Keynote talked about Minnesota’s role in ‘complicated history’ of race
St. Paul-based Ujamaa Place was founded in 2010 “to assist young African American men, primarily between the ages of 18 and 30, who have experienced life challenges,” according to the nonprofit organization’s program that was distributed at their Second Annual Transformation Breakfast in St. Paul.
Joshua DuBois, a leading voice on issues impacting the Black community today, as well as the former head of the White House Faith Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Office, was the keynote speaker for the October 8 event.
Ujamaa Place works monthly with 72 Black men from the East Metro area to help them develop success skills. “I came from a background of a rough life,” said Savitty McCaleb, a four-year participant. He told the MSR that Ujamaa Place “is a big help to get you to the next place.”
“It’s a great partnership,” noted St. Paul Police Chief Tom Smith, who told the MSR that his department often recommends individuals to Ujamaa Place, which boasts that less than one percent of the participants returned to prison.
“Blacks don’t like to talk about being Black. I hate talking about it,” admitted DuBoise, who TIME Magazine once dubbed as President Obama’s “Pastor-in-Chief.”
“Even here in Minnesota,” noted DuBois, on how Minnesota historically played a role in the country’s “complicated history” of race. The Ku Klux Klan once was very popular in the state, including the Twin Cities. The KKK had “tens of thousands of supporters and sympathizers,” and Minnesota was one of the last Northern states to distance itself from the hate group, DuBois pointed out.
“The subtle, genteel racism” existed in Minnesota for decades, continued DuBois. The South St. Paul stockyards in the early 20th century hired Blacks “as long as the minorities would not purchase homes there” and “very nice people” residing then in the Twin Cities didn’t want Blacks living in their neighborhoods, he explained.
At least 20 “sundown” towns existed around the state. Therefore, if you were Black, you could work in the particular town, but “you have to be out of town by sundown,” said DuBois.
On welcoming former offenders back into society, DuBois said, “It’s not them versus us. Everybody makes mistakes. We got to create formal pathways to get brothers back to work. There [has] got to be places [for them] to be able to cure themselves through employment, even for offenders who had more serious crimes.”
“There is nothing wrong with these men — there is something right about them,” said DuBois. “We’ve got to be careful not to internalize the negative things that are said about us [as Blacks], and know that there’s nothing wrong with us. We are not broken and deficient. We always have been a community of overcomers, overachievers and strivers.”
Speaking afterwards to the MSR, DuBois added, “I think the big picture is that the civility and niceness [of Minnesota]…might cause people to not want to deal with difficult subjects like [racism]. There is so much history…that has an impact on Black folk in St. Paul and Minneapolis…that housing was inaccessible to African Americans,” said DuBois. “There are things [of] that legacy still being felt today.”
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Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.