national work with the Gamaliel Foundation, and more. But even more impressive than Sal’s resume is his passion for OAP’s mission. When Sal speaks, it’s from the heart. When he tells us about OAP’s biggest struggles, we know that his efforts to triumph them are a personal commitment.

Over the past 20 years, OAP has made tremendous strides in the fight against racial inequity. From protests, policy change, leadership initiatives and cultural community recognition, OAP has been on the front line of equity progress.  They’ve lead movements and bridged gaps with other organizations to bring more people into involvement toward a brighter and inclusive community. Though their successes are easily measured, 20 years of service have not yet conquered the great divide of racial inequity. There is still more work to do.

During our interview, we asked Sal what challenges OAP still faces after 20 years. What I thought to hear was Sal telling us how much inequity there still is in the world and how difficult combating it is. In a way, he did but Sal took us much deeper into the roots of today’s racial tribulations.

When OAP first broke ground 20 years ago in the fight against inequality, much of their fight was against pure racism. More and more, people are becoming color-blind. They are refusing to acknowledge race as a barrier; not accepting diversity but ignoring it. Racial inequity continues to be a problem. People still suffer from persecution and inopportunity, but we can’t fight it when people refuse to accept it. When Sal spoke of this issue, he grew serious with an almost disappointed look, as if he were truly saddened that his lifetime’s work was simply being pushed aside by some. He told us how this affects OAP’s work; “I find a reluctance to move their thinking from color blind.  That’s a usual reaction from people who don’t want to explore more deeply how race plays a factor in the access to resources and opportunities.” As deeply sentimental and endlessly frustrating this challenge is, Sal and OAP will continue their efforts to give racism a voice and a face.

Racism in our country has a very colored history. What children are taught in High School history classes is often only the beginning. Inequity has never been limited to a series of events, a single decade, or a handful of ethnicities. Discrimination is everywhere, still, and if we expect to halt the growing disparity, we must first consider our past. Sal said to us, “There are some wise people who say if we don’t know our history, we are in danger of repeating the sins of the past.” Whether it’s a result of inadequate education or a refusal to admit the darkness, the very deeply seeded racial inequity issues we have are being swept under a rug. For some, the history of their people is a part of their own identity, woven into the fabric of their personal culture, triumphs and oppressions. Recognizing this history is not only a valuable learning tool, but an important way of understanding and embracing each other.

After 20 years of service, OAP has made tremendous impacts on the lives of many affected by racial inequity, but their plan of attack is ever changing. Right now the challenges are what Sal says; “Wanting to be color blind as well as hiding our history of racism in this country are the two biggest barriers we face in advancing equity through our work.” But OAP recognizes that the next 20 years will present new challenges and changes to the face of racism. As they pursue their goals and refine their work, the organization will continue to poor their personal dedication into the pursuit of racial equity.


A Vision and Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice in OUR MPLS

OUR MPLS full cover