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

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.


Advancing the Inside-Outside Game for Racial Equity

When Voices for Racial Justice released the OUR MPLS racial equity agenda in January 2014, parks equity was a strong priority. Our work is always done in partnership, and our partnership with Hope Community to address inequities in the Minneapolis parks system has spanned several years. My colleague (and Voices for Racial Justice board member) Chaka Mkali has been organizing for parks equity at Hope Community for nearly 10 years. In addition to being a powerful organizer, community leader, and artist, Chaka is a self-described “parks geek.” So, of course, parks equity was part of our agenda for racial equity in Minneapolis.

Early on, we met with parks commissioners and shared the agenda. We heard some commitment to advancing racial equity in the parks system, from analyzing and prioritizing budget decisions to engaging more authentically with community partners about their priorities for the parks. We knew the grassroots support was building for a more equitable parks system. Now we were hearing that leadership was also moving in that direction.

But change is hard, and the Minneapolis Parks and Recreation Board is like many large institutions. It takes multiple shifts to change deeply embedded practices and policies and turn toward a racial equity analysis. Even with the will and intention, breaking through layers of institutional practice – what we at Voices for Racial Justice call institutional racism – takes more than good intentions. It takes a strategy.

As a community organization committed to organizing and the power of people to influence change, we understand the outside game. We work with organizational partners, we engage community residents, we ask hard questions of leaders, and we hold them accountable in public forums. This outside strategy takes years. But its roots run deep and the work of building true community passion and power pays off by leading to the kind of outside push that creates transformative and sustainable change.

We have come to realize that an additional strategy is in play, especially as we increasingly work with institutional players who want to advance racial equity. They just don’t always know how. They work within a system that is hard to change and that does not always share a racial equity vision. If these internal racial equity champions exist, how do we on the outside take hold of the opportunity that this offers?

We form an inside strategy.

The opportunity to develop and apply an inside strategy has presented itself to us. Following the release of the OUR MPLS agenda, multiple meetings and conversations, and our presentation to a group of government leaders at the Government Alliance on Race and Equity convening in August, we caught the attention of MPRB staff who are working to develop a racial equity framework to guide their planning and action. So when Voices for Racial Justice was approached by MPRB staff to consider a consulting role to guide them in a racial equity process, we said yes. But not without first making some important inside strategy commitments to how we do our work:

  1. Engage partners. We immediately reached out to Hope Community and developed a plan to engage them as co-consultants in the work. We did this with complete transparency to both the MPRB staff and to Hope. The trust and credibility with our longtime partner was the first priority and we would not take on a project that would undermine the organizing and vision around parks equity.
  2. Maintain the outside strategy. We made clear to the MPRB staff that we would only do this consulting work while also maintaining our outside game. We would continue to engage community partners and develop parks equity forums and other community events that would engage community members in articulating their vision for our parks. Not only would we continue our community-based grassroots strategy – we might use the knowledge we gain from being an inside partner to advance our outside game.
  3. Stay transparent. Our credibility with our community partners is important and core to how we do our work as organizers. Those relationships are based on years of building trust and being accountable to each other. So our transparency is first to those partners. We will continue to write about what we are learning and share how developing this inside-outside strategy is advancing parks equity. We will also share the challenges to this work, knowing that many lessons will emerge. Similarly, we will be transparent with our institutional partners. They deserve our honesty in this hard work of building racial equity and we believe that commitment will actually help them be successful as internal racial equity champions.

So stay tuned as we practice all three commitments in the months to come. We are at a turning point in how we achieve racial equity in Minnesota and across the country. The urgency is shared by many of us, regardless of which side of the door we are on. We hope to practice the courage and humility to follow through on what we in our shared communities want for a more racially just and fair world.


OUR MPLS is Not One Minneapolis

On December 1, the Minneapolis City Council Budget Subcommittee voted 7-6 to cut the mayor’s proposed property tax levy by .2 percent, meaning about $620,000 less in revenue. This decreased revenue would hit programs we as Voices for Racial Justice and OUR MPLS partners know add to the process of breaking down the disparities in Minneapolis. It was just about one year ago that the OUR MPLS partnership came together after an election that promised greater city leadership for racial equity to begin envisioning what we thought racial equity would look like. The result was the OUR MPLS Agenda for Racial and Economic Justice. Now a year later, we are faced with a City Council that shows lack of vision and deep division on the issues that should matter the most to a city with some the worst racial disparities in the nation. It is clear that OUR MPLS is far from being One Minneapolis.

The Problem

The issue is where these cuts would take place: funding for the One Minneapolis initiative (to support diverse leadership development and community engagement, which is already underfunded and currently supports the Politics is Local training); a racial disparities study that Council Member Glidden has stated is necessary to justify City efforts to close disparities in contracting; counseling and outreach for new homeowners; and substantial reduction of the funding for the Clean Energy Initiative.

Council Member Palmisano also moved to cut the funding for the new Office of Equitable Outcomes in half (from $250,000 to $125,000). This was prevented (but just barely) by a 7-6 vote.
These actions display deep division on our City Council on commitment to racial equity and climate justice. See the notes from the Budget Subcommittee and this Star Tribune article for more information.
What Can We Do
We have time before the December 10 final approval of the budget to change their minds. Please attend the December 10 6pm meeting to show support for racial equity and climate priorities.
But before then and as OUR MPLS partners and allies, please take the time to contact City Council members. Those who voted in favor of these cuts were CMs Reich, Frey, Barb Johnson, Yang, Warsame, Goodman, and Palmisano. Please contact them and encourage them to reconsider their position in the final vote. Ask them to support the community’s desire for a movement toward a more equitable Minneapolis that is inclusive of all residents. Even these small investments matter and decreasing property taxes by an average of $2.50 per residence is not worth cutting these important investments. While you are at it, contact a City Council member who is standing with racial equity and climate justice (Council Members Gordon, Glidden, Cano, Bender, Quincy, and Andrew Johnson) and thank them. Here is a chart with all City Council contact information:
City Council Phone Numbers