The Journey to Economic Equity Has a History and a Future: Part I History

Salvador Miranda

Salvador Miranda

Director of Training Salvador Miranda reflects on the road to building economic equity with Minnesota’s Latino community, and how that history is paving the way to future development. This is Part I focused on history. Part II on the future coming soon. 

Back in the early 90’s, a colleague and dear friend of mine in the Hispanic Ministry office of the St. Paul Minneapolis Archdiocese, Deacon Carlos Valdez had a visit with me and shared that he was seeing many new Latino families moving into south Minneapolis. At that time he was working on planting a Latino congregation in Minneapolis at Ascension church on the Northside, which had a sizable Mexican community before the I-94 displacement of the community in the 50’s. We invited Hispanic Ministry to invest in a community building strategy and Deacon Carlos went into Minneapolis neighborhoods doing home visits with hundreds of these families. Within a couple of months, it was clear what these new families were talking about – they wanted a worship space where they and their families could pray and be in community together.

Carlos put together a team of us and we paid a visit to Fr. Pat Griffin at St. Stephen’s, which has always had a strong neighborhood presence and ministry to the disenfranchised. Fr. Pat listened to the stories Carlos had been hearing and by meeting’s end, he put the keys to the sanctuary on the table and stated, “You and the new Latino community are welcome to use our space every Sunday afternoon.” Sagrado Corazon de Jesus was created! Before long the congregation was standing room only every Sunday afternoon. The community was doing baptisms every week; marriages and other sacraments were carried out by Spanish speaking clergy that Carlos invited. The Latino leaders emerging from this community met with the Archbishop requesting recognition it became a Chaplaincy – this was a powerful community! Other Latino led congregations emerged both within the Catholic denomination and other faiths as well.

A few years later, colleague and friend Juan Linares of Catholic Charities and I were in Chicago attending week long training at the Gamaliel Foundation. We began talking with John McKnight, Executive Director at the Asset Based Community Development department at Northwestern University about the new Latino community in Minneapolis. An asset based strategy was designed as the Hispanic Talent Inventory. Catholic Charities partnered with Interfaith Action and Juan was focused on organizing with the community from an office at St. Stephen’s School he shared with Fr. Larry Hubbard, pastor with Sagrado Corazon.

The Hispanic Talent Inventory which Juan conducted with the leadership at Sagrado Corazon revealed a significant entrepreneur history and interest – a majority had experience of entrepreneurship in their family history. When asked about barriers they faced to starting new businesses, they responded that education (English especially) and immigration were significant barriers. So Juan and another leader on the team, Bradley Capouch, did the research on how to address these barriers and found that Neighborhood Development Center had a micro business training session led by Latino businessman, Rodolfo Trujillo from Trujillo’s Tax Services. This was the track for training the growing base of Latino entrepreneurs. Before long there were alumni from this training coming together with a vision – create a Latino run business incubator and call it the Mercado Central!

Word got out that this emerging group of Latino business people was looking for a site for the Mercado Central and the businesses along Lake Street and Bloomington Avenue stepped forward with a proposal at an “underused” building on the southwest corner of the intersection. It needed work! Juan and others took on the challenge. Ramon Leon became the chair of the emerging Cooperativa. Project for Pride in Living came forward as partner. NDC continued the micro business training and creating a strategy for entrepreneurs to apply for business loans. Change was beginning to happen. Juan worked with architects and the cooperative members to lead the raising of resources and the buildout plan.

By 1999, the grand opening was a community celebration with Senator Paul Wellstone, Archbishop Harry Flynn, and city officials at the event. This was a model of what impact the assets based strategy narrative can have in disenfranchised communities. National funders saw this as a model they called the Payne – Lake Community Partnership and we set our sights on East St. Paul creating Plaza Latino and other St. Paul businesses with East Side Neighborhood Development Center (ESNDC) and other partners.

In 2000, according to research studies conducted on the economic impact of this community building effort, immigrant owned businesses were contributing over $331 million to the Minnesota economy. Hispanic owned firms had grown 350% since 1990. Also in 2000, the Mercado Central sponsoring team became the same leaders who formed Latino Economic Development Center. The vision was created to build strong Latino businesses in the Lake Street area, St. Paul and all of Minnesota. LEDC began working with a cross cultural team on what became the Midtown Global Market. LEDC created the Latino Scholarship Committee to raise scholarship funds for high school graduates unable to access higher education. With these scholarships, scores of these youth have been able to access higher education and become leaders in Minnesota.

All of these accomplishments happened despite the barriers which continue to exist – immigration policies were made tougher after the 911 attack of 2001, education resources for ELL continue to be cut under conservative legislation, and access to resources and opportunities continue to be at the center of our equity organizing today. It must be pointed out that some barriers we create amongst ourselves – divisions in the community because of distrust, trauma, envy, and internalized bias which continue to get in our path. The lesson some of have taken away from this ongoing effort is the vision created by the community has the power to keep us moving forward despite our selves!

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Advancing the Inside-Outside Game for Racial Equity

When Voices for Racial Justice released the OUR MPLS racial equity agenda in January 2014, parks equity was a strong priority. Our work is always done in partnership, and our partnership with Hope Community to address inequities in the Minneapolis parks system has spanned several years. My colleague (and Voices for Racial Justice board member) Chaka Mkali has been organizing for parks equity at Hope Community for nearly 10 years. In addition to being a powerful organizer, community leader, and artist, Chaka is a self-described “parks geek.” So, of course, parks equity was part of our agenda for racial equity in Minneapolis.

Early on, we met with parks commissioners and shared the agenda. We heard some commitment to advancing racial equity in the parks system, from analyzing and prioritizing budget decisions to engaging more authentically with community partners about their priorities for the parks. We knew the grassroots support was building for a more equitable parks system. Now we were hearing that leadership was also moving in that direction.

But change is hard, and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board is like many large institutions. It takes multiple shifts to change deeply embedded practices and policies and turn toward a racial equity analysis. Even with the will and intention, breaking through layers of institutional practice – what we at Voices for Racial Justice call institutional racism – takes more than good intentions. It takes a strategy.

As a community organization committed to organizing and the power of people to influence change, we understand the outside game. We work with organizational partners, we engage community residents, we ask hard questions of leaders, and we hold them accountable in public forums. This outside strategy takes years. But its roots run deep and the work of building true community passion and power pays off by leading to the kind of outside push that creates transformative and sustainable change.

We have come to realize that an additional strategy is in play, especially as we increasingly work with institutional players who want to advance racial equity. They just don’t always know how. They work within a system that is hard to change and that does not always share a racial equity vision. If these internal racial equity champions exist, how do we on the outside take hold of the opportunity that this offers?

We form an inside strategy.

The opportunity to develop and apply an inside strategy has presented itself to us. Following the release of the OUR MPLS agenda, multiple meetings and conversations, and our presentation to a group of government leaders at the Government Alliance on Race and Equity convening in August, we caught the attention of MPRB staff who are working to develop a racial equity framework to guide their planning and action. So when Voices for Racial Justice was approached by MPRB staff to consider a consulting role to guide them in a racial equity process, we said yes. But not without first making some important inside strategy commitments to how we do our work:

  1. Engage partners. We immediately reached out to Hope Community and developed a plan to engage them as co-consultants in the work. We did this with complete transparency to both the MPRB staff and to Hope. The trust and credibility with our longtime partner was the first priority and we would not take on a project that would undermine the organizing and vision around parks equity.
  2. Maintain the outside strategy. We made clear to the MPRB staff that we would only do this consulting work while also maintaining our outside game. We would continue to engage community partners and develop parks equity forums and other community events that would engage community members in articulating their vision for our parks. Not only would we continue our community-based grassroots strategy – we might use the knowledge we gain from being an inside partner to advance our outside game.
  3. Stay transparent. Our credibility with our community partners is important and core to how we do our work as organizers. Those relationships are based on years of building trust and being accountable to each other. So our transparency is first to those partners. We will continue to write about what we are learning and share how developing this inside-outside strategy is advancing parks equity. We will also share the challenges to this work, knowing that many lessons will emerge. Similarly, we will be transparent with our institutional partners. They deserve our honesty in this hard work of building racial equity and we believe that commitment will actually help them be successful as internal racial equity champions.

So stay tuned as we practice all three commitments in the months to come. We are at a turning point in how we achieve racial equity in Minnesota and across the country. The urgency is shared by many of us, regardless of which side of the door we are on. We hope to practice the courage and humility to follow through on what we in our shared communities want for a more racially just and fair world.

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