Our Voices

Change is in the air: News of my transition from Voices for Racial Justice

Vina Kay
(Photo by Jenn Ackermann)

Dear Friends,

I am writing to share with you some changes – both in my life and at Voices for Racial Justice. I have accepted an opportunity to join Race Forward as Vice President of Movement and Capacity Building, so will be moving out of my role at Voices on March 15.

I am excited about the opportunity to bring the experience that I have gained in my work at Voices for Racial Justice to an organization working at the national level. My grounding in and respect for grassroots racial justice organizing – which is truly the heart of the movement – will inform how I think about supporting a racial justice movement from a national perspective.

As I considered this opportunity, it was leaving Voices that gave me the most pause. I truly love our organization and our team. Over my nearly eight years at Voices and last five years as executive director, we have experienced significant challenges, but also incredible growth. Our strategic vision has offered a clear set of values and a roadmap for the work ahead. The healing justice framework that we committed to in our strategic planning process has informed all of our work, both internally and in community. Although it is difficult for me to leave this family in an official way, I also know that Voices is in the strongest place it has ever been. We have a talented, committed, grounded, and creative team that I am confident will continue to lead this work beautifully.

In preparing for this transition, our team imagined an executive leadership model that would be in alignment with our strategic vision of tending to the soil, and developed a transition plan that uplifts the knowledge and experience of our team. Our interim executive team will be made up of three co-directors, all strong leaders from our staff and board.  

  • Fayise Abrahim, Interim Executive Co-Director, Programs
  • Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez, Interim Executive Co-Director, Communications
  • Monica Bryand, Interim Executive Co-Director, Operations

Incoming Interim Co-Directors Monica Bryand (Operations), Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez (Communications), and Fayise Abrahim (Programs).

During this interim period, the board and staff will be assessing the needs and the plan for long-term leadership of the organization

I feel fortunate that we have such a strong team, both staff and board, ready to lead this transition. I am humbled and grateful for their support as I prepare to move into a different role in our shared movement.  

I hope that you can join our Voices team for an open house and celebratory farewell at our office on March 14th from 5:00 – 7:00 pm. I look forward to seeing you then.

In solidarity,

Vina Kay

Executive Director



A Powerful Voice for Education Equity

Sieara Washington is a member of the Voices for Racial Justice Education Equity Parent Fellowship. On January 15, she shared this statement at the Minnesota Legislature during Educators of Color Lobby Day. Sieara and others in the Fellowship are learning about organizing for education equity and telling their powerful stories to influence change. In addition to being a parent, she is an Education Learning Specialist at North View Middle School in the Osseo School District. Here is what Sieara shared with the committee:

The people at the table making the decisions in education DO NOT reflect the majority of the population they are making the decisions for, which has made it ACCEPTABLE to ignore the NEEDS and WANTS of people of color.

As a Black American woman I have been in many positions in the Minnesota school system: a student, an educator, and now a parent. And within this time, I find it frustrating that some of the same issues I had as a student have become even worse. I see legislation that is even more negligent and that affects the students I come into contact with and even my own child.

As a student, I always wondered where are the TEACHERS that looked like me? Where are the POSITIVE stories about my people other then the go-to people (MLK, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks)? Why is it that the only people that looked like me that I saw were janitors, lunch ladies, or the person I saw if I got in trouble? As a student I wondered why the existence of my people started with slavery? Why are the same people that I saw in pictures causing harm to my people the same people I was forced to respect? Why were my parents forced to tell me the TRUE story of AMERICAN history in the comfort of or home, while white children were left to believe HISstory in the classroom? For example, Christopher Columbus.

As an educator, I now see the bigger picture. I see that itʼs a system that is created by a few to educate the many. I see itʼs a system created with little to no understanding of the people they are in fact teaching. And because of this, many students of color are put on IEPs (Individual Education Programs), in special education, or disciplined. Often this happens because the people who are supposed to be teaching these students do not understand them. I see that after-school funding is cut to bare minimum activities. And that the schools are faster to discipline a student before they are congratulated. I see many retention speeches for educators of color but do not see lateral movement within the system for us to better ourselves. I see a pay scale that only looks at me as an ESP (Education Support Professional), as help, as an assistant when in some cases I may do more than the actual teacher. But because of licensing/position my input is ignored or just unwarranted.

As a parent I see the criminalization of our black boys. I see other students getting excuses like “he didnʼt mean to do that, or that was just a mistake, or maybe your son took it wrong.” But my son as a kindergartener is always the problem regardless the age of another student. I see the urgency of trying to put my son on a program for funding for a school, thinking I will welcome a social security check. But my son is not a paycheck for the system, the school, or myself. I see the deep analysis of my son’s living situation to try and figure out why he has sporadic minor issues but the praise they give the teachers for his growth.

Overall I feel that legislation needs to really take a look at what children of all races are/arenʼt learning and how itʼs impacting them. Understanding that the disciplinary actions that are being taken need to be looked at to be uniform regardless of race across the board. Understand that after school programs and achievement programs need to be brought back to school on a much larger scale to implement success rather than failure. Understanding that all educators’ pay should be able to be a living wage for their families to sustain life. And the voices of all should be considered in making the decisions.

Thank you for your time,

Sieara Washington


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.