At Voices for Racial Justice (VRJ) we work with intergenerational, multi-cultural, and communities of color, addressing disparities throughout the state of MN, many of whom are uniquely impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. This crisis has heightened existing structures of economic and racial disparities across our state. We are making adjustments to our programing as well as taking on rapid response direct support work given the urgent needs communities are facing. To understand how our work and programs have shifted see the information below.
If you have questions about programs at Voices for Racial Justice please contact Fayise Abrahim at firstname.lastname@example.org
RESEARCH & POLICY
Working in coalition with other organizations through digital advocacy is more important now than ever. Our Policy and Research Director, Brett Grant is providing support to local coalitions including research as well as advocacy strategy to campaigns necessary for the well being of BIPOC communities. We are also in coalition with the “People-Centered Response to Covid-19” made up of 50+ organizations, and we are in support of the MN Asset Building Coalition (MABC), the Coalition of Asian American Leaders (CAAL), and The Minnesota Family Investment Program-Cost of Living Adjustment (MFIP-COLA) Coalition led by Legal Services Advocacy Project (LSAP) . COVID-19 has increased the need for awareness of how federal policy affects state and local policy. As a result of these efforts, VRJ has joined a team of local organizations, including TakeAction Minnesota and African Career, Education & Resource (ACER) to invite federal legislators to a series of tele-townhall meetings with a coalition of organizations coming together to make sure local, state and federal government advances a people-centered response to the COVID-19 public health emergency. To learn more about what these legislative actions are please follow us on social media and check future Research & Policy blog posts. We believe the best response to this crisis is one that centers racial equity and justice, is well-funded and fast. Education and conversations around federal policy are necessary given concerns and questions related to distribution of funds for: direct payments to individuals and families; unemployment insurance benefits; accountability and equity measures put in place for large corporations; small businesses; hospitals and personal protective equipment; and many other provisions. Last, The Quiltmagazine will be accompanied with a future podcast in collaboration with our partners, which will be a part of The Quilt Digital Platform. Like the magazine, the podcast will continue to bridge policy, advocacy, art & healing.
BRIDGE FAMILY NETWORK-PRISON JUSTICE
We know that the re-entry process must be re-imagined under the challenging circumstances of a pandemic. The BRIDGE Family network is in regular conversation with incarcerated loved ones and their family members struggling to make sense of what it means to go home at a time when we are on a statewide lock down. The BRIDGE network is working to keep the community central to the conversation on visioning what re-entry looks like at this time. Our Director of Criminal Justice, Kevin Reese and BRIDGE community advocates have been in conversation with the DOC leadership and State Ombudsperson and have shared apetition based on community requests of the Governor, MN Legislature, and DOC. We are in partnership with the MN DOC and are asking that they make public who is coming home in advance during the pandemic so their loved ones prepare to receive them. VRJ and the BRIDGE network are advocating for the immediate decrease of the prison population by keeping various community recommendations central to the conversation on re-entry. The BRIDGE network is reaching out to halfway houses, sober houses and other transition facilities, to explore what challenges and needs they are having at this moment. The BRIDGE wants to help better prepare safe spaces to receive technical violators, medically high risk, and or elderly who could be released back into the community during the pandemic. We are also looking at the mental health impact on the network and planning for the support they will need.
Although Census may not seem like a priority under COVID 19, we can not let the pandemic prevent us from having a successful Census count to protect BIPOC communities in the future. A successful Census count is even more necessary for the wellbeing of Black, immigrant, communities of color and Indigenous communities impacted by the pandemic. A successful CENSUS count ensures our communities have the money to access the resources needed to be safe and healthy. We are determined to find ways to make Census engagement accessible under social distancing measures. Our Racial Justice and Health Equity Organizer, Mónica Hurtado is doing both the work of COVID 19 rapid response support to communities impacted while providing education on the importance of the Census. She is working as a connector, connecting individuals to organizations and resources to solve immediate problems, while serving as a resource to address questions and concerns related to the crisis and available direct services. She has been available to folks who have questions as they complete the application or who are supporting others to complete the CENSUS application by phone, including Whatsapp. We will now host our CENSUS engagement events online in support of folks who are wanting to learn how to apply and to support leaders doing outreach in marginalized communities to increase the number of the CENSUS count.
Connectedness is key. Our Education Equity Parent Fellowship Cohort is a network of BIPOC parents who come to VRJ twice a month to fellowship around racial equity challenges in their schools. The parents and families in our networks have been directly impacted by the pandemic in many ways. We are continuing to provide support to parents in our network by now hosting weekly digital gatherings to stay in regular communication given the new challenges parents are facing. Our alumni from previous Education Equity Parent Fellowship Cohorts are still excited to come back as trainers virtually. By adding two additional digital gatherings a month, we hope to offer more healing spaces and tools. VRJ is also tracking and sharing the resources available to parents and families. Furthermore, The Advancing Equity Coalition work in support of Minneapolis Public Schools Comprehensive District Design (CDD) plan is now being facilitated virtually, through email, and by phone as well as key meetings with district administrators and community leaders. Coalition and EDIA meetings are being held virtually as well as hearings for legislation for teachers of color and discipline testimony. Please note the public comments section of MPS School Board meetings will be online and parents, youth and key stakeholders have and can sign up in advance.
As we continue to practice physical distancing, Voices for Racial Justice is concerned about our networks in greater Minnesota. Our rural networks consist of many immigrant and refugee people many of whom work in food processing facilities. We have heard from concerned community members about workers in processing facilities that are elderly, immuno-compromised, or have underlying chronic health issues who are continuing to go to work. Bi-lingual community liaisons in our networks are prioritizing the need to educate and translate the quarantine recommendations as well as requests for support with processing applications for medical assistance and or unemployment. Community liaisons are concerned the number of folks needing help processing applications and translations will be very high in towns like Worthington, MN where there is a high number of non-English speaking communities who are not able to navigate or access digital resources. We are working with bilingual community liaisons to troubleshoot how to best advocate for resources to support education, translation, processing applications and so on. The voices of BIPOC elders in Greater MN are central to the visioning and advocacy work of a locally run heritage and cultural center. Learn more about this campaign here. VRJ is working with leaders in rural MN to troubleshoot how to continue engaging elders in the visioning of a community cultural center while also identifying resources for those with immediate needs.
This spring we planned to release our new training modules in our “Let Our Ancestors Lead” toolkit that aims to build power through collective cultural and healing strategies for racial justice across Minnesota using organizing, leadership training, community policy and research. We will now share the modules in an online open house followed by an intimate workshopping of the training tools and materials. We are building our internal infrastructure to make our training, shared learning exchanges, and gatherings accessible digitally and by phone. Our Bridge Prison Justice Writing Cohort with guest writers will start in the summer and be facilitated online, along with our upcoming restorative justice cultural and shared learning exchanges featuring elders in our community whose work focuses on peacekeeping and addressing conflict and harm. Approaches to advocacy that are sensitive to pain, grief and trauma are essential for people working under a pandemic and crisis response. We will be sharing more of our Healing Justice tools and workshops and will be offering online community gatherings that will ground trauma-informed conversations on soil tending in our communities and movements in this moment.