Investment in eliminating disparities called a historic first
On Thursday, June 9, the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage co-hosted a 2016 Legislative Session Recap in partnership with the Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans and the Council on Latino Affairs. The event took place from 5-7:30 pm at the Wellstone Center’s Neighborhood House, 179 Robie St. E. in St. Paul.
The program consisted of two panel discussions focused on key areas of policy work the legislature took up during the 2016 session. The first panel, “Get to know your ethnic council executive directors,” included Dr. Louis Porter of Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, Sia Her of Council on Asian Pacific Minnesotans, and Henry Jimenez of Minnesota Council on Latino Affairs.
The second panel, “2016 Legislative Achievements,” included the following legislators: Senators Patricia Torres Ray (63, DFL), Foung Hawj (67, DFL), Carla J. Nelson (26, R), and Roger Chamberlain (38, R), and Representatives Rena Moran (65A, DFL), Karen Clark (62A, DFL) Rod Hamilton (22B, R), and Carlos Mariani (65B, DFL). The purpose for the meeting was to give community members an opportunity to interact with legislators and hopefully become more engaged in the process and meet the council leaders as well.
The ethnic councils serve as a bridge between the legislature and community members as advisors and advocates. They work for the implementation of economic, social, legal and political equality for their constituencies. The ethnic councils advise the governor and the legislature on issues confronting the communities they represent.
This legislative recap panel began with a free hot dinner with catered food that represented each ethnic council’s heritage. The legislative panel followed. John Keller, executive director of the Immigrant Law Center, moderated for both panels.
Keller opened the floor by first asking the legislators to introduce themselves and share how and why they got into politics. After brief introductions, Keller then asked, “What specifically in the last session [do] you think will make a positive difference for the constituencies of the councils, particularly, those people who face disparities in this state?”
Senator Patricia Torres Ray (63, DFL) was first to respond. “For me, perhaps the most important accomplishment of this session was the equity-disparities initiative, the equity bill that we moved forward. I want to first say thank you to the governor for initiating a conversation around equity.
“For the first time in the history of Minnesota, we actually enter a conversation about eliminating disparities and investing in economic development and other areas of higher education in order to eliminate inequality,” continued Ray. “The governor proposed that at the beginning of the session. He proposed $85 million dollars. “We were able to secure $35 million dollars. This is the beginning of this conversation.
“It is clear that we want to use these dollars to engage you about the future of economic development in our communities,” continued Ray. “I’d like to invite you to really be a part of this conversation, because there’s going to be grants and opportunities for you to apply for this funding for economic development. Those grants and proposals are going to be available to you.”
“White teachers are great teachers, but they are not the only ones that can teach,” said Carlos Mariani (65B, DFL). He talked about how 20 years ago three percent of teachers in Minnesota were of color and how the same three percent remains true today. The 2016 session earmarked $7,150,000 for teacher recruitment and retention.
Rena Moran, the only African American in the Minnesota House, authored four bills addressing disparities that passed. Moran talked about being on the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage for the last five years.
“I’m excited about the new leadership at the Council,” said Moran. She talked about being a minority in the Minnesota House and how learning to build alliances on both sides of the political aisle was important.
“What I am most excited about is that I introduced the Women of Color Opportunity Act. It was actually an extension of the Women Economic Security Act, called W.E.S.A., but this bill is focusing on Women of Color.
“One reason I did that was because women should be paid at the same rate as men,” continued Moran, a statement that met with thunderous applause. “If you are a White woman, you make 80 cents to a dollar, but if you are Asian or African American, you only make 60 cents to a dollar. If you are Latino, you only make 50 cents to a dollar.”
Moran continued by telling the audience that what the governor and legislators have done is historic. Moran encouraged everyone to continue to support the councils and stay involved and show up for future council meetings. She asked that they come with some solutions.
Moran said the language in this disparity bill addresses several areas for Black people, like hard-to-employ individuals, livable wage issues, equal pay issues, business opportunity grants, and even building the capacity for those who need to step up their game before moving on to the next phase.
Minnesota’s two African American state senators, Jeff Hayden and Bobby Joe Champion, did not attend the event.
James L. Stroud, Jr. welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
James L. Stroud, Jr. is a contributing writer and photographer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.