our mnisota: Racial Equity in 2018

Brett Grant, Research & Policy Director

“ We Are What We Imagine. Our Very Existence Consists Of Our Imagination Of Our Selves. Our Best Destiny Is To Imagine, At Least, Completely, Who And What, And That We Are. The Greatest Tragedy That Can Befall Us Is To Go Unimagined.” -N. Scott Momaday

In 2017, Voices for Racial Justice, in collaboration with community partners, created the our mnisota policy agenda. We use mnisota in lieu of Minnesota to honor the original Dakota words Mni Sota Makoce, a term that, according to Dakota elder Chris MatoNunpa, translates to “land where the waters reflect the clouds.” We believe that our goal—racial justice and the end of all racial disparities—isn’t possible without first acknowledging the history of the land that we occupy: land which was stolen from Dakota people, people who had lived here since time immemorial and were killed or forcibly expelled in order for us to live here today.

2017 Racial Equity Agenda

Little of the 2017 our mnisota agenda was achieved during the 2017 legislative session. Of the issues named in last session’s agenda, the legislature passed the following proposals:

  • Supporting an increase of Teachers of Color and American Indian Teachers in Minnesota. For an overview of final signed 2017 Legislation visit this link
  • The Urban Agriculture Bill (HF 1545) was funded $250k/year for 2018-19. Additionally, $250k/year was appropriated for the Good Food Access Fund.
  • The legislature passed a 2-year extension for the Driver Diversion Program in the Public Safety bill, which helps people get their driver’s license reinstated.
  • The legislature maintained ongoing annual funding for the Capacity Building Grants and the Minnesota Emerging Entrepreneur Fund programs. The MN Emerging Entrepreneur Fund is a revolving loan program for small businesses and the Capacity Building Grants support small, culturally focused, workforce and economic development nonprofits.
  • The legislature lowered the age requirement for eligibility for the Working Family Credit for households without children from 25 to 21, beginning in 2020, and added $7 million for certain married couples, starting in 2019. Additionally, the legislature passed a provision that makes more people from the American Indian community who earn income on reservations eligible for the credit.
  • The legislature required the creation of a disparity impact note for any proposed legislation upon request of the chair or ranking minority member of any committee if it appears enactment could significantly increase or decrease disparities (HF 142/ SF 295).

There were also a number of proposals that threatened racial equity, such as:

  • A number of bills that would have increased the penalty for protesters intentionally obstructing a highway, as well as “unlawful assembly” legislation that would have authorized governmental units to sue to recover for the “public safety response costs” related to unlawful assemblies and public nuisances. All of these bills were designed to restrict the right to protest by making protesting punishable by fine (HF 55/SF 148; HF 1066/SF 918; HF 322/SF 679; HF 26).

    Protesters at the 4th Precinct Occupation in Minneapolis.

  • A statewide preemption bill (HF 600/SF 580) designed to strip local governments of their authority to improve state or federal workplace standards. According to a recent MinnPost article (February 17, 2017), “Preemption laws are the latest version of a pernicious strategy: changing the rules as soon as they actually start to work for people of color, women, immigrants or the working poor.” (https://www.minnpost.com/community-voices/2017/02/statewide-preemption-most-dangerous-bill-you-ve-never-heard)
  • School disciplinary action modifications that would allow educators to remove students from the classroom for acts they deem inappropriate or unsafe, without proof that the student had intended to cause harm or intended to violate school policy (HF 905).

Mónica María Hurtado at November 21, 2017 budget hearing at Hennepin County.

  • Immigration injustice proposals that sought to prohibit and/or reduce aid for cities with sanctuary ordinances (SF 881; HF 1664); and language was included in the public safety bill barring administrations appointed by the governor from ushering in driver’s licenses for undocumented immigrants without legislative approval.

2018 Legislative Session

There is a lot of work to do in 2018 to cultivate seeds of  racial equity in Minnesota. Our policy team will be watching closely the following bills and proposals:

  • The Academic Balance Bill (SF 2487) introduced this session works against racial equity. It “prohibits school employees from requiring students or other school employees to express specified social or political viewpoints for the purposes of academic credit, extracurricular participation, or as a condition of employment.” The bill also prohibits public education from engaging in “political, ideological, religious, or anti-religious indoctrination.”
  • This session, the legislature has the opportunity to restore voting rights to approximately 51,000 Minnesotans who live in our communities but cannot vote due to felony convictions.
  • Working Family Tax Credit – the legislature will consider Governor Dayton’s proposal to provide a roughly $50 million/year expansion starting in 2019 for working people and families across Minnesota.
  • Renters Credit/Property Tax Refund – the legislature will hear proposals regarding this tax refund for Minnesotans who earn low wages and/or who are on fixed incomes, and struggle to afford the cost of housing and other basic necessities. HF 4183/SF 3796 would protect these tax refunds from cuts that would occur because of how it interacts with federal tax law changes.
  • The bill that ends the suspension of driver’s licenses for unpaid traffic tickets (HF 3356/SF 3389) was included in State Representative Linda Runbeck’s omnibus policy bill. Representative Runbeck is the Chair of the House Transportation and Regional Governance Policy Committee.

Voices For Racial Justice New Direction in Policy

After being around for nearly 25 years, Voices thought it important to pause and hear from communities about the effectiveness of our policy tools. Our policy team will work in collaboration with community partners to determine how we are going to engage with communities and legislators in this review of our policy tools. This is important because after over a decade of grading legislators, we found that while the number of racial equity champions has increased at the Legislature, racial equity in Minnesota has not.

Voices for Racial Justice is on a journey to build creative approaches to grassroots policy that tend to the soil of our movements and that honor the culture and healing of our communities. We ask, what does grassroots policy look like that is life-giving, shifts culture, rooted in beauty, real governance, and bridges the divides within our communities? In response to these questions, we will hold space for communities of color and Indigenous communities to share their stories & experiences. These stories will move us through our commitment to center trust-building across issues and cultural groups in our movements. The values that will continue to inform our work during the 2018 legislative session are listed below. This is a broad agenda which sets an important framework that goes beyond this particular session:

Arts and Culture

Estefania, Youth Organizer.

Minnesota has a unique history of cultivating major artists who have influenced people all over the world. Legislators can build on this legacy by investing in the emerging artists of today who will influence the future. It is artists who allow us to heal and who give creative expression to what it means to be human. Our state must recognize how art and culture influence every aspect of life and support legislation that elevates the value of the arts in all of our communities.

Civil Rights

Minnesotans are proud of our state’s reputation of being one of the most progressive states in the union. But that pride is overshadowed by the dramatic racial and economic disparities in our state. Building a racially equitable state means working with communities of color and American Indian communities throughout our cities to restore integrity and trust in our civil rights institutions and police departments, and practices, including the right to protest. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor every person’s right to protest and that promote a climate of care and intergenerational respect in our communities.

Economic Equity

The health of our state’s economic future depends on the economic well-being of all Minnesotans. Given the epidemic of rental apartment conversions to market rate properties and “flipping” by speculative real estate firms, the state needs to respond with urgency to a chronic shortage of affordable housing options across Minnesota. U.S. Census data show that most communities of color in our state have median incomes significantly less than that of white Minnesotans. We ask legislators to promote economic opportunity by supporting legislation that offers technical support to assist entrepreneurs in launching or expanding a small business or a co-op, especially small business owners who are men and women of color, working class, veterans, and/or people with disabilities.

Educators for Black Lives rally, 2016.

Education Equity

A statewide vision for equitable schools would include: increasing the number of teachers of color and American Indian teachers in K-12 schools in Minnesota, establishing government subsidized living wages for teachers, the creation of meditation and mindfulness programs in schools, ethnic studies pilot programs in K-12 schools throughout the state, programs that re-engage children who are no longer in school, and programs to enable elders from different racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic backgrounds to work in schools. We ask legislators to support bills that make this vision a reality in our state.

Environmental Justice

We are in solidarity with indigenous voices and tribal nations across the world struggling to protect the sacredness of the environment. For example, state and national attention around water has increased in recent years. Water is the lifeblood of the universe that nourishes every person, every plant, and every community. Water can be still, it can be peaceful, but it can also be a powerful force for change. Just like us. We can transform, and in that process transform the environment around us. We ask legislators to support and pass bills that honor and protect the sacredness of water and the environment.

Health Equity

Everyone in Minnesota deserves to live in a community where the health and wellbeing of each individual should not depend on their race, identity, education, gender, place of origin, or where they live. In order to advance health equity, efforts need to be intentional in addressing structural racism. Therefore, health care policies must pay attention to the social determinants of health, and must be developed in partnership with impacted communities, including communities of color, indigenous communities, and incarcerated communities. We ask legislators to pass bills that support the health and wellbeing of all Minnesotans, including men and women who are incarcerated. Voices will be sharing a report on the impact of incarceration on health in the coming months.

Immigration Justice

Minnesota flourishes when people who come to our state from other countries are able to live in dignity and peace, and contribute to our economy, democracy, and culture. Yet immigration policies and practices continue to negatively impact immigrants disproportionately. Despite federal threats to immigration justice, including increased deportation and expansion of detention centers, Minnesota should take the lead in state level reform.We ask legislators to pass bills that make our state a model of immigration justice for the rest of the nation. Furthermore, we support the efforts of a recently formed multiracial immigrant coalition of peoples who are asking legislators “…to commit to a long-term relationship and partnership with Minnesota’s immigrant communities… As constituents and as community organizations, with directly impacted membership and who experience first-hand the implications of anti-immigrant policies, we urge [legislators] to include us in the decision-making process, and not to make any commitments bargaining with ours and our families’ lives without consulting with us first. Additionally, as a gesture of good faith to our communities, we request town hall meetings in our communities as we move forward.”

Justice for People who are Incarcerated

Minnesota’s correctional facilities continue to impact Native American communities and communities of color disproportionately. The rates of disparity for youth of color in the Minnesota justice system are both higher than national levels and more severe in magnitude than those of many comparable states. In order to advance justice in our state’s correctional facilities, we ask legislators to pass bills that: Treat people who are incarcerated as human beings, including offering nutritious food and adequate health care; reinstate the office of prison ombudsman as a way to give people who are incarcerated a way to address grievances; restrict the use of solitary confinement; ban placing youth in solitary confinement, as the federal government has already done; eliminate all private prisons in our state; and allocate more funding for alternatives to incarceration, including more funding for chemical dependency treatment, mental health treatment, and other forms of treatment.

Tribal Sovereignty

Minnesota is home to eleven tribal governments – seven Ojibwe Bands and four Dakota communities. Minneapolis has one of the largest urban American Indian populations in the country, representing a diverse array of tribal citizens from many of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States. Tribal sovereignty refers to the inherent rights of American Indian tribes to govern themselves and their lands, to define their own membership, and to regulate tribal commerce and other domestic relations. We ask legislators to pass bills that honor tribal sovereignty among American Indian communities in our state.


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.


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.