The following commentary has been submitted by the executive director of the African American Leadership Forum on behalf of the organization.
In a series of sustained and unrelenting attacks, the Minneapolis StarTribune newspaper has declared an “Open Season on Black Leaders.”
Beginning with a series of articles appearing last fall (2014) against African American Senators Bobby Joe Champion and Jeff Hayden, the newspaper has engaged in a non-stop series of character attacks questioning the integrity and credibility of long-established African American leaders like Louis King, CEO of Summit Academy OIC, and now Scott Gray, CEO & president of the Minneapolis Urban League, Peter Hayden, CEO of Turning Point, Inc., and Al McFarlane, editor in chief of Insight News.
A recurrent theme in each of the articles, if read closely, is the undercurrent of references to Senators Champion and Hayden and their role in either lobbying for or passing legislation to fund African American organizations or initiatives. Take your pick: Community Standards Initiative (CSI), Summit Academy OIC, and now the Minneapolis Urban League.
In an interesting paradox, all of the articles are about how the African American organizations haven’t fulfilled their promises — yet, in each and every instance, what these organizations have been called upon to do is to repair the damage done by the failings of our public and private institutions. Whether it’s the failure of our public education system or failure of our public and private employment systems, Minnesota’s institutions have failed to educate African American children and failed to employ African American workers in the same manner as it has done for its White citizens.
It is beyond dispute that that Minnesota has one of the worst Black/White educational achievement gaps in the entire United States; and, it has been documented by the StarTribune itself that Minneapolis has the worst Black/White employment gap in the entire country. So, when African American organizations are metaphorically called upon to revive the dying patient, they take the blame when the patient dies!
To date, in none of the articles published by the StarTribune has there been any proof of wrongdoing or impropriety by any of these leaders. In the cases of Senators Champion and Hayden, there has been no proof of wrongdoing despite repeated Republican-led, politically motivated legislative hearings during which numerous witnesses have been called to testify.
Despite the lack of evidence, the drumbeat goes on, putting forth nothing more than a series of hearsay allegations and innuendos, all of which have the obvious intent of damaging the characters and reputations of Senators Champion and Hayden. And, the real damage is that the general public believes the insinuations and innuendos despite the lack of proof. They are being unilaterally condemned in the court of public opinion. And to whom do they submit their rebuttal? To the same (StarTribune) news media that is accusing them in the first place?
The most recent article appearing on Monday, April 13, 2015 is entitled, “Minneapolis Urban League accused of potential double billing.” It casts aspersions upon the Minneapolis Urban League and its CEO & President Scott Gray concerning its educational programs, the 13th Grade and Urban League Academy.
If one simply examines the title, red flags should immediately be raised! How can an organization be accused of “potential” impropriety or wrongdoing — there is no such thing as “potential” wrongdoing. If there were, every human being on earth would be guilty!
If one reads through the entire article concerning the Minneapolis Urban League, one will find a scarcity of actual facts. The implication is that the League got paid from two different sources, the Minneapolis Public Schools and the State of Minnesota, to provide the same services for the same children in two different programs. And, the point is what?
Since when has there been anything improper or illegal about a nonprofit organization obtaining funding from multiple funding sources for same programming or for the same recipient of services? Every public school system that we’re aware of not only obtains per-pupil funding from the State, but also solicits and obtains funding from multiple other sources, including the federal government, private individuals, and philanthropic organizations to educate the same students.
The same principle holds true for almost every nonprofit organization. Why do they all do this? Because the funding received from one source is insufficient to meet all of their student or programming needs. Everyone involved in this conversation knows that it takes a disproportionate share of resources to address the needs of those most truly in need. It is an accepted truism that 80 percent of resources go to address the 20 percent of our population with the greatest need. Am I missing something here?
As Minneapolis Urban League CEO Scott Gray states, “The Urban League did not break any rules. It did not double bill, and it has not ‘been under fire,’” as the article claims. While the article declares in the first paragraph that a program “never lived up to its promise of graduating the city’s most troubled high school students,” Gray states in his op-ed response that “67 percent of the students eligible to graduate…received their diplomas.”
An analysis of this one allegation speaks volumes. In the first instance, the public schools system has failed to graduate any (0 percent) of these students, which is the reason they ended up at the Urban League Academy in the first place. Second, even with the African American students the public schools retained, in 2013 Minneapolis Public Schools had a graduate rate of 41 percent for African American students.
So, the Minneapolis Urban League takes students that the public school system can’t handle at all and graduates them at a rate that is 50 percent higher than the African American students the public schools can handle. We’re not here to bash Minneapolis Public Schools, because the StarTribune has already engaged in its fair share of bashing Minneapolis Public Schools and its school leaders!
The article then goes on to cast aspersions upon Turning Point, Inc. CEO Peter Hayden, simply because he is the board treasurer of the Minneapolis Urban League and the father of Senator Jeff Hayden. There’s no suggestion that Peter Hayden did anything remotely inappropriate; but, his reputation is tarnished nonetheless because his son is a state senator who helped to pass legislation to benefit the Minneapolis Urban League.
Maybe, again, I’m missing something here, but isn’t that what legislators are elected to do? Aren’t city council members, county commissioners, state legislators and congressmen supposed to lobby for and pass legislation that benefits their constituencies? Isn’t that part of the reason that they’re elected — as the saying goes, “To bring home the bacon”?
The article also seeks to drag Insight News Editor in Chief Al McFarlane through its muck. Why? Ostensibly because he was serving as a “volunteer” board member of a community service organization and advocating on behalf of his community. Neither he nor his paper are accused of receiving any gifts or benefits. But, the damage has been done.
So, what’s really at the bottom here in all of these articles? Because all of the articles concern Senators Champion and Hayden, the best we’re able to ascertain is that Senators Champion and Hayden have been effective in lobbying for organizations that serve their African American constituencies, and that has incurred the ire of their political opponents and others. Same thing with Louis King, and now Scott Gray.
The fact that they’ve been successful in obtaining funding for African American legacy organizations and the children and adults they have successfully served for decades has now come under fire and become the source of front-page news — no wrongdoing, no mismanagement, no waste of public funds — simply the fact that they haven’t been able to save the dying patient that our other institutions have left on the operating table!
Jeffrey Hassan, executive director of the African American Leadership Forum, welcomes reader responses to jahassan@aalf-tc-org.