A great city demands great leaders and government

 

Al Flowers (Chris Juhn/MSR News)

Minneapolis is a great place to live, and I am proud to be a resident of this fantastic city. There is so much about our community that works well: Our economy is strong, unemployment is low, our children are educated, and Minneapolis is ripe with opportunity for those who want a better life for themselves and their families. What we have and who we are as a city works very well for most of us who live here, unless you happen to be poor, or Black, or Latino, or American Indian, or an immigrant from another country.

The experiences and the stories of these families are very different. They tell of a Minneapolis where discrimination prevents people from advancing, where opportunities are limited, and where the future looks bleak. Far too many of our neighbors do not believe that they can aspire to achieve the “American Dream,” nor do they expect equitable access to the opportunities most of us take for granted.

I hope we can agree that this is unacceptable and that we should strive to find a way to make dreams and aspirations achievable for everyone. This is a common task that we must unite behind if we want to become the just and equitable community we all want.

We face many problems that must be tackled together; to be successful Minneapolis needs a vision with two key goals.

First — perhaps most importantly, we need strong, responsive and accountable public institutions that meet the needs of the community; we need institutions that meet everyone’s needs, regardless of who they are, where they live in the city, or what their background may be. For far too long key institutions in Minneapolis have provided two tiers of service.

Our institutions work well for those who have higher incomes: Kids are educated, streets are maintained, and neighborhoods are safe. But for those who face the daily struggle to make ends meet, the story is entirely different. Schools are not viewed as welcoming, police are feared rather than seen as protectors, and city government is understood as an enforcer of someone else’s rights.

We live in a state often seen as exemplary in education. Minnesota is consistently ranked near the top of the nation in most indicators of educational achievement, and we should be proud. But in Minneapolis, the story is very different, if you happen to be a student of color.

Instead of sharing in the Minnesota Miracle that we are pleased to boast about, African American, Latino, and American Indian students are failing at appalling rates. We cannot be satisfied with a school district that graduates fewer than half of its students of color. We cannot justify district policies that do not treat students with fairness and equity. We cannot allow resources to be used in ways that advance the educational achievement of some while leaving too many behind.

All children deserve a quality education that prepares them for the future, and it is up to all of us to work together to make sure this happens.

Also, we can no longer tolerate the painful divide that separates many neighborhoods from the police who are sworn to protect and serve the people. We are supposed to call the police when we are in trouble, when we need to be protected, and when we fear for our safety. The police are supposed to be trusted and believed. The police are supposed to work for fairness and justice for everyone.

Unfortunately, this ideal relationship between police and community has disappeared in many parts of the city. There have been far too many cases of police misconduct over the years, and city leadership has done little to repair the damage or promote an atmosphere of trust. We must not accept that nearly half of the residents of Minneapolis question whether or not the police department has their best interests at heart; it has to change.

Secondly, the time for relying on old solutions to old problems using the same service providers we have always turned to has passed. Our community has changed dramatically over the years, but our ability to respond to new challenges in creative and innovative ways has not kept pace.

If we are to be a vibrant and thriving community, we need to tap into the creativity and passion for solving problems that can be found in every neighborhood and on every street. While there are certainly some challenges requiring a big-picture approach, there are also solutions to be found in places we have never thought to look.

While effective public institutions are important, what we need even more are strong, capable communities with a capacity to imagine new ways of solving their own problems. We need a city government that recognizes the community values that are waiting to be set loose and has the commitment to support grassroots efforts that offer exciting opportunities for change.

The time has come to develop real partnerships in the city, rather than clinging to old patterns that merely make us clients or customers.

We can do better. We must do better, because that is what a great city demands of its residents, its institutions, its government and its leaders. We must not be satisfied with the progress we have made, or where we now find ourselves.

We must continue to press forward to become what we all want and what we all know Minneapolis can be. We must continue to work together until we become a single community that works well for everyone — One Minneapolis that includes us all.

 

Al Flowers is currently a candidate for Minneapolis mayor.