Gov. Dayton, state NAACP heads talk racial disparities

Recent meeting ‘very constructive,’ but more needs to be done

Gov. Mark Dayton
Gov. Mark Dayton

According to a U.S Census report released mid-September, household incomes fell for Blacks in Minnesota and while they remain constant for whites, Hispanics and Asians. In response Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton met September 22 with NAACP branch presidents from Minneapolis, St. Paul, Rochester and St. Cloud at the State Capitol on racial disparities. When asked during a press conference last week, the governor reported the meeting as “very constructive.”

The 90-minute meeting centered on education, income, criminal justice, employment and business opportunity barriers that Blacks in the state regularly face. “The [racial] disparities are very distressing,” noted Dayton.

Dayton promised Black leaders that he will meet with them “in two months” to further discuss economic issues facing Black Minnesotans.

“He listened to what we had to say,” said Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds of Dayton in a MSR phone interview last week. During the meeting she made “a couple of requests,” including the governor naming an ombudsman for incarcerated persons and their families because “there is nowhere they can go” to voice concerns, said the St. Thomas law professor.

“I also talked about the need to overhaul the probation system,” continues Levy-Pounds. She said “a state director” to help small businesses owned by Blacks and other persons of color should be named as well.

Gov. Dayton seems genuine in his attempts to address the various inequity issues that face Black Minnesotans “as opposed to other governors we’ve seen,” believes the Minneapolis NAACP president. But she strongly suggests that his current group of advisors — “circle of people” — needs to be expanded to include more community folk.

NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds
NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds

“Right now it seems to be a closed table of individuals who have the governor’s ear,” explains Levy-Pounds. “We really need to broaden [it] to have more access to the governor to bring forward more ideas and achieve things that we need.

“The NAACP needs to be at the table, letting the governor know about the concerns we have as a community. We are in direct contact with members of the community.”

Levy-Pounds asserts that all state elected officials, not just Gov. Dayton and his staff, should work on racial disparities.

“We want to see more attention being paid addressing this issue. I would like to see more people, action steps and the resources [directed] to [address] the disparities we’re talking about,” she concludes. “We have to go directly to key government leaders to address the racial disparities, who have the power and resources to addressing and understand the issues.”