Our Voices

From Colorblind to Race Conscious: Two very different sets of metrics

By Jake Virden

Parks and PowerAs the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board (MPRB) announces it has been ranked the #1 park system in the country for a third straight year by the Trust for Public Land, now is a good time to share some observations from our perspective as the Parks and Power community campaign engaging the MPRB on issues of racial and economic justice. This is the third year in a row that the MPRB has received the #1 ranking in the country from the Trust for Public Land and, frankly, its getting pretty boring. The response from Parks and Power to this ranking has been consistent over the past two years that the MPRB has been boasting of its champion standing, if we add metrics that take into account race and economic factors we get far from a perfect “5 bench” score.

This PR campaign by the Trust for Public Land and the MPRB is another version of the colorblind narrative of the “Minneapolis miracle” that erases the struggles of communities of color and poor people in the Twin Cities. The Trust looks at three areas to rank park systems for its ParkScore Index:

  • Acreage (total park land/median park size)
  • Access (% of residents in walking distance to a park)
  • Facilities and Investment ($ per resident)

These metrics completely ignore the social geography of the cities and park systems they evaluate, perpetuating the colorblind myth that people from all racial and economic backgrounds have the same relationship to public resources. If the Trust for Public Land and the MPRB were serious about evaluating the benefit of our park system for the public good they would incorporate measurements that take into account history, power and the experience of the people that live near and use park land. What is different about this year is that, thanks to the persistent effort of neighborhood leaders pushing the MPRB to prioritize racial equity, there is an example of race conscious metrics being developed at the MPRB that point toward a new way of doing business.

Colorblind vs. Racial Justice Perspectives

At the April 20, 2016 meeting of Park Board Commissioners, MPRB staff presented a racial equity based criteria system for allocating money to come from the City of Minneapolis and MPRB’s 20 year Neighborhood Parks Plan. MPRB staff have developed criteria used to assign points to various parks, the parks that get a higher number of points are prioritized for rehabilitation. What is new, exciting and promising about these metrics is that they are race conscious, which is to say they take into account the generations of oppression, disinvestment and disenfranchisement of communities of color by both the public and private sectors and have the explicit goal of directing resources in a racially equitable manner. This criteria system is rooted in a racial justice framework, as opposed to the criteria used by the Trust for Public Land, which perpetuate a colorblind framework.

A colorblind framework pretends as if race has not been a determining factor when making investments and setting public policy. A colorblind approach does not see the dramatic disparities in living conditions between white, affluent residents and communities of color and low wealth European Americans. A racial justice framework consciously acknowledges the colonial, white supremacist history of Minneapolis and sets out to creatively chart a new course toward racial equity.

Let’s get into the specifics of how projects are weighted and how race and class play into the decision making under the MPRB’s new criteria. Each park is scored using seven criteria, with four based on community characteristics and three based on park characteristics. A park can earn a total of 23 points. The metrics include:

Community Characteristics

  1. Is the Park located in a Racially Concentrated Area of Poverty or (RCAP) (5 possible points)? RCAPs designate a census tract where 50% or more of the residents are people of color and 40% of the residents or more have family incomes below 185% of the federal poverty level. If a park is located in an RCAP, it is given a 5 and moved up the list of priority for rehab.
  2. Population density in the neighborhood where the park is located (2 possible points). The more densely populated neighborhoods will be a higher priority for rehab. Communities of color and low wealth communities tend to live in high density neighborhoods in Minneapolis. This metric takes into account extra wear and tear on park infrastructure in high density areas and the proportional value of public investment dollars per person in those areas.
  3. Youth density of the neighborhood where the park is located (3 possible points ). The higher the youth density of the neighborhood, the higher it is scored and it is moved up the list for priority for rehab. Same logic as the above metric applies with an extra focus on the needs of families.
  4. Neighborhood safety ( 2 possible points). Neighborhood crime statistics are looked at to determine need, with more crime in an area resulting in a higher score and increased priority for rehab investment. This is a public health and racial equity approach to crime reduction, grounded in the understanding that crime is the symptom of disinvestment and oppression, rather than racist myths about super-predators and character deficiencies.

Park Characteristics

  1. Park asset lifespan (3 possible points). Amenities in the park are evaluated and higher points are given to parks with infrastructure more than five years past its lifespan.
  2. Park Asset Condition (5 possible points). Assets in worse condition receive higher priority for rehab.
  3. Proportionality of investment (3 possible points). Referring to the amount of capital invested since 2000, this measure helps prioritize parks that have not received capital investment in the last 15 years.

When applied to the capital investment plan these criteria yield real results for communities of color and low wealth neighborhoods. Park staff applied these metrics and released the projected list of parks slated for rehabilitation for the first five years of the 20 year plan and it looks like they are working. Parks in the most disinvested areas of North, South and Northeast Minneapolis are slated for much needed capital investment. Beyond the immediate application to the 20 year neighborhood parks funding plan, these metrics can help set a precedent for socially and racially conscious capital investment that can provide substance to the suddenly popular and often abused term racial equity. These metrics bring history and power into the conversation at the point of budgeting. This is a necessary, meaningful and concrete step toward racial equity.

But these strong criteria, the substance of racial equity in this funding proposal, have not yet been instituted as policy at the MPRB or City of Minneapolis. Currently, the metrics have been developed by staff and presented to MPRB Commissioners, but no vote has been taken to make these metrics official policy and guarantee their application. All of the back patting being done by City Council members and MPRB Commissioners about racial equity in the 20 year neighborhood park funding agreement is for proposed changes in policy and process that have not been instituted. This posturing demonstrates how many in the establishment think about racial equity; first resist the conversation completely, then begrudgingly acknowledge the community pressure for change, and then when the momentum from the people can not be denied, claim to be an advocate for racial equity — while not actually committing to or understanding the transformation we are seeking.

While a plaque that says “number #1 park system in the country” must feel nice for MPRB officials to hang on their wall, we at Parks and Power are not interested in colorblind self promotion; we are concerned with the urgent work of transforming our public institutions into bodies that promote racial justice. A claim to be #1 by a city so deeply divided is distasteful; racial equity must become the measure of excellence for serious people. The metrics developed by the MPRB for allocating funds from the 20 year Neighborhood Park Plan are a sign of progress, an example of a racial justice framework solidified in policy that encourages us to deal with the problem rather than ignore it. Hopefully next year the Trust for Public Land will take a step toward relevance by adding some depth to their ParkScore index.

The work continues.

Jake Virden is the Parks & Power Organizer at Hope Community


Amplifying Our Voices for Racial Justice

Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez

Gabriella Anaïs Deal-Márquez

For weeks leading up to my fourth birthday I listened to Radio Cultural Campesina with anticipation. My mom had promised me a shout out, and no present could get me more amped than that. Mexican community radio in the 90s was about power to the people. It was resistance wrapped up in laughter, corridos, and political debate.   I go back to these scattered memories of community storytelling through radio waves often, as I think about what it means to have independent platforms to lift the power and stories of our communities.

In my work at Voices with youth, we always acknowledge the lies mainstream media tells us about who we are. We ramplifyflyer JUST BACKGROUNDecognize mainstream culture is invested in replicating narratives that hold the logic of racism—and that the biggest trick that systems, media, and people can play on us is to convince us we don’t have the power to define our own stories.

AMPLIFY: Organizing for Media Change and Racial Justice will be held May 20th and 21st. It’s a convening developed by our team at voices with local organizers, cultural workers, and artists in partnership with the Media Action Grassroots Network. The goal is to share tools, resources and workshops that will be useful as we build powerful narratives in our work and provide an opportunity to connect with different local communities creating and organizing for media change and racial justice.

If you’re wondering why it matters to talk media change when we talk racial justice,the simple answer is that it’s too urgent not to. That the threat to open internet is a threat to economic justice. That we can’t talk about structural inequality in low-wealth communities of color, without talking about the fact that these communities pay the highest rates for internet, and that families are being left to have to choose between an internet bill and a water bill. That we can’t talk about prison justice without talking about access to phone lines and the exorbitant rates families of incarcerated loved ones have to pay to talk to them. That high-tech surveillance is taking the violence of racial profiling to a whole new level. That the fight for independent media platforms is one against corporate control and if we really want to shift the narratives of our art, our work, and who we are, we need to build our own platforms.

Join us next week as we share, vision, learn about new opportunities to build bridges across our art, media and organizing.



Racial Equity Bill Watch: It’s Not Too Late for Racial Equity in Minnesota

RallyBy Brett Grant and David Gilbert-Pederson

The Minnesota State Legislature convened on Tuesday, March 8, 2016. Two days later, Voices for Racial Justice held a rally across the street from the State Capitol to celebrate the release of the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, a 16 page policy blueprint for a more equitable Minnesota. More than 60 supporting organizations shared in the creation of the Agenda, which contains 33 policy proposals that cover nearly every area of the state with implications for rural and urban Minnesota. For a complete look at the Agenda, visit http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/Agenda-2016_FINAL_web2..pdf

Immediately following the rally, every state legislator received a hand delivered copy of the Agenda. The hope was that they would use the Agenda to inform their policy proposals and objectives at the start of the legislative session, create policies that advance racial equity, and that they would use the session to legislate against structural racism in Minnesota. Yet with only a few weeks left to go in this year’s session, our hopes to advance racial equity seem fleeting.

A little over a week ago, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, wrote a letter to House Speaker, Kurt Daudt, R-Crown, urging Republicans to do more to address Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities. Thirty of her DFL colleagues, including Minority Leader, Paul Thissen, co-signed the letter, which urged Speaker, Daudt, to take action this session. “It is time we come together,” wrote Moran, “to acknowledge that racial economic disparities in our state is an emergency.” It was this same sense of urgency that motivated community organizations and members from different racial and ethnic backgrounds to come together around the theme We the People in the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda.

This theme was a deliberate choice. The community organizations that helped create the Racial Equity Agenda want legislators to know that ending racial and economic disparities in Minnesota will take a collaborative effort. They want legislators to know that they do not have to act alone, but that solutions can come from local communities. Most important, they want legislators to seek guidance and to follow the visions for a more equitable Minnesota that come from the communities that are most negatively affected by racial and economic disparities: American Indian communities and communities of color across the state. A better future is possible – for all Minnesotans – if legislators would hear the voices of our communities.

cover 3It is not too late. As a complement to the 2016 Racial Equity Agenda, Voices for Racial Justice just released its 2016 Racial Equity Bill watch. The Racial Equity Bill Watch includes bills introduced in the Minnesota Legislature that address racial and economic disparities. This is a working list that will be updated and changed continually until the end of the session. Although some of the bills on this list may not progress further, it is important to recognize the racial equity impact they could have if adopted. The Racial Equity Bill Watch serves as a precursor to the 2015-2016 Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity – an accountability tool which grades legislators on their efforts to advance racial equity. The Report Card will be released following the end of the current legislative session.

Like the Racial Equity Agenda, the Racial Equity Bill Watch is a collaborative effort of numerous community partners. Whereas the Agenda contains general policy suggestions for a more equitable Minnesota, the Bill Watch contains specific bills to advance racial equity currently under consideration in the Senate and the House. Among these solutions are the following:

  • Strengthen the Working Family Credit so that working people can better make ends meet, and so that children can get off to a stronger start in life. While people of color make up about 18 percent of the state population, about 30 percent of Minnesota households that qualify for the Working Family Credit are people of color. Expanding the Working Family Credit can play a role in narrowing Minnesota’s racial and economic disparities (HF 3589/SF 2586 and HF 3163/SF 3039);
  • Support the startup and expansion of small businesses owned by women of color (HF 3099/SF 2931);
  • Provide access to public health insurance to individuals regardless of immigration status, many of whom currently lack an affordable source of health care despite making vital contributions to our economy (HF 3780/ SF 2422);
  • Restore the right to vote to formerly incarcerated individuals. Minnesota should pass legislation to allow people to vote who have served their time and are living in their community (HF 342/SF 355).

These are just a few of the bills contained within the 2016 Racial Equity Bill Watch, which can be found at http://voicesforracialjustice.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/2016RacialEquityBillWatch-050316.pdf.

In total, the bill watch contains 16 pages of bills that advance racial equity in Minnesota. Yes, it is a short session, an election year, and a bonding year; but that is no excuse for inaction. There is still time in this legislative session to advance racial equity in Minnesota.

Brett Grant is Director of Research and Policy and David Gilbert-Pederson is Legislative Researcher at Voices for Racial Justice.