By Charles Hallman
Governor Mark Dayton in April issued a 17-page “response and next steps” report that addressed several topics of particular interest to the state’s African Americans, including expanding employment opportunities, educational disparities, second chances for ex-offenders, diversity in state hiring, and expanding business opportunities for Blacks and other people of color.
Dayton promised to provide the report at the conclusion of a March 30 summit held at UROC in North Minneapolis [“Governor promises swift action following Black Economic Summit,”
MSR, April 7]. “What we were talking about at the economic forum was specifically looking at the…disenfranchisement, the high unemployment rate and underemployment rate facing African Americans,” recalls University of St. Thomas Law Professor Nekima Levy-Pounds.
“We will take immediate action where we can,” wrote Dayton. “We also need to begin laying a new foundation for long-term, sustainable change.”
The MSR recently asked Levy-Pounds and others who attended and in some cases spoke at the March summit to comment on Dayton’s report.
“I applaud the governor for getting the report out,” noted State Representative Jeff Hayden (DFL-Minneapolis), who co-chaired the standing-room-only meeting.
TLC Precision Wafer Technology President Timothy Childs, who spoke at the summit on job training and creation in underserved communities, said the report “is a good first response” and credited Dayton for following through. However, Childs would like to see key Dayton administration officials take the next step and directly communicate their plans to the Black community.
“We need their reports, accountability, timelines and objectives and criteria, and for them to be transparent to the community and get community input,” Childs said. “I think that would help.”
Levy-Pounds, who spoke on educational disparities at the summit, called the report simply “a description of the programs currently in place. I think beyond that you need to critically analyze the effectiveness of the programs, and there needs to be a specific focus on evaluating the impact of those programs on African American residents in Minnesota.
“How many people are being served, what percentage are African Americans, and how can you gauge the effectiveness of the programs that are already in place?”
Levy-Pounds added that she wanted to read “what [programs] the State of Minnesota should retain and what programs need to be on the chopping block because they simply are not effective. I also believe that there were areas in the report where the response seemed to be there is a need for legislation, and until that happens, there really isn’t much that can be done.
“I would counter that position by saying, ‘We still need to find creative solutions. “Because of the climate at the legislature, that legislation is not plausible,” Levy-Pounds said.
Judge Pamela Alexander, the president of the Council on Crime and Justice, spoke at the summit about the need to make it easier for employers to hire individuals with prior criminal records. She publicly supported two bills: 1) removing questions about criminal and credit history from all employment applications, and 2) allowing judges to decide, on a case-by-case basis, if a felony-level charge of a 16- or 17-year-old is serious or violent enough to warrant a public hearing and record.
Neither bill got through this year’s state legislative session.
“Legislation is not the only way to address these issues,” said Alexander in her follow-up letter to Gov. Dayton. “He didn’t really address” her concerns, she said in a brief phone interview.
“I was pleased that he met the deadline [of issuing the report within nine days], but disappointed that there wasn’t much substance,” noted Lissa Jones, who attended the summit. “It essentially said that my hands are tied almost everywhere, and that was the same story coming into the Economic Summit. [It] didn’t mean much.
“What I would like to have seen,” Jones pointed out, “is what the governor is going to do about it. What do you have the power to do? What do you have the power to do…and to translate that to jobs and economic development [in the Black community]?”
Both Alexander and New Salem Baptist Church Pastor Rev. Jerry McAfee told the MSR that since the report’s release they have met with Dayton’s staff to further discuss such issues as job creation and criminal justice. “I think we are heading in the right direction,” McAfee said.
Added Jones, “It’s interesting how many people are meeting with the governor. My interest is figuring out who’s meeting and about what, and who’s representing us and saying what.”
However, Rep. Hayden points out, “I am encouraged that the governor is fully participating with our community. What we are going to do over the summer is to really work on making sure that those opportunities and dollars get to our community with the necessary legislation to push for things that we need to change.”
“We can’t just rely on what Gov. Dayton tries to do,” said Childs. “It’s time for the community to rally together, pull together, and help each other.”
Gov. Dayton called the report “a first step in…an ongoing partnership to move forward together.”
Said Levy-Pounds, “I’ll be interested in seeing what the next steps are.”
The entire Economic Summit report can be found at http://governor.state.mn.us.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to email@example.com.