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.
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.