The Conversation Begins: Racial Equity in OUR MPLS

By Vina Kay, Director of Research and Policy, Organizing Apprenticeship Project

In the two weeks since introducing the OUR MPLS Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice, I and multiple community partners have been meeting with local elected leaders to begin a conversation. In many ways, I can hardly believe it has been only two weeks since the bitterly cold on the outside and warm on the inside afternoon at All My Relations Gallery. The conversation we started that day with Mayor Betsy Hodges has continued in City Council offices piled high with moving boxes at City Hall. It has also continued at coffee shops with Parks Commissioners throughout the city.

Through these conversations, some themes are emerging and some next steps are building. This is just the beginning of a 100 Day Campaign to establish a framework for racial and economic equity.

A meeting with Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. OUR MPLS partners included Owen Duckworth (Alliance for Metropolitan Stability), Chaka Mkali (Hope Community), and Brett Buckner (Organizing Apprenticeship Project).

A meeting with Ward 8 Council Member Elizabeth Glidden. OUR MPLS partners included Owen Duckworth (Alliance for Metropolitan Stability), Chaka Mkali (Hope Community), and Brett Buckner (Organizing Apprenticeship Project).

One Minneapolis is not OUR MPLS – yet. Political leaders love the term One Minneapolis and it has become a recurring slogan for a city that has the energy to overcome an economic recession and that seeks to grow its population by over 100,000 residents. But I and the communities of color-led groups that I work with know that we are not at the goal of being One Minneapolis just yet. Instead, we are a divided city where opportunities for employment, education, and housing are not evenly available across communities.

The OUR MPLS that we envision is one where all people truly have a sense of belonging and opportunity. When our group envisioned what that city would look like, the vision included goals like all students graduating from high school (our current rate for students in Minneapolis hovers around 50 percent, and it is even lower for students of color), no employment disparities (Minneapolis has the largest gap in the country between whites and African Americans), and no racial profiling (in Minneapolis, African Americans are over 11 times more likely to be arrested for marijuana possession than whites – compared to a 3.7 percent disparity nationally).

One Minneapolis is a goal we all share. Achieving a truly inclusive OUR MPLS will get us there.

The door to change is open. We were very quickly able to schedule meetings with almost all City Council members and Parks Commissioners. Even as offices were being set up and committees being assigned, we found a willingness to take an hour to meet with community members about our agenda and a plan to work together. This has been encouraging.

One aide reminded us that influencing policy is very possible at the local level and that elected leaders like her boss pay attention to the phone calls, emails, and meetings. Another aide praised our strategy of taking to the time to meet with everyone and begin developing relationships and a spirit of partnership.

Will the result of these many meetings be the policy change we seek? Time will tell, but also necessary is the willingness of our city leaders to keep listening and the work of community members to stay engaged in the process.

We share the same goals. None of the leaders we have spoken with disagree with the goal of ending the disparities our city faces. Nobody sees any benefit of allowing inequities to continue. Everyone agrees that the success of our city depends on making sure the growing numbers of people of color prosper.

So what do we do about it? That is the hard work ahead of us. The OUR MPLS Agenda offers some solutions, as well as a path for developing more strategies that work. I am encouraged by the culture we are encountering at City Hall – one that recognizes the harm of racial and economic disparities in Minneapolis, one that believes that change is possible, and one that is willing, at least for now, to work together to make it real.

This post first appeared on Opine Season.


Coloring the Vote: Demographics and Engagement Add Up to Political Power

By Vina Kay, Director of Research and Policy, Organizing Apprenticeship Project

This post first appeared on the blog Opine Season on June 4, 2013 shortly before the One Minneapolis mayoral candidates forum. With Election Day approaching, the points raised here seem relevant again. Untitled

I haven’t told him yet, but I want to take my 16-year-old son to a Minneapolis mayoral candidates forum on Thursday night. I know it is the first week of summer and all, so this event may not be at the top of his list. Plus, he can’t even vote in the election this fall.

Still, this is important. The forum, hosted by One Minneapolis and a coalition of young voters of color, will be a chance to ask candidates the questions that should be front and center priorities for the next mayor of Minneapolis. How will candidates address racial disparities in access and opportunity at all levels of education, from early childhood to college? What will they do about our huge employment gap? How will they ensure equitable access to the parks and recreation programs that can lead to better health? Will business development help struggling neighborhoods thrive? Will our city’s law enforcement work with us to build safer communities?

All of these are issues he should be thinking about for his and our city’s future. He will be eligible to vote next time around, and hold whoever the new mayor is accountable for what he or she says on Thursday night. Candidates should be paying attention to the voices of young voters of color, too. Their voices are growing in power, as a new U.S. Census report reveals.

A couple of points stand out in this report. One is that in 2012 and for the first time the voting rates of African Americans surpassed that of non-Hispanic Whites. Of the African American eligible electorate, 66.2 percent  voted in the 2012 election. Of the non-Hispanic White eligible electorate, the rate was 64.1 percent.

The second point was even more striking to me. Since this kind of data has been collected in 1996, the number of eligible voters and the number of votes cast has increased in every election. But for the first time, in 2012, the number of votes cast by non-Hispanic White voters decreased – by about 2 million – even though the total votes cast still grew. As the report states:

“Since 1996, this is the only example of a race group showing a decrease in net voting from one presidential election to the next, and it indicates that the 2012 voting population expansion came primarily from minority voters.” 

Here in Minnesota, data from Color the Vote indicates that 322,000 people of color voted in the 2012 election, or about 11 percent of voters overall.

These are significant numbers and should translate into the continuing increased engagement of people of color in elections and policymaking decisions, as well as increased attention by candidates to issues communities of color raise. On Friday, I met with a group of 25 community organizers and leaders to reflect on the racial justice victories of the 2013 legislative session. I heard stories of long-fought battles that have resulted in real policy change, of many things still on the table in 2014, and the power of leading with a racial justice lens on issues from education to employment to housing. The story was not that any of this was easy. Rather, it is that through organizing, collaboration, and persistence we are changing the narrative in Minnesota.

Changing the narrative will take the demographic changes that we know are happening. It will also take voter engagement and organizing. It will take movement to increase the leadership of people of color in elected office (of 201 members of the Minnesota Legislature, only 7 are people of color).

A third point caught my attention in the U.S. Census report, and it’s another reason for my son to come with me to the candidates forum: women consistently vote at higher rates than men. It struck that this was true despite women (and people of color) attaining the right to vote much later and through much struggle. We hold dear the right to vote by exercising it, and in that truth is a lot of power.


Our Next Mayor Must Fight for Racial Justice


Mayoral hopefuls speak to young people of color on their plans to undo racial injustice over the next 4 years.

Sabathani Community Center
310 East 38th Street. Minneapolis, MN 55409
Thursday, June 6th

UntitledA coalition of young voters will gather at Sabathani Community Center on Thursday,
June 6th at 6:00pm to hear from candidates in the 2013 Minneapolis Mayoral Election. In
one generation, the majority of Minneapolis residents will be people of color; yet today,
the city has one of the worst racial inequities in the country. This community forum will
give the candidates an opportunity to share their solutions with the youth who are being
impacted the most. All 2013 mayoral candidates have confirmed attendance: Mark
Andrew, Jackie Cherryhomes, Betsy Hodges, Don Samuels, Gary Schiff, Jim Thomas,
and Cam Winton.