2019 Final Four planners aim high for diversity, inclusion

Half the cost of the newly opened Vikings Stadium, known as the “People’s Stadium” before its corporate branding, has come from the people’s money — taxes and related public subsidies totaling more than half a billion dollars. Now is the time to assess just what the people, especially Black people, have received for their money thus far, from groundbreaking to grand opening and beyond. Who has benefited most from the controversial project? Has the Black community shared in the benefits? This multi-part series has sought answers to these and related questions.

(l-r): JoAn Scott; hoop sculpture designed by JXTA apprentices Tatiyana Gross, Shelique Combs and Hussain Ali; and Kate Morternson (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

Seventh in an occasional series

If a recent “tipping off” event is any indication, a true commitment to diversity and inclusion in planning the 2019 NCAA Men’s Basketball Final Four might prove to be the first such effort ever implemented for a major event hosted in this area.

“If you say you want to be diverse, then you have to be able to show it in what you do,” declared Minneapolis Local Organizing Committee (MLOC) President and CEO Kate Mortenson to the MSR after her committee officially launched their downtown offices January 10 at U.S. Bank Plaza. The 2,200 square-foot space has been specially designed for MLOC in their 28-month planning period leading up to the Final Four and its related events April 5-8, 2019 at the downtown Minnesota Vikings stadium.

Along with the semifinal games and the championship game, a three-day music festival that is free to the public and a fan fest will be held during that weekend in April 2019. Other events and activities during the year leading up to the event will be youth-focused, with the emphasis on health and wellness.

Previous large-scale events hosted in the Twin Cities over the years, including the last two Men’s Final Fours (1992 and 2001) at the old Metrodome, had little or no diversity on their planning committees or in leadership positions. But Mortenson told the January 10 noontime open house gathering that this time around diversity and inclusion will be more than idle words.

“We are more diverse in this region than many of us realize,” she stated. “I have an advisory group that is advising me so we can extend an invitation to every part of the city and every part of the region.”

Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges told the MSR that compared to past events the 2019 Final Four will be truly diverse. “I think we have more experience now than we had in past years [of hosting such events] to really know how to engage communities… I know Kate Mortenson is dedicated to that, “said the mayor.

“She has not just said it today, but it has been part of our planning process,” added University of Minnesota Senior Associate Athletics Director Tom McGinnis of Mortenson’s leadership to date. “She is really passionate about [diversity and inclusion].”

“What I’m seeing is an incredible diversity and outreach in the community already,” said NCAA Managing Director of Men’s Basketball Championships JoAn Scott. The MLOC is “putting together the right systems…the right infrastructure” that she predicts could be a blueprint for future Final Fours when it comes to diversity and inclusion.

Duchesne Drew is the co-chair of the 28-person Impact Advisory Council, whose members include Minnesota State High School League Associate Director Lisa Lissimore and Northside Economic Opportunity Network President Marcus Owens among several local Blacks. “We’re working to create opportunities and relationships that will benefit our region for years to come,” explained Drew in an email to the MSR.

“From creating an internship program for our youth to making sure the lists of vendors tapped to provide goods and services reflect the diversity and talents of our entire region, we’ll be opening doors for people who are often underrepresented in the Twin Cities.”

(l-r): Angie Cheatham; the backboard was designed by JXTA Chief Cultural Producer Roger Cummings and JXTA artist-instructors Alex Smith and Cordova Lynch. (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

North Minneapolis’ Breaking Bread, located on West Broadway, catered the event. Angie Cheatham told the MSR that she is looking forward to more catering opportunities before and during the 2019 Final Four weekend. “We’re excited [that] we got two years to get our name out there before the Final Four comes,” she said.

Mortenson also commissioned Northside-based Juxtapolitan Arts (JXTA) for two basketball-themed art pieces for the MLOC office. One of them, a “painted [basketball] backboard sculpture,” was used “to help make the case for bringing the Final Four to the Twin Cities,” said JXTA Communications Manager Davu Seru.

“The NCAA committee wanted to partner with a local organization for whom youth, the arts and culture are essential components,” added Seru, who said that his group could also be involved in more artwork to be used at the Final Four events.

“When it comes to [our] community impact vision and focus on youth, and focus on inclusion…we need to engage the talents of our professionals of color to deliver an event that’s excellent,” said Mortenson. “Sometimes our traditional networks don’t have the right people in order for us to reach these goals.” As a result, she said, the Impact Advisory Council “has been extremely helpful to me to find the talent in order to execute on these words.”

Mortenson pledged that diversity and inclusion will be top priority as the MLOC proceeds in planning the 2019 Final Four. “That means my team members, my committee, my vendor contacts need to be reflective of that. If not, then I should be held accountable.”


Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.


Related Content:

First installment: Vikings stadium payoff: What’s the return on our investment so far?
Second installment: Minority workforce and subcontracting goals were exceeded
Third installment: Diverse cleaning crew charged with huge facility’s maintenance
Fourth installment: Vikings stadium: Boosters see clear benefits where skeptics see more empty promises
Fifth installmentVikings stadium payoff: Collaborators tout equity success in stadium construction
Sixth installment: North High victory Prep Bowl at Vikings stadium offered affordable look at facility