Our Voices

Humans of Worthington

Vilai Khanya

By Fayise Abrahim, Organizing & Training Director

In 2017 Voices for Racial Justice brought our organizing cohort model to Worthington, MN. In the last year we’ve seen those in our training strive to build together by hosting community gatherings, actions, dialogues, healing spaces and much more. Our place based circles are intentionally intergenerational, cross-cultural, and build in collaboration with the expertise of local elders and guest facilitators. We will be highlighting the work of our circles in upcoming blog posts. Three of our 10 circle members in Worthington, MN were featured on Humans of Worthington, a project started by a young Latina immigrant photographer and current student aspiring to connect her love for social media platforms with finding more representation of folks in her community. Andrea Magana captures photos of folks local to her hometown and their stories which she then shares on Instagram.

Andrea was part of the initial efforts amongst youth in Worthington who were pushing their community to address the need for social justice. Years ago Andrea made visits to Voices for Racial Justice office as part of the Be the Change leadership group of youth. The work of youth in Worthington deeply influenced and impacted Voices’ work in rural Minnesota as we began to bring our trainings outside of the metro, which over time led to a circle model for training in rural Minnesota.

Jessica Lee Velasco

In her own words Andrea shares with us, “Racial justice is the systematic fair treatment of people of all races…it’s knowing that my younger siblings won’t be discriminated against, limited, or discouraged because of the color of their skin…racial justice is knowing that I don’t need to prove myself in the academic or employment arena because I speak a second language or because my skin isn’t white… Racial justice is knowing that I’m not a token friend or token employee… It’s imperative that we strive to have racial justice.”

Aida Simon

We are grateful for young folks like Andrea whose work and vision have continued to shape the ongoing racial justice work happening in Worthington. We lift up her project to highlight the power of youth re-claiming the stories of their people as a way of building community. Andrea shares, “It’s amazing to spotlight the people who don’t usually get the recognition they deserve…Worthington is a place that I will always come back to because my family is there and because my community is there.” We are sharing three photos courtesy of Andrea, featuring three members of our 2017-2018 Worthington Voices for Racial Justice Circle. Find her project on Instagram @humans_of_worthington.

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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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