Groups monitor Mpls racial equity progress

Fall report card will grade city government, parks, schools

Vina Kay
Mica Grimm


A partnership of local organizations led by Voices for Racial Justice is developing a first-ever “community led” racial equity report card for Minneapolis city government, the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board, and Minneapolis Public Schools. The report card, which is expected to be released next fall, will grade city leaders and the city overall, said Voices for Racial Justice Executive Director Vina Kay. She and others spoke to media last Thursday morning in the City Hall rotunda.

Kay’s organization, formerly the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, has produced several such report cards on the state legislature. “Now it is time to measure our city’s progress toward” racial equity in all areas of city government, parks and schools, she stated.

Voices for Racial Justice in early 2014 launched the OUR MPLS racial equity “vision and agenda” shortly after Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges, several new city council members and parks commissioners took office. “We are really excited about the research on this,” said Kay.

She told the MSR after the press conference that the OUR MPLS Racial Equity Record Card is largely funded by the Minneapolis Foundation. “It is going to look like a community report” as opposed to an academic-based document, she stressed.

Vina Kay
Vina Kay

“We are using some of the methodologies” employed in the state legislature reports, continued Kay. “We start with the assumption that there is racial equity and first look at that and what’s going right in the city. Then we look at missed opportunities, what could we have done better.”

Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter said, “We are a partnership, and we feel this is imperative in moving this city forward. We should be able to judge what our politicians are doing and to see what they are doing” while they are in office, she explained.

Grimm afterwards said that she hopes the general media will be serious in its reporting of their efforts. “I don’t think the media fully imagines this yet and [understands] how important this is going to be. They might not see the reason for this, but something like racial equity is so large, and putting it in real terms and [reporting in] a real way that is measurable and accountable” is important.

David Gilbert-Pederson, a Hope Community organizer, said, “If Minneapolis claims to be the number-one park system in the country, racial equity needs to be one of the indicators.”

Voices for Racial Justice has worked with the park board in this effort, said Park Board President Liz Wielinski last week in an MSR phone interview. “We do now have an equity and inclusion manager…to work on community engagement and programming to be more inclusive,” she explained.

“Our board has made many attempts to become more sensitive to some of these issues.” Wielinski added that the board requested last fall that racial equity be included in the park superintendent’s budget, especially on equitable allocation of resources.

“Communities of color are the experts of their lives and their communities,” and can expertly help City officials and others in addressing racial inequities, noted Neeraj Mehta of the Center for Urban and Regional Affairs at the University of Minnesota and a North Minneapolis resident. People of color “are the most powerful assets to implement and address racial equity in our city.”

Mehta told the MSR after his remarks to the media, “This process is…grounded on the issues [that] came up from the people themselves. That’s essential to making progress. This isn’t a top-down approach but a bottom-up approach.”

“Racial equity has to be one of the indicators on how we define excellence,” added Chaka Mkali, Hope Community organizing and community-building director.

“It is important that we have a true reflection of how our elected officials are actually working for us, what interests they are saying they serve, and what interests they actually are serving,” said Asha Long of Minneapolis.


Report Card addresses employee sick time

A study by The Main Street Alliance of Minnesota released last week analyzed the costs and benefits of earned sick time laws in place in five U.S. cities and one state. “The Bottom Line on Earned Sick Time: A Cost/Benefit Analysis of Earned Sick Days on the Economy” shows that over 43 percent, or an estimated 43 million workers or more, don’t have paid sick days across the country.

The study also noted a Minnesota Department of Health report that found at least 208 “foodborne outbreaks” may have occurred statewide due to sick food service workers from 2004-2013. Nearly 80 percent of food workers don’t have paid sick time.

Mayor Hodges introduced the plan last fall, and a city committee is now looking into it. But it also met resistance from such groups as the Minneapolis Regional Chamber of Commerce and a coalition of small business owners — opponents call it “catastrophic” to local small businesses. We contacted the Chamber for comment but received no response by press time.

“The business community is organized and has articulated the narrative that this is going to hurt small businesses,” noted Kay. “But there is another narrative that is coming from the people who are experiencing not having sick time. We need to balance off that story. I hope that this report card and the [Main Street Alliance] report will start to shift the narrative.”

Long said that too often workers are “duped” out of earned sick time. “Earned sick time is really important for our community,” she pointed out. “Honestly earned sick time is restoring and providing dignity to the worker. It should be available to them.”

Long also supports living wages, such as a $15 an hour minimum wage, which would help many workers of color at low-wage jobs “gain autonomy in their lives, making an honest day’s pay for an honest day’s work.”

Doing a city racial equity report card at this time is good “because everyone is halfway through their term,” said Wielinski. “This is probably an excellent time to do this.”

“We have been wanting to do this,” said Kay. “We look forward to sharing what we learn.”


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