Minneapolis: A Tale of Two Cities



By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer


A new Minneapolis Foundation report claims that racial disparities and other factors have essentially changed Minneapolis into “two cities” — one for the haves and another for the have-nots. “What are we going to do?” Foundation Vice President Karen Kelley-Ariwoola asked as she recently discussed the findings of the 60-page “OneMinneapolis” report released in October.

Co-authored with the Wilder Foundation, the Minneapolis Foundation report selected 24 community indicators that reflect the city’s educational, economic and social environment. It sketched “a portrait of the Minneapolis landscape” and found disparities in such areas as education, children and youth, and economic vitality.

The report’s “Points of Concern” include:

• 83 percent of the jobs in Minneapolis are held by Whites.

•Low-income Black households in the city are the least likely to have affordable housing.

• Half of the city’s Black, Native American and Asian children live in poverty — 10,080 Black children “vastly outnumber” other children of color living in poverty and account for one-half of all Minneapolis children who live in poverty.

• There are more Black families in poverty (about 5,200) than families of any other racial group.

• Just over half of the third graders in Minneapolis read at grade level, while the others are considered at risk to later fail or drop out of school. Also, about three-fourths of students who are poor readers in third grade will remain this way all through high school.

• There are at least 50 percentage points between Minneapolis Public Schools (MPS) White students, who make up only a third of all third graders in the city, and students of color in third-grade reading proficiency. Nearly nine in 10 White students are proficient in reading.

• Fewer than one-half of Minneapolis’ high school students leave with a diploma in four years.

The report found evidence of the current recession in Minneapolis, where the number of residents living in poverty is growing and they are overburdened by rising housing costs. Furthermore, fewer residents are finding employment.

Kelley-Ariwoola believes that based on these and other findings, in Minneapolis “right now, we’re a tale of two cities. There are a group of people in our community that are thriving, and for the most part they are White. And there are a group of people that are not thriving, and for the most part they are low-income people of color.

“We’re living in two different realities,” she pointed out. The report should serve as “a wake-up call for [City] policymakers” as well as everyone else who lives and works in the city.

“Every institution and organization in our community has a responsibility to close the gap,” said Kelley-Ariwoola. “We as individuals can do our part to help close the gap.”

Al Frost, the athletic director at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School, agrees with Kelley-Ariwoola on her “two cities” theory.

“There is a large gap between those who are arrested, prosecuted and sent to prison,” says Frost, a longtime city resident. “Black men seem to get the bulk of it. You go down to city hall and watch the arraignments — Blacks, Native Americans, Blacks and Latinos. I think it goes back to the arresting officer — they make the decision that gets the slammer.”

On the educational gap, “I think each Black parent should make sure that their child is kindergarten-ready,” he continues. “We as Black parents for a long time have relied on the system, where we expected other people to take care of us.”

According to the “OneMinneapolis” report, kindergarteners of all races are more likely to be ready for school now than they were in 2006. MPS data used in the study showed that 70 percent of students are ready for kindergarten; 67 percent are Black.

However, the proficiency gap emerges once students reach third grade. District officials reported an 11 percent, four-year drop in third-grade reading proficiency from 65 percent in 2006 to 54 percent in 2010.

“This is data that we think is really important for the community to know about and understand,” said Kelley-Ariwoola. “More importantly, we think it’s input for the community to use as a tool.

“I think one of the most important things is that there is a cumulative and collateral effect of this data,” she continues. “If you have a parent who is not working, it wouldn’t be a surprise if that [also] is a family that is struggling to have stable housing. If you have housing that is not stable…your kids might not be doing well in school.”

Kelley-Ariwoola says that copies of the report have been handed out to various local officials, and she has met with Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak and MPS Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson among others. She also suggests that the city’s faith communities look at the report. “I said to my pastor, ‘I would love to hear you talk about this data from the pulpit.’”

The “OneMinneapolis” report is part of a strategic plan the Minneapolis Foundation launched in 2009 to help advance social, economic and racial equity in the city. Kelley-Ariwoola surmised that 40 percent of the city’s population now consists of Blacks and other people of color.

“If we can’t close these gaps, we will never realize that vision of one Minneapolis,” she notes. “The reason why we did this report is because we believe that it can be done.”

“I don’t know,” admits Frost when asked what it will ultimately take to close these gaps. However, he does feel that more Blacks and other people of color must be in decision-making roles.


The entire “OneMinneapolis” report can be downloaded at www.OneMinneapolis.org.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.