The first of four community meetings to introduce Park Board candidates was held in the North High School auditorium on Thursday, September 7. Resmaa Menakem and Kenya McKnight moderated the event of 50-80 people.
Parks & Power, a campaign dedicated to grassroots community organizing for racial equity and justice in Minneapolis’ parks system, and Northside Fresh, a coalition of groups committed to working towards a more sustainable food system in north Minneapolis, coordinated the event for District 1 (Northeast) and District 2 (North Side). Northside Fresh provided refreshments, and Voice of Culture Drum and Dance youth group provided the entertainment during intermission. The NorthSide Fresh Policy Action Team and City officials released the first-ever Food Justice Platform for park board and city council candidates.
Jake Virden, organizer for the Parks & Power campaign, established the historical foundation: “First, I would like to take a step back and acknowledge where we are. We are on Dakota land — stolen Dakota land. This whole contest for power in the 2017 municipal elections is built on a context of stolen labor.”
McKnight’s sentiment included the neighborhood. “I need to honor the fact this is the home of a diverse community, but historically [it is] Black people. You are also in the home of the Polars [North High mascot]. A lot of time, commitment and energy went into keeping these doors open. We have to pay respect to that.”
Chris Meyer and Billy Menz represented District 1 candidates and North High alumnus Kale Severson and Park Board coach Michael Tate were vying for District 2. The panel discussions concerned food justice issues, urban farming and healthy alternative snacks in vending machines for parks, policing, recreation and the environment. They also talked about the 20-year plan to annually commit $11 million to revitalize the 157 neighborhood parks in Minneapolis.
“I feel we need to make a system that works for us,” said Menz. “I want us to engage our youth in strong relationship programming for the long haul.”
Meyer, endorsed by the DFL, described climate change as the “moral crisis” of our era, in addition to wanting to help rid parks of their “racist legacy.” He explained how at one time neighborhoods were redlined to reduce investment in certain communities. Meyer said over-investing in targeted neighborhoods could undo the legacy of White supremacy.
Meyer described a plaque of Christopher Columbus at a northeast Minneapolis Park depicting him as gallant and brilliant. “Those are adjectives we should never use to describe a genocidal murderer [who epitomizes White supremacy].”
The candidates were asked what they hoped to accomplish if elected. Menz was optimistic about working in a collective community effort: “It needs to be less of I can do this and more we can do this.” He added, “Look to the groups creating change in the community. Use the land for agriculture and create engagement programs for the youth.”
Meyer recalled a first-hand experience of using agriculture. “Last spring, at the Arbor Day Foundation, I attempted to donate 500 fruits and vegetables. [The produce was] turned down because the vast majority of our parks are not zoned for urban agriculture. That is something I want to change, [in addition to] more space for community gardens.”
Severson, known for his work in the Northside community, paid respects to McKnight for her efforts in the North High initiative to keep the school’s doors open. If he is elected to the Park Board, he wants to be a transfer of power through his work in the North High Alumni Association and as the school’s athletic director.
“I’m running to be a revolutionary, not a reformer,” Severson said. He said because of his history with North High, he is committed to keeping the school open.
Severson is getting stiff competition from Tate, who has been Park Board coach for four decades. “The reason I’m running is our parks make a difference for the whole city of Minneapolis,” Tate said.
“I have given my life to the North Side and the Park Board for 40 years and decided to become a part of the solution. One thing I’m not going to let you do is talk down about North Minneapolis. When we use phrases like ‘hood,’ that’s not equitable. Stop it,” said Tate.
A question from the audience about park policing was directed to the District 2 panelists. Tate took the position of policing building relationships for the greater good of the children. “I call this inclusion, where our cops will get involved with our kids, not only on a local level but a professional level,” he said.
“That’s our problem in our Minneapolis Parks. We need more inclusion with our police, and I would add people of color to that staff.”
Severson felt differently: “The police are harming our kids and community, and that’s a fact.” He referred to the April edition of an employee newsletter, where six park police officers were honored for their work.
“That is not a feature to me,” he said, “it is an issue. Officer Charles Adams has built an effective relationship with young Black men. He would be a great person to look at for leadership on this issue.”
Ivan B. Phifer welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com