One Minnesota Cannot Be Colorblind

Brett Grant, Research & Policy Director

On January 9, 2019, Governor Walz signed Executive Order 19-01 into law. Executive Order 19-01 establishes the “One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity.” With Executive Order 19-01, Gov. Walz affirms his commitment to create a state that works for all Minnesotans.

Executive Order 19-01 begins with the following statement: “Our State must be a leader in ensuring that everyone has an opportunity to thrive. Disparities in Minnesota, including those based on race, geography, and economic status, keep our entire state from reaching its full potential. As long as inequities impact Minnesotans’ ability to be successful, we have work to do. Our state will recognize its full potential when all Minnesotans are provided the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilled lives. Diversity, equity, and inclusion are therefore essential core values and top priorities to achieve One Minnesota.”

Executive Order 19-01 comes at a crucial moment in history, as Minnesota still has some of the worst racial disparities in the nation. WalletHub, a personal finance website based in Washington, D.C., released a recent study entitled “2019’s States with the Most Racial Progress.” In the study, “WalletHub measured the gaps between blacks and whites across 22 key indicators of equality and integration in each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia.” The racial integration ranking measures the current integration levels of whites and blacks in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. At number 1, New Mexico was the state with the most racial integration. At number 50, Wisconsin was the state with the least racial integration. Minnesota was number 47.

Another ranking is the racial progress ranking which measures the levels of racial progress achieved over time. At number 1, Wyoming was the state with the most racial progress. Iowa was the state with the least racial progress at number 50. Minnesota was number 44. Racial progress rankings considered indicators such as “Highest and Lowest Change in Median Annual Income Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Labor-Force Participation Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Unemployment Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Homeownership Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Poverty Rate Gap,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Gap in % of Adults with at least a High School Diploma,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Gap in % of Adults with at Least a Bachelor’s Degree,” “Highest and Lowest Change in Standardized-Test Scores Gap,” “Best and Worst Change in Voter Turnout Gap (2016 Presidential Election),” and “Highest and Lowest Change in Infant-Mortality Rate Gap.”

“We’re screwing up all over the place,” writes City Pages journalist, Hannah Jones, in response to the WalletHub studies’ findings. “Sure, you may be thinking, Minnesota is struggling to address inequality. But surely we’re putting in the work to make it better, right? Unfortunately, no. There’s a ranked list for that, too – how much these gaps have narrowed over the years – and Minnesota comes in at No. 44.” Jones acknowledges, “It’s not the first time we’ve asked ourselves why we’re like this – why we can succeed by most other progressive measures and still end up letting our black residents down, one metric after another.”

Jones is right. With Executive Order 19-01, Governor Walz is asking the same question. Executive Order 19-01 uses the language of “One Minnesota” to imagine a Minnesota where “…all Minnesotans are provided the opportunity to lead healthy, fulfilled lives.” While I understand the intent of such language, it is important to remember that Minnesota in reality is made up of many different identities: racial, cultural, ethnic, religious, and sexual. It is important that Executive Order 19-01 does not attempt to make our differences invisible, or force us to assimilate our differences into a notion of “One Minnesota” that does not reflect who we truly are.

In other words, Executive Order 19-01 cannot be color blind in the effort to advance racial equity in Minnesota. On the contrary, it must embrace the fullness of who we are as human beings, and must try to find ways through public policy to place our differences at the center of all decision-making. At every step, the One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity must ask the following questions:

  • Who is most impacted and how will those specific communities be engaged in the analysis?
  • What disparity is being addressed and name the racial equity purpose of the policy, if any?
  • How would the proposed policy change the situation and explain what the proposal seeks to accomplish and assess whether the policy can achieve any identified equity goals?
  • Are there potential negative impacts and if so, how will the policy be adjusted to achieve a more equitable outcome?
  • How can the policy be sustainably successful and ensure that adequate funding, implementation strategies, and accountability mechanisms are in place?

These questions are core to a racial equity impact assessment — a tool that has been available and that only comes to life through our policy leaders applying it in their decision-making process.

Governor Walz sent a bold message to all of Minnesota that racial equity is a key priority of his administration by making his first Executive Order the creation of a One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity. Minnesota has been at the bottom of racial equity for too long. It is time that Minnesota moves from thinking of itself as a “thriving progressive oasis in the middle of the Midwest,” as Hannah Jones writes, to acting like one. With authentic community engagement principles and racial equity at the core of the Governor’s One Minnesota Council on Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity, Minnesota might be on the path to do so.

 

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ON CULTURE SHIFT, SHARED LEARNING & OUR EVOLUTION

Fayise Abrahim, Organizing & Training Director

HISTORY OF OUR EVOLUTION

At Voices for Racial Justice we have experienced three major evolutions of our longstanding community organizing training. In 1993 we started as the Organizing Apprenticeship Project (OAP) responding to the need for locally based community organizing training in our state, given that many of our community members felt they had to travel nationally to grow their skills as organizers. Organizers worked with mentors throughout the training in an apprenticeship model. Overtime, the OAP model was successful at growing our local networks of grassroots organizers until training cohorts were made up of mostly people of color and Indigenous people. Despite the success, it was not enough. Our organizers of color were hitting walls naming the limitations of diversity and inclusion, and a need for real racial justice oriented movement work in the field of organizing.

In 2006, we began to shift our training modules towards racial justice, and in 2014 we became racial justice centered from the inside out by centering leadership of color on our board and staff. We renamed our organization to Voices for Racial Justice and made an intentional commitment to getting organizing tools into the hands of Indigenous folks and folks of color. Despite the intentional centering of racial justice internally and externally, we started to notice how much mainstream or common organizing approaches and strategies even amongst our communities of color were steeped in and influenced by a culture of colonization and Whiteness.

In an exchange with organizers in Hawaii, our partners in Kalihi Valley raised the question of how militaristic common organizing approaches and language are, for example “base build, target, opponent, comrade, ally, frontlines, agitate” and so on. Our partners shared with us ways of organizing within Indigenous communities in Hawaii before U.S Occupation, such as the role of women’s work in peacekeeping as essential.  We know our ancestors have resisted in many ways, some of us come from both warrior traditions and peacekeeping traditions and many more. At home in Minnesota, our organizers named both the pressure and pain of assimilation and burn out in the field of organizing, and as a remedy need to honor the various traditions we come from. In response, we began to reject the professionalization of organizing as a “field” in itself and began to embrace a village model of organizing, that many members of our community are a part of, where resistance is a way of life informed by many differing ancestral traditions and life experiences.

There is no one way to organize, and there is not one model organizer, but many ways, many peoples, many traditions and histories. This led to our third major combustion, and strategic shift integrating cultural strategy and healing justice throughout all of our work and training. Organizing, power, and healing, look and mean different things to our communities that are multicultural, multilingual and intergenerational. We do not assume one model fits all. We have now been building our organizing training from the ground up, in partnership with  elders, youth, artists, incarcerated loved ones, parents, immigrant communities and so on.

WHY SHARED LEARNING?  

We believe we are all experts in our own experiences, and there is no one expert as we shift to a collectively influenced training toolkit inspired by many folks of color and Indigenous folks across our state. We have found creating spaces for shared learning has been key in our work for racial justice and the development of our upcoming toolkit. At Voices, shared learning looks like breaking hierarchies, collectively defining what things mean to us, and sharing the wisdom in the room. It is interactive, hands on and  reflective. It is practicing what we are learning from one another.

In our office we have a physical wall that has been converted to a movement garden. We’ve invited members of our community to add their contributions in response to what prompted our new strategic vision. Our partner and fellow community artist Ricardo Levins Morales says “The soil is more important than the seeds. Almost anything will grow in rich, nutritious soil, whereas it’s hard to get anything to grow if the soil is barren and toxic and won’t hold moisture. So the seeds are our projects, our initiatives, our institutions, that we want to build and the soil is the compost of beliefs, ideas, values, narratives that create the environment within which we are working.”

At Voices we are centering our work around tending to the soil, meaning tending to the beliefs, values, narratives and ideas that make up the culture we are in. Part of how colonization works is when one group, culture, or way of being must dominate over others. Our remedy to colonization is biodiversity, to value the diversity in knowledge, culture, language, worldviews, medicines, plants and perspectives. This is not just metaphoric. In Minnesota we have massive mono-cropping where one crop is reproduced on a mass scale to the detriment of the soil, loss of Indigenous crops and cultures. The conditions of our physical soil often reflects the toxicity of dominant worldviews, values and beliefs. And we can replicate this toxicity amongst ourselves, by policing each other due to our differences rather than honoring how that makes us stronger. As we tend to our soil, we must also tend to our worldviews, values, and narratives that make up the culture that we live in.  

MAKING CULTURE SHIFT

Tending to the soil is an invitation to take responsibility for the culture we live in and create. It is an invitation to shift practices that are not in alignment with a healthy ecosystem.  Culture exists on many levels: personal, interpersonal, familial, collective, and institutional. There is culture we create, inherit and reject. What culture dominates is a reflection of power and who holds power. Culture shift happens when we take personal and collective responsibility for the culture we nurture. At the heart of our many cultures and worldviews we find our values.

As a multicultural team that serves a multi-cultural and intergenerational community we find our values are an interconnected web between us. In a conversation with longtime community organizers, Anishinaabe elders, and advocates Ricky DeFoe and Skip Sandman in Duluth, we are asked “what is your culture if you don’t know your values? Organizations want to talk about culture without talking about values, there is no culture without values.” Our culture and values are interlinked.

At Voices for Racial Justice we value our elders, cultural workers, and experts who carry the wisdom that influence us in how we tend to the soil of our movements. We were blessed to have Ricky DeFoe  join us at the beginning of our Duluth organizing training kick off, grounding our circle in an exchange of what values we know are sacred to us and that have been informed by the worldviews of our loving and wise ancestors.

What we value gets our attention, time and resources and what we do not value gets forgotten and eventually left behind, and what is devalued gets destroyed. At Voices for Racial Justice we are aware of how power shapes what gets valued and the culture of how things are done within institutions, from schools to government departments, from the curriculum taught to the policies passed. We are aware of how toxic worldviews create toxic cultures that lead to toxic practices and norms.

We recognize that solutions to injustices and disparities will not come from the very toxic cultures and systems that created them. Nor will mainstream models and approaches to working with communities of color and Indigenous communities that focus on deficit, what is lacking, where there is harm, and what needs “fixing” — as if the people themselves are broken. Although it is true that our communities are facing many forms of injustice and disparities we know programming that focuses on “assimilating” folks of color and Indigenous people devalues the cultures, medicines, resources, and strengths our communities already have. We draw on the strengths, culture, traditions, within our communities as sources of knowledge, creative inspiration, healing and power.

At Voices for Racial Justice we value, honor and respect the diverse worldviews, cultures, and values of people of color and Indigenous people which requires we take a proactive stance against pressures that assimilate, erase and devalue our traditions, ways of being, cultures, history, and languages. Cultural strategy and shared learning requires expansiveness to value other ways of being that are different from our own. We welcome cultural differences while leaning into sharing our collective values informing the culture of racial justice we create together.

 

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Our Paths to Wholeness: Grounding Healing in Our Visions for Racial Justice

Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Marquéz

I.

I was very young when I started fearing my body and the pain it could hold. Often I would be at school, my parents would get the call that I’d fainted again, and have to take me to the hospital.    A few months ago, I was curled up in fetal position in my bed, my head inclined at the exact angle to prevent a fainting spell, when I got a message from an aunt in Mexico. I had just shared a Facebook post about the frustrating reality of living with chronic pain that breaks you at every level. She had seen it, and asked me what was going on. I told her. It was the same story as always. I didn’t have to say much for her to understand.  She suggested some herbal teas for the pain and reminded me to tend to my altar.

I was raised by circles of women committed to raising babies that are strong. Among them were my mother and my tías, resilient women who created sacred spaces where they could make their pain visible to each other, usually over a plate of food and often surrounded by the screams and laughter of their children. They would come together regularly when faced with heartbreak, domestic violence, crippling depression, but also at celebrations, rites of passage, birthdays.

Here I am on the right, at a blessing of the children in the procession to honor La Guadalupana in my hometown of Xico, Veracruz, 1994.

These circles raised us–their little girls–to honor ritual, the land, our bodies, the cycles of joy and grief.  When my family left México, it felt like my roots were ripped from my feet.  The loss of the land, of these spaces, these mujeres that had taught me so much about coming closer to myself, their children who were also my family, broke something inside of me.  As more years pass, and now that I have lived in this country twice as long as I ever did in México, I’ve found myself building community in a way that honors the teachings of these women.  As we hear more and more conversations emerging in different spaces and in our movements around healing, I know from experience that each of us have different stories and traditions that connect us to our innate ability to heal and be whole.

II.

So where do we begin?

What is really at stake?

What are we actually healing from?

It makes me think of that common saying: you have to know where you’ve been, to know where you’re going. For folks of color, immigrant populations and indigenous people living in this country and doing movement work, the histories and the legacies of violence we carry in our lines are not in isolation with the world we have inherited, and the world we are trying to build. This is deeply personal work.  We are bringing our abuelitas, our nieces and nephews and visions of our descendents into the room.

I think of my own story of coming from survivors, women who have endured unimaginable violence, of a grandmother who made the choice to escape with her babies from a violence that could kill, in a land where she didn’t speak the language, and then had to work long days at a sweatshop to put food on the table. Though she left to join the ancestors earlier this year, she is with me every day. My grandmother, my mother, my cousins, they are why I fight and why I understand that my fight is wrapped up in my and our healing.

A mentor once told me, that if we are not diligent about doing our personal work of addressing our traumas, it will come out in our organizing. To be able to see what we are healing from, we have to unravel the ways our histories have been impacted by colonization, slavery, genocide, forced displacement. We also need to realize we bring those histories into a room when we organize and build with community. Healing within a backdrop of white supremacy means contending with its legacy of trauma and the different iterations it has and continues to hold through things like police violence, incarceration, deportation. We experience trauma within violently racialized systems born of historical oppression.

Honest conversations of what we are healing means bearing witness to all that was taken from us. It means contending with the trauma we have inherited in our DNA, but also forcing ourselves to recognize all that the violence was not able to kill. In a recent conversation with a community healer I was reminded that healing is not about pacifying or even necessarily diffusing conflict, it’s about breaking open and building the capacity to be able to confront that which is difficult, that which is painful. As an organization we’ve had to think deeply of what it means to be people with our trauma working with people with their own trauma. There are countless examples in movement work where people’s trauma shows up and replicates a model of violence against each other, similar to the violence created by whiteness towards people of color, but this time it’s within our own communities. These are the realities that have necessitated a healing justice framework at Voices. Through the process of recognizing that we do in fact inherit profound histories of trauma, we recognize we also inherit the strength and resilience to sustain and transform ourselves.  

Our journey to Healing Justice at Voices has taken some time. When I joined the team four years ago, conversations had already begun around how we should be addressing trauma in our communities as part of the work. Alumni from our organizing training were expressing the need for spaces that held truthful and grounding conversations on how to be whole in movement work.  Then, one year later in the first week of our first Youth Cultural Organizing Institute, our powerful cohort challenged us on what our stance on healing was. “You guys need to do better than what’s happening in the organizing community,” they told me. “You have to model something different.” It was a reminder that youth are used to being taken advantage of by organizations and movements, and that there needs to be a plan for supporting youth through their organizing journeys. We honor the powerful voices of the youth who pushed us to walk the talk. As a result of that first week with our first youth cohort, we began to dig deeper into conversations of trauma and healing at Voices.   

 

 

Our first Youth Cultural Organizing Institute cohort, July 2015

Recently I was listening to Kate Werning’s Healing Justice podcast featuring Francisca Porchas Coronado, an Arizona based anti-racist organizer and healer. In their conversation, Francisca articulated a tension that shows up all the time in movement spaces when trying to pair organizing with healing justice:

How is healing really challenging the culture in organizations and for people on the ground? There is a bridging that needs to happen to really integrate individual and collective transformation into the work of political and popular education, the work of organizing door to door, the work of campaign planning. Is this a tactic that we’re using?

This resonates with questions that as a team we’ve been grappling with:

  • How can we authentically integrate healing justice in how we do this work and how we relate to each other and our communities in the process?
  • What is our commitment to our individual healing journeys so that when we do show up to do that work collectively we are engaging in our best way?

As we work towards innovative approaches to engaging healing justice in life-giving ways in our movements, it’s important to remember that not only can it be done, but it has been done before.  We have rich examples to draw from, not only from the present, but also from our cultural histories and ancestral knowledge.

III.

Over the last year, through our strategic planning process to ground our mission and vision in nurturing the soil for racial justice organizing, healers from the People’s Movement Center have helped to guide us on what healing justice can look like at Voices. Through this, we have realized there is profound knowledge we can share and learn from each other that will help us in this time of transition and deepening of our work. We are learning as we go about what this will look like in the long run. We don’t have all the answers, but are committed to engaging in a healing justice framework that transforms.

Healing in its simplest sense is to become whole again after trauma.  Susan Raffo and Ayo Clemons, local healing practitioners with the People’s Movement Center who have supported us in our own healing process at Voices, have described healing as supporting your body, heart and spirit.  Resmaa Menakem framed trauma for us as “too much, too soon, too fast.” Healing Justice takes into account individual trauma we have lived and historical trauma we’ve inherited created by systems of oppression, to then build community strategies of resilience and transformation.

So what does that look like at Voices right now?

  • Buddy system:  Each staff is paired off and meet weekly over the course of 2-3 months to check in around their wellness and the things they are wrestling with that is impacting them personally and in their work.
  • Wellness check-ins: Every meeting, gathering, and training starts with an opening circle where people share how they’re doing and what if anything is impacting the way they are in the space.
  • Wellness program: Staff receive 2 hours/week of wellness time during the work day that can include but is not limited to walking or other forms of exercise, meditation, therapy; wellness dollars for each staff member include $50/month for gym or other health membership and $250/6 months for wellness related services or trainings. Unused dollars are used for collective wellness activities.
  • Meditation practice with our weekly staff meetings.
  • Ongoing work with community healers:  We are in  deep relationship with the People’s Movement Center and other community healers to continue to define and guide the ways we frame healing individually and collectively as we move through our work.
  • Every gathering, event, and strategy has healing at its core.  As an example, last year we held an event titled, “Breathe and Heal,” which was a gathering of organizers and advocates working for racial justice coming together for conversation and healing. In addition to holding a space where organizers and community members could have deep conversation about the impact of the session, we invited healing practitioners into the space to offer their care. As we were envisioning what this space should hold we were guided by the following questions: How do we reduce harm to our communities from the government while having enough time for joy and building with our people? How do we heal from the legislative session and remain resilient and healthy in the face of a political climate which is violent to indigenous communities and communities of color?
  • Integrating Healing Justice across our trainings: We frame historical trauma as a way to understand systems of oppression and the need for healing, as well as share embodiment practices to ground participants.

Our team at Voices for Racial Justice.

IV.

The breadth of possibility of what we can build together when we ground healing in our lives and organizing is transformative.  As a team over the last year, we had the chance to read adrienne maree brown’s “Emergent Strategy.” This book helped us find words for a more holistic approach to understanding the ways of trauma in movement but also our capacity to create new approaches that treat us individually and collectively as whole.  One of the affirmations, prayers, that I hold close and go back to often from her book is the following:

I am living a life I don’t regret

A life that will resonate with my ancestors,

and with as many generations forward as I can

imagine.

I am attending to the crises of my time with

my best self,

I am of communities that are doing our

collective best

to honor our ancestors and all humans to

come.

Our next steps are to continue to move forward in this collective work of healing in racial justice organizing. This means moving past a healing justice that solely talks about self care, and honoring models of organizing that are healing rather than violent and depleting. We will continue to ask questions, to listen, to build with our communities to make visible that which we have inherited in order to  transform our pain into something new, something whole, something resilient. We don’t have all the answers, nor do we claim to, but recognize that work informed by trauma and rooted in healing can no longer be treated as a luxury. Our lives and our movements depend on it.

 

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