Broad coalition unites around Black legislative agenda

Leaders hope this year lawmakers will address disparity issues

April 6 UBLA conference
April 6 UBLA conference

The United Black Legislative Agenda (UBLA) appears to be an idea whose time has not only come, but is also long overdue.

The UBLA, a coalition of community groups of color, announced their existence on April 6 at a press conference and presented a list of recommendations to be presented to the Minnesota Legislature, measures they feel will finally begin addressing the severe and longstanding racial disparities in the state, through legislative measures.

Member groups of the UBLA include:

  • Minneapolis Urban League
  • Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC)
  • Council on Minnesotans of African Heritage
  • African American Leadership Forum
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Somali Community of Minnesota
  • Council on American-Islamic Relations

The recommendations presented by the allied groups fell into three main areas:

Economic justice: Proposals called for, among other things, the establishment of a capital fund for African American businesses, workforce development, and summer youth employment.

Criminal justice: These proposals include but are not limited to the proper use of body cams by police officers, the establishment of a system for special prosecutors in officer-involved shootings, and restoring the vote to people who have completed their prison sentences.

Immigrant justice: This includes calls for a rational response to radicalization of Muslim youth and Islamophobia, as well as other proposals.

A main goal of the coalition was and is to enlist the cooperation and participation of Minnesota legislators to introduce and pass legislation that will address the specific concerns of Minnesota’s African American communities.

Gov. Mark Dayton has already pledged $100 million to address disparities in the state. Several legislators have already joined the coalition’s efforts. Some of those legislators are DFL House members Rena Moran, Ray Dehn, and DFL House Leader Paul Thissen, with DFL Senators Jeff Hayden and Bobby Champion.

Of the UBLA and its goals, Thissen called it “The biggest and most organized turnout of folks advocating this type of agenda that I’ve seen in my 14 years at the Capitol. The focus of it, which is on reinvesting in the African American community, is a spot-on approach to what we need to do.”

Thissen also said that earlier on the day we spoke, the Senate had already dedicated a “significant amount of money in their budget for these types of economic developments.”

Jeff Hassan
Jeff Hassan

Jeff Hassan of the African American Leadership Forum explained about the UBLA, “It presents a moment in time to address these disparities issues like none that we’ve had before. We were advancing this to be a part of the legislative session, where the talk was about additional compensation for laid off Iron Range workers, which has been approved, but they had left us at the doorstep again.

“They’re still negotiating what they’re going to do as far as African American communities are concerned. They’re concerned about the Iron Range workers who’ve run out of unemployment insurance — well, Black folks have run out of jobs, let alone unemployment.”

Hassan also said, “This is what we’re trying to advance. This is a decades-old problem that we’ve experienced in the community, and people have sort of washed their hands of the problem. Our effort is to keep this front and center.”

The alliance between the UBLA and the legislative members is intended to be ongoing and long term. Steve Belton of the Minneapolis Urban League declared that “We are here now for the 2016 legislative session, but we are positioned now to have a united voice for all subsequent sessions.

Steve Belton
Steve Belton

“We are pleased with this initiative,” continued Belton. “That it’s not only a united voice, but it’s a first-time opportunity for us to stake out our ground and say, ‘We’re here and we are to be reckoned with.’”

Belton was also very clear about the nature of the alliance: “We are careful to call this a united voice, not a single voice, and not a solo voice. There are lots of African American organizations, lots of African organizations, that will continue to press forward for an agenda or for items that impact their respective constituencies — and we support that. But we are also aware that those we can agree on should be part of a united agenda so that we can put the full force of all of us behind them.”

Anthony Newby of NOC called the UBLA recommendations “a living document” and added that “We hope many others will provide feedback and join the coalition. This is not a definitive list of what the Black community needs, but a starting point for the 2016 legislative session.”


Isaac Peterson welcomes reader responses to