The City of Minneapolis Establishes a Division of Race and Equity

Brett Grant

On December 6, I represented Voices for Racial Justice, providing public testimony before the Minneapolis City Council in support of a proposed ordinance to create a Division of Race and Equity within the City Coordinator’s Office. The proposed ordinance was approved.

Public testimony was heard during the regular meeting of the Committee of the Whole, the Committee responsible for setting and approving policy changes related to the City’s vision, goals, and strategic directions. In addition to Voices for Racial Justice, City Council members heard from the Minneapolis Urban League, the Alliance for Metropolitan Stability and Jewish Community Action.

The ordinance was brought to the Committee of the Whole by City Councilmember Elizabeth Glidden. Its intent is to integrate, on a citywide basis, a racial equity framework that will advance racial equity in all the City does. “Such intent,” it reads, “is an express manifestation of the City’s commitment to apply and embed racial equity principles throughout the City’s broad range of operations, programs, services and policies.”

The public hearing attracted a packed room of community members from all over Minneapolis who were hungry to see a real commitment to race and equity by city officials. Footage of the hearing can be viewed at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oO770J4_aKo

Those who provided public testimony, in addition to expressing support for the ordinance, challenged Councilmembers to make sure that there is a robust community engagement effort as well as adequate funding for the Division of Race and Equity in moving forward with the racial equity goals of the ordinance.

As an organization that works to advance racial equity in Minnesota, I shared that we at Voices for Racial Justice recognize that achieving racial equity is only possible when local communities are able to shape the policies and services which shape racial equity.

To support the work of the City in moving forward with the Division of Race and Equity, Voices is prepared to share the following tools: Our Authentic Community Engagement tool, which grew out of work with the Minnesota Department of Health; and the Racial Equity Impact Assessment, which is a tool that helps policymakers make thoughtful decisions about policies and their impacts on communities of color and indigenous communities.

The Voices team looks forward to continuing work with City leaders to make racial equity a reality in Minneapolis.

Brett Grant is Research and Policy Director at Voices for Racial Justice. Contact him for more information.

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Overcoming Racism Through Education Equity

On November 4, Voices for Racial Justice Senior Organizer Julia Freeman and Research and Policy Director Brett Grant presented a workshop at the Overcoming Racism conference at Metropolitan State University.

Their workshop, entitled The Pathway to Education Equity is Paved with Community at the Center, drew over 30 participants who were hungry to develop solutions to education equities in their communities.

Brett and Julia came to our weekly staff meeting the following Tuesday, energized by the conversations they had and reported on the learning the group did together.

The session was interactive and included small group work to unpack a scenario about participation of parents of color in parent-teacher conferences. At the center of their conversations were the community experiences that were behind low participation in parent-teacher conferences, and the Pathway to Education Equity tool that Voices developed in collaboration with community partners.

The Pathway Tool draws on the experiences of students and families in assessing the barriers to education equity. The development of solutions also centers these experiences, recognizing that building true and sustainable equity in schools must address the structural barriers that prevent indigenous students and students of color from experiencing positive learning environments that support their full growth.

Centering these experiences does not mean that educators, administrators, and other community members are not part of the process. In fact, they are essential to seeing the barriers, developing solutions, and implementing them fully. The Pathway process recognizes the necessity of all these stakeholders coming together in a way that furthers the vision for education equity, allowing everyone to see how we may all be part of supporting inequities – and that we all have a role in dismantling structural barriers.

“Each small group identified the equity goals that emerged from the scenario, and narrowed down to one or two to work on,” said Julia, “and then the participants used the Pathway tool to begin crafting solutions. The groups came up with some great things like holding conferences on weekends and making home visits.”

At the end of the workshop, a participant asked Julia what excited her most about her work. “I told her I love working with parents and youth to develop opportunities for them to co-create the solutions with their school. They start seeing that they are the experts.”

Brett reflected to the group what he loves most about the Pathway tool. “I told them that, for me, what I like most about the tool is that it allows me to dream again. It reminds me of the potential that is education. It reminds me of why I am excited about education. The conversations that took place in that room were so powerful,” said Brett.

One participant shared that “It felt good to be in a room working on education equity that you don’t leave feeling guilty, or not knowing how to take action.”

Another reported plans to “definitely introduce the tool and Voices for Racial Justice to our district.”

The Voices team looks forward to supporting the expertise that already exists in communities by continuing to share this tool with others. Reach out to Julia Freeman to learn more.

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Nurturing the Soil of Racial Justice Organizing: Our Emerging Strategic Plan

Next year, Voices for Racial Justice will be celebrating 25 years of working with our community to grow the organizing capacity to lead for change. Over those years we have adapted and shifted, and emerged differently as the work and conditions of our communities have demanded change.

This willingness and ability to adapt in response to what the community around us needs to thrive is our greatest strength as an organization. By listening, we learn. In learning, we grow.

When the Organizing Apprenticeship Project – as Voices was then known – heard from alumni of our organizing training that they did not have the tools and language to lead for racial justice, especially in a predominantly white organizing community, we adjusted. That change challenged the organization to shift itself, but what emerged was a stronger training program that better supported racial justice organizing.

At the same time, we introduced tools like the Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity that explicitly named the structural racism that is deeply embedded in our communities and highlighted the policy solutions for addressing it. We brought together community partners like the Education Equity Organizing Collaborative that pushed at the local and state levels for more consistent and impactful commitment to racial equity in schools.

Three years ago, OAP unveiled its new name: Voices for Racial Justice. We knew that shift was our name catching up with the work we were doing. But it also came at a time of changes in staff and leadership, which brought new voices to our work.

Since then, we have committed more deeply to working with community partners to claim research justice, collaboratively developing the kind of research that comes directly from communities experiencing structural and institutional oppression. Our youth organizing training has emerged, and brought a lens of culturally grounded organizing and healing justice. We have learned, led by youth, that organizing that is depleting of communities, that does not generate healing from the trauma of racism, is not truly sustainable.

And so we continue to grow. Through an eight month strategic planning process, we have come to see that the work of Voices is rooted in supporting a healthy ecosystem of racial justice organizing in Minnesota. We see the power of organizing – including the self-determination and voice that comes with naming what the community wants and working together to achieve that vision. We all want that organizing to be successful in changing the policies and conditions that support structural racism.

We also want organizing to be healing in itself. We want the soil that supports the growth of strong and healthy organizing to be free of toxins and full of the nutrients that feed our communities. Over the next five years, Voices is committed to nurturing that soil through shared learning that supports organizing, culturally grounded tools that communities truly own, and offering spaces that are generative and healing in which to develop solutions and organize.

In everything we do, we are asking ourselves: “How does this nurture the soil of racial justice organizing?”

Over the next year, we will be expanding and sharing with our network what this shift looks like for Voices. We will invite you to grow it with us. We will ask you to join us in digging in the dirt, and to love what emerges.

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