Forum addresses state of the Black community

Mpls meeting takes on crisis in education, economics, health, public safety

By Charles Hallman
Staff Writer

Natalie Johnson Lee served as moderator at the September 26 meeting discussing issues in the Black community.

Some believe that the “state of the Black community” in Minneapolis has reached crisis-like proportions in many key areas, such as education, economic development, health and public safety.

Reportedly over 100 people attended a September 26 four-hour meeting at North High School to address the aforementioned problems. “I think that there were many calls to action,” remarked moderator Natalie Johnson Lee afterwards. “Some [speakers] gave us food for thought. Some gave us action to go forth with. Some challenged us to do something different.”

Minnesota Citizens for Reform and Economic Equality Executive Director Troy Parker, one of seven scheduled persons who spoke last weekend, said any Black community agenda devised must hold “our community and our representatives accountable as well.”

However, before the Black community embarks on such an agenda, some healing might need to take place, suggested New Salem Baptist Church Senior Pastor Rev.
Jerry McAfee. “We need a meeting in our community that centers on reconciliation,” he pointed out. “We need to get into a room, deal with our differences, and come out with a set plan. So when we go to our mayor, governor [and] city council people, we’ve got a sound agenda that’s been thought out.”

Rev. Jerry McAfee: “When we get on one common agenda and speak with one voice, we can make this thing work.” Photos: Charles Hallman

“It’s time to step up,” Spike Moss told the audience as he offered a brief historical timeline. Things for Black folk in this country just didn’t occur because of the economic downturn, he quickly pointed out, reminding those in attendance that Jim Crow didn’t just happen in the South, but also decades ago in Minneapolis where Blacks were primarily segregated and discriminated against on the city’s North Side.

“You better not go from North to Northeast,” recalled Moss. “You couldn’t walk on Plymouth [Avenue] without being harassed by police.”

The Black community needs more economic development, says Ethnic Homes President Roxanne Givens. “It is basically bringing money into the community, and money that already is in the community [gets] to stay in the community,” she explained. The North Side native added, “I remember when North Minneapolis was booming: We had restaurants, bookstores, art galleries, barber shops, beauty shops and grocery stores, and [Blacks] owned them. That was about 20 years ago.”

There have been 20 years of “quick fixes,” continued Givens. “Look at where it has gotten us now.”

Minneapolis NAACP Chapter President Booker Hodges decried the seemingly annual poor test scores for many Black schoolchildren — over half are failing in reading in fourth grade and it reaches nearly 70 percent by the time they are 10th-graders. “If we can’t read, write, add and do science, it doesn’t matter if we become the majority,” said Hodges. “We have to make it unacceptable for us [Blacks] not to value education.”

Speaking of Black mental health issues, African American Family Services Executive Director Lissa Jones said, “It’s very difficult if not impossible to understand the lifestyles of Black people using traditional theories developed by White psychologists to explain White people.” In her estimation, this approach usually produces “many incorrect, weakness-dominated and inferiority-oriented conclusions [about Blacks]” by non-Black health professionals, she added.

Although the state’s Black population hovers around single-digit percentages, 37 percent of Minnesota’s prison population is Black, asserted Turning Point President/CEO Peter Hayden, many of which are serving time for non-violent crimes, such as drug possession, he added. “There are more people in prison than getting aid to be a better person,” Hayden surmised.

Furthermore, McAfee believe that the Black community needs to do something similar to the Tea Party, such as spark “a revolution,” calling it “the P.E.A. party” — “Poverty enough already, penalize enough already, punish enough already,” he said.

Overall, the consensus last Saturday was that something must be quickly done to address the various concerns now confronting Minneapolis’ Black community on a united front.

“We’re talking about community change,” reaffirmed Hayden. “This was a grassroots meeting to light the fire [on community residents]. Here are the [five] issues that are important …and are hurting our community.”

Last Saturday’s event coordinator, Al Flowers, admitted, “I wanted to put the event on so they [others] know it’s a broad range of people saying the same thing, and not just me.”

“What came out of this I do believe,” said Johnson Lee, “was a list of solutions or actions that could lead to solutions.”

“I want to see people put forth action and not just talk,” observed Darrell Mackenzie, a minister at the True Church of Jesus Christ in Robbinsdale, who accepted Flowers’ invitation to speak to the crowd. Mackenzie said he wants public safety issues more closely addressed. “We have people that are paid to protect and serve, that are actually the ones who are hindering and hurting [Black people].”

McAfee said he wants community leaders to immediately contact county prosecutors on why some Metro Gang Strike Force members who were accused of committing misconduct haven’t been charged after an investigation discovered that officers allegedly acted improperly.

LaDonna Pierson also spoke. She said she’d hoped that more Blacks had attended as well, believing the meeting could have been better advertised. “I’m happy to see this and [to] be here. To get more people out to those events, we have to know about them ourselves,” she surmised.

Flowers said that follow-up meetings will be planned, including another public session similar to last Saturday’s for January around the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

“What happens too many times is that things get accomplished, but it never gets reported back to the community,” warns Johnson Lee.

Parker added that all subsequent meetings should be open to the public.
“This problem is going to take all of us [to solve],” said McAfee. “We need to unify as a community. When we get on one common agenda and speak with one voice, we can make this thing work.”

“It cannot be business as usual if we want change,” noted Givens. “There are some serious problems out here. We need to develop some serious leadership…that takes our talk and is not so self-centered. We have to be consistent in our message.

“A quick fix is not what we need,” she concluded.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to