Thursday, March 16, 2017 marked a day of diversity at the Minnesota State Capitol with the African American Advocacy Day presented by Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage. The press conference was held at L’Etoile Du Nord Vault, 75 Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard in St. Paul.
Various social and nonprofit groups were in attendance for the event. The United Black Legislative Agenda (UBLA) included the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), Black Lives Matter Minneapolis (BLM), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage (CMAH), the Minneapolis Urban League (MUL), Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC), and Voices of East African Women (VEAM).
The purpose of the press conference was to describe plans for the Black Legislative Agenda intended to provide a set of pragmatic policy solutions. “Our agenda this year is more focused and strategic because, unfortunately, we find ourselves playing defense on several fronts,” said Steve Belton of the Minneapolis Urban League. The issues and topics addressed included economic justice, criminal justice, education and child care (most notably hiring more teachers of color), community health, and constitutional rights and protection.
During the event, the collective group addressed a few bills that have a direct influence on communities of color. These bills include but are not limited to the following:
- banning grand juries for police-involved criminal proceedings (SF134)
- banning privatized prisons (HF6182/SF1675)
- recruiting teacher candidates of color through scholarship opportunities (HF1409/SF1585)
- full-service community funding statewide (HF146/SF7)
- expanding funding for childcare programs (HF724/SF560)
- urban agriculture and development (HF1461)
- government agencies being allowed to sue to recover costs related to unlawful assemblies and public nuisances (HF322).
Childcare was a major concern among the United Black Legislative Agenda participants. Shirlynn LaChapelle, who is a part of the Minnesota Black Nurses Association, urged individuals to take heed of the funding for childcare programs.
“Nurses are very important,” LaChapelle said. “When your child is sick and there are only two or three nurses working on somebody else because there aren’t enough nurses [to take care of your sick child], that’s when the childcare act becomes helpful.”
Another issue of interest was the teacher-to-student ratio in the public schools and an increasing need for more teachers of color. In response to a questionsthe MSR asked about plans for increasing and attracting teachers from various ethnic communities, a plan was described that would involve current teachers of color mentoring students of color so that they stay on track with their education and consider a future career in teaching.
Constitutional rights were also among the issues addressed by the UBLA, with the SF134 policy in particular. This new bill requires that peace officer-initiated use-of-force cases be assigned a special prosecutor; the establishment of a special prosecutor and special prosecutorial office; and prohibiting the use of a grand jury in certain police officer-initiated use-of-force cases.
“No longer can politicians say that they don’t know what we want,” said Mica Grimm of Black Lives Matter, Minneapolis. “That is exactly what this agenda is about.”
Member of the UBLA urge citizen to contact the legislators to make their views and opinions heard on these matters. They also ask citizens to become involved by viewing policies in order to become more knowledgeable and effective as citizens.
Ivan B. Phifer welcomes readers’ responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ivan B. Phifer is contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder. He can be reached at email@example.com