Advocacy groups’ proposal aligns surplus dollars with eliminating disparities
When the announcement came that Minnesota had seen a two billion dollar surplus last year, every segment of Minnesota society added their voices to how the money should be used. Residents in the Iron Range had their ideas for using the money, and other rural and urban interests chimed in as well, each advocating for its own pet priority.
Among those voices have been advocacy groups representing Minnesota’s communities of color, who have seen and suffered historic achievement gaps compared to White Minnesotans overall. This includes the NAACP Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference and the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage.
The groups joined together and sent out letters that have set in motion a chain of events in the highest levels of Minnesota government intended to begin addressing the disparities between Black and White Minnesotans. The first letter, dated March 22, was sent to State Legislators, urging that they “support Governor Dayton’s 2016-2017 supplemental budget to address disparities affecting Minnesotan communities of color. We applaud the Governor’s vision in addressing these needs.”
That letter contains recommendations for specific areas of concentration:
• Police/Community Relations
• Jobs and Economic Development
• Human Rights
• Arts and Culture
Nekima Levy-Pounds, president of the Minneapolis NAACP, said, “That letter was a reinforcement of the concerns that we had expressed about how slow our state has been moving in taking steps to address the disparities, and how we need to expend resources in order to address the concerns of people of color in this state.”
Another letter drafted and sent by the NAACP State Conference was in support of a third-party audit of state agencies in order “to identify actions for the State of Minnesota to maximize inclusive participation in the areas of equal economic opportunity for protected class people and to eliminate problems, barriers and impediments to inclusion.”
The audit would encompass reviews of the state’s compliance with:
• The Minnesota Human Rights Act
• Department of Administrative and Procurement Act
• Statewide Affirmative Action Program
Included in the audit proposal are guidelines for the process of selecting persons who would conduct such an audit, how the audit would be conducted and what it would look for, and how its findings would be reported to the governor. While it was not known at the time of this writing whether any State Legislators had joined the effort, Governor Mark Dayton clearly expressed his support in a press conference held on April 28, with officers of a few Minnesota NAACP chapters.
At the conference, Dayton said, “Our state workforce must better reflect the people we serve. I look forward to working with these working group members to review this audit’s findings, and then implementing the group’s recommendations. I thank each of them for their important community leadership.”
“The purpose of the audit is to identify noncompliance as it relates to these legislative mandates…so that the state of Minnesota can take action that will aid in maximizing inclusive participation, equal economic opportunities, and the elimination of barriers and impediments to inclusion for protected class citizens, and thus, all Minnesotans,” said NAACP State Conference President William Jordan of the audit, adding that, “The audit will be the first of its kind in the country.”
Also present at the press conference with Jordan were Jeffrey Martin, president of the St. Paul NAACP, Denise Fales, president of the St. Cloud branch, and Levy-Pounds, who told us “I would say that it’s great that we have a governor and some of our legislators highlighting the racial disparities issue and being willing to advocate for the allocation of resources to address racial disparities, but we are still waiting to see results from these initiatives. So I’m cautiously optimistic; but I can’t stop too soon — not until I see some tangible results.”
When asked if success with this initiative would have any effect on returning Minnesota’s reputation as a progressive state, Levy-Pounds answered, “Exactly. That’s what we’re fighting for, as well as even the way people frame the issues. We’re saying, stop using a ‘Minnesota nice’ lens to explain what’s happening and tell the truth.”
Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.