One priority: bringing money, resources to Northside
It has been a little over a month since the City of Minneapolis has hired two new staff to help improve racial equality both internally (staff, hiring bias) and externally (access to services, funding ) in the city. The MSR spoke with the two new managers of equity and inclusion for the City: Julianne Leerssen and Joy Marsh Stephens.
In her new position, Leerssen will focus her efforts on improving racial equity in the Promise Zone neighborhood of North Minneapolis. She grew up as a Northsider, graduating from South High School in the class of ’89. She is now an attorney, having received her degree in speech communication from Augsburg College and her Juris Doctorate from William Mitchell College of Law. She is also the founder and executive director of the Neighborhood Hub on Lowry Ave. in North Minneapolis.
Leerssen was drawn to this position “because of the racial equity aspect of the job.” She went to law school because, in her words, “I always wanted to do justice. I have found in my career that it doesn’t always play out the way I have expected, but it is something that is really important to me, and racial justice in particular is a goal that I work towards. So, having the opportunity to impact my community in a bigger way than I was already doing was very attractive to me.
“I hope to assist… to create something people can buy into to uplift the condition of North Minneapolis, and knowing if we do that it will uplift the city as well,” Leerssen continues. “There are still a lot of intricacies that go into that, and I am still shaping those in my mind and on paper.
“But, ultimately [it’s about] making sure things are aligned and people have access to resources, jobs. I want to see the negative metrics associated with North Minneapolis improve. I think there is an expectation in the community, based on the Promise Zone designation, that we will also bring in additional resources, particularly from the federal government,” said Leerssen.
“So I see my role as somewhat of a technical assistant for community-based organizations to figure that out. Where are the dollars? Who is a good fit for this? Are they getting what they need to apply for these dollars to get more money into North Minneapolis?”
Joy Marsh Stephens
As the manager of equity and inclusion in the City Coordinators Office with the City of Minneapolis, Stephens is responsible for overseeing internal racial equity initiatives for the City. Stephens lived in Minneapolis as a young child, receiving both her undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Minnesota. She has worked primarily with organizational change.
Her work history includes United Health Group, Minneapolis and St. Paul Public Schools, and a couple of private-sector organizations. She also serves on the executive board of ISAIAH, where she “leads faith-based community organizing work around racial equity, with a primary focus on education, criminal justice and transit work,” she explains.
She has done a lot of free work as a community organizer around social justice, and “I have been looking for an opportunity to marry the work I have done during the day for different organizations around organizational change and managing organizational change with my racial justice passion. This position allows me the opportunity to partner with department heads and other leadership inside the City of Minneapolis, to move the needle forward while applying the skills I have learned for the last 20 years since I have left grad school.”
Stephens would like to begin in her new position “by telling the great work of the City and what the City has been doing and the passion that the executive leadership at the City has around addressing racial equity. Beyond that, I see my role as helping to elevate the work the City is doing and move the ball forward through exploring different tools and resources the City can utilize in order to advance the work that’s here [at the City departments].
She also wants to leverage “different relationships the City has through outside agencies, whether government or private sectors and finding ways to address and to realize equitable outcomes. There is a lot the City can do, but we can do much more by working with other agencies.”
The MSR will be following the progress of these women in their efforts to make Minneapolis a more racially equitable place to live.
Brandi Phillips welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.