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.



Inequality in America: What Are We Doing About It?

photoBy Teresa Moreland, OAP HECUA Intern

As the end of the legislative session nears, as well as my last semester as an undergraduate student, I have been contemplating what my role in the social justice world should be. As a little girl I was taught to treat everyone as I would like to be treated, and since then I have strived to do so. I remember the first time I saw an injustice that made me want to take action, and when I brought my concern to the attention of an adult in my life they told me it wasn’t my problem, so I should just “leave it alone”. Unfortunately that message is one I’ve heard over and over throughout my life, yet I have managed to fight against it.

I am a high school dropout turned college student. When I dropped out of high school I didn’t care too much about the world or myself. I think I got sick of not caring about anything and decided to get my GED and go to college to help people. I have always enjoyed putting a smile on people’s faces, either by joking around or lending an extra hand, and I decided that was my calling.  So, five years ago I started college at MCTC, where I completed my Associate of Arts degree and a Women’s Studies Certificate with the goal of becoming a social worker. I then transferred to the University of Minnesota where I majored in Family Social Science.

I am grateful that this semester I was accepted to be a research intern for OAP. I helped put the 2013 racial justice bill watch together and did any research the organization needed done. I have also tracked the bills on the bill watch throughout this session, and with no prior experience of the legislative process, I am leaving OAP with a wealth of knowledge. This has also been a way for me to be involved in an issue, that at the beginning of the semester I didn’t think directly affected me, racial justice.

I found OAP through my internship “matchmaker” assigned to me from the educational program I am enrolled in this semester called HECUA. HECUA stands for Higher Education Consortium for Urban Affairs. There are multiple HECUA programs offered in the Twin Cities and across the globe, but the one I am in is titled Inequality in America: Policy, Community, and the Politics of Empowerment. In this program we go into great depth on issues surrounding poverty, inequality, and social change. HECUA introduces students to the amazing social change work going on in Minnesota communities, OAP being one of those organizations. We look at factors of inequality such as the economy, housing systems, education, welfare, government policies, urban sprawl, regional race and class segregation, and institutional discrimination to better understand the complexities and inequalities, not just in Minnesota, but worldwide. This experience has taught me so much, and has stirred in me a lot of questions as to where I will end up, and what I can do to best help the suffering.

Since I started college I have been challenged by numerous professors in the helping profession to deeply examine my motives as a helper. Honestly, from the beginning I just wanted to make a positive difference in the world-the thought process didn’t go much deeper. But as I have evolved in my studies I realize that when I see others suffer, I suffer. That is because I believe we are all interconnected, whether we like it or not, and I buy into the systems framework that we are only as healthy as the sum of all our parts. I don’t think we are living in a healthy society. What I have learned at OAP and HECUA this semester is that there are huge disparities, especially in communities of color and poor communities, preventing a large portion of this country from living healthy lives. With limited access to well paying jobs, affordable housing, quality education (including early childhood education), healthcare, and the growing income inequality in this country many people are suffering, and it’s time that more of us step up to do something about it.

As I come to the end of an extremely empowering journey I want to extend my thanks to the HECUA staff and instructors who have given me a clear understanding of the disparities and inequalities that exist in this country, and also to OAP for giving me an example of what action on these issues looks like. Being a helper is my calling, and I want to devote my life to being a resource to others trying to accomplish their goals of equity and justice. I leave OAP and my undergraduate experience with a quote from one of the most influential peacemakers, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, what are you doing for others?”


Communities of Color Oppose NRA Bill – Stand Together at March 12 Press Conference


Protect Minnesota: Working to End Gun Violence

and The Organizing Apprenticeship Project

MARCH 11, 2013

Contact:  Leroy Duncan, community organizer, Protect Minnesota

(612) 432-9672leroy@protectmn.org

Communities of Color Oppose Rep. Hilstrom/NRA Gun Bill: News Conference March 12 11 a.m.

ST. PAUL – Leaders representing communities of color will gather Tuesday to oppose a bill introduced by State Representative Deb Hilstrom and NRA leaders last week.  The Organizing Apprenticeship Project, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, Shiloh Temple International Ministries, New Salem Baptist Church, Joint Heirs in Christ Ministries and other groups will be joined by elected officials, citizens and a fast-growing coalition of gun violence prevention groups.  The groups will urge DFL leaders to oppose any bill with language enacting mandatory minimum sentencing, creating new felony crimes unrelated to prevention, or neglecting to close the gun background check gap.

“Minnesota has an inequity, or racial disparity, problem. The achievement gap ranks us at the very bottom in the entire nation and African Americans are more than twice as likely to be unemployed than their white peers. We need to limit access to deadly weapons, create social opportunity now, and save lives,”  said Leroy Duncan, community organizer with Protect Minnesota. “Bills like H.F. 1325 mistakenly misplace the issue of gun violence on communities of color by creating penalties that, historically, are disproportionately enforced on those communities. We’re convening because we need leadership to do what’s right for Minnesotan families; their quest for political convenience won’t only fail to prevent gun violence, but will only increase the disparities that exist in our state.”

Who: Communities of color, faith and community groups.

When: Tues, Mar. 12 at 11 a.m.

Where: State Capitol, in front of House Chambers

What: Communities of color oppose Hilstrom/NRA gun bill

  • H.F. 1325 contains two measures that are harmful and, if enacted, would, likely, disproportionately impact communities of color, and lacks the one measure that would benefit all communities.
  • Instates mandatory minimum sentences for citizens lawfully prohibited from possessing a firearm.
  • Creates new felony offenses that are unrelated to prevention. The Paymar bill, HF 237, by contrast, contains anti-trafficking language that prevents offenders from taking part in trafficking – without incarcerating them.

Fails to close the background check gap that allows gun sales without background checks at gun shows, on line, at flea markets and all over the state .