Mpls NAACP president says we’ve talked enough — time for action

Top of IDS, site of UNCF luncheon, far removed from poor Blacks

Nekima Levy-Pounds
Nekima Levy-Pounds

Why does a state that supposedly is among the nation’s best in providing “a high quality of life” grapple with issues of inequality and economic prosperity barriers for its many Blacks residents? Could it be that those enjoying that “high quality of life” often do so far removed from the lives of most Black Minnesotans?

The seventh annual United Negro College Fund (UNCF) State of Minnesota Leaders Luncheon took place February 19 on the 50th floor of the IDS Center. From the location attendees could look down on the city’s downtown business district and also perhaps see the state’s most economically depressed area located less than a mile away — North Minneapolis.

Minnesota Lieutenant Governor Tina Smith, who was among several current elected officeholders, told the audience that action is needed more than words. “Many things are going great for Minnesota, but they are not broadly shared,” she noted.

“The African American people and people of color don’t have the same opportunity as the White people do in this state. The time is now to make this investment, not only in the classroom but broadly in the [Black] community.”

This year’s discussion topic, “Now is the Time to Take Social Action to Build Better Futures,” became an “edgy conversation,” declared UNCF President-CEO Michael Lomax. Lomax moderated a five-person panel, which included Friendship Academy of the Art’s Arts Coordinator Nell Collier; Joe Nathan, senior fellow for The Center for School of Change; Minneapolis NAACP President Nekima Levy-Pounds; Johnson C. Smith University President Ronald Carter; and U.S. Bank Vice President for Engagement and Customer Experience Greg Cunningham.

Levy-Pounds literally flipped the script and challenged the estimated 200 civic, corporate, current and former elected officials and educators to move from talk to action. After Lomax jokingly called her “a disrupter” because of her community activism, Levy-Pounds responded, “When you have all these conversations about disparities, I think too often they are just conversations.”

She strongly urged the luncheon audience to do more to change their corporate environments to work for change. “Our children need to be given access to opportunity,” she pointed out, “especially once they become working age.”

When she and her family relocated here in 2003, Levy-Pounds, a University of St. Thomas law professor, recalled that she unexpectedly discovered “two Minnesotas — one Black, one White and both separate and unequal,” she continued. “I got out of the ivory tower and out into the community and talked to people. I saw a completely different side of the story for African Americans. I didn’t understand why [that should be] in a land of prosperity.”

The local NAACP head later told the MSR, “I just came prepared to speak the truth. When we are in spaces like this, it is important to bring the hard truth [to] a lot of folk in the corporate community that don’t often get a chance to hear [it].

“I did my best to deliver the message, and hope that it was received and gave people something to think [about] and to process these issues differently so it will lead to changing these institutions,” said Levy-Pounds.

The MSR asked several persons in attendance afterwards whether or not Levy-Pounds’ brief remarks resonated with them, or more importantly, moved them from talk to action.

“One of the things that resonated the most with me from the panel [was] reframing the conversation,” admitted Jerome Rawls of Target’s business partnerships and negotiations. When asked of his company’s efforts to improve things for local Blacks, he responded, “I absolutely think Target is doing everything it can to address this issue.”

Said former Minneapolis mayor R.T. Rybak, “There are no magic words that are going to solve these issues.” He did, however, point out that perhaps “a movement” is needed both citywide and statewide. “But it won’t start at the top of the IDS building.”

“It’s a matter of coming together and making sure we can figure out how to do that,” said Minneapolis School Board Member Kim Ellison. “Their heart and spirit is in the right place. Maybe they don’t know what that looks like outside of this space.”

“Not all of us are activists in the street or live in the community, but we can do what we can do,” added former Minneapolis Public Schools administrator James Burroughs. “What can I do as James Burroughs to continue to do the things I can do?”

“Yes, there was talk here today,” noted Lomax, whose overall purpose last week was to raise money for UNCF. U.S. Bank, one of last Friday’s luncheon sponsors, announced a new $700,000 multi-year scholarship program and established the UNCF Ujima Scholars Program for selected Twin Cities’ area high school juniors when it begins this summer.

“We didn’t just talk. We took care of business,” stated the national UNCF leader.

Finally, Levy-Pounds reiterated, “There are so many people in our community who are unemployed and have criminal records who can apply for jobs. There are low-wage positions at many of these corporations, but [they] won’t get hired. That has to change.

“There are a lot of well-meaning and well-intended individuals here, but at the same time we have to move beyond good intentions towards action if we are serious about these despicable gaps in the state of Minnesota.”


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