TPT film documents struggle for human rights in MN

Viewers say it shows how much remains to be done

(l-r): Kevin Lindsay, Bukata Hayes, Jessi Kingston, Elder Elona Street-Stewart and Paul Anderson (Charles Hallman/MSR News)

The Minnesota Department of Human Rights has partnered with Twin Cities Public Television (TPT) on a new film series that highlights the historical efforts and challenges over the years to ensure all Minnesotans have equality. Our Rights — Justice for All, the first of three half-hour documentary films, premiered June 25 on the TPT Minnesota Channel.

America has “an arrogant attitude” toward human rights and equal justice for all, noted retired state Supreme Court Justice Paul Anderson, who served on the state’s high court from 1994-2013. He participated in a panel discussion in front of a mixed audience at the June 15 invitation-only screening of the film at TPT studios.

Elder Elona Street-Stewart of the Synod of Lakes and Prairies of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), St. Paul Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity Director Jessi Kingston, and Greater Mankato Diversity Council Executive Director Bukata Hayes were the other panelists. MSR also attended the screening.

Anderson said it was good seeing the film revisit those times, “but it left me a little bit down because I thought we had won some of these battles. We aren’t less segregated as a society, and in some ways we are more.”

Screenshot from TPT’s Our Rights 101 – Justice for All (Courtesy of TPT)

“There were aspects of this video that were very exciting,” Street-Stewart said, but she was concerned that viewers would see the film as more a curiosity than for learning purposes. She said she would like the film series to be made available for schools. “I am always hopeful because there is work to do, and we have to continue to educate and advocate, and represent people well.”

As Kingston viewed the film, she said, “I found myself comparing [it to] right now.” She added that she enjoyed “watching and seeing what we have done, but we know we have to do it better and keep fighting.” However, she wants the practice of some people being seen as “less than” to eventually end. “I still have hope. I want everyone to succeed.”

Said Hayes, “The work I do in the area I love,” which includes working with area students and businesses on dispelling myths and finding common ground with all residents. “We have this spirit on doing the right thing. [But] we are still rural Minnesota… Neighborhoods are still segregated.”

Hayes talked about his “many scars,” remembering his father’s struggles fighting for equality and justice while growing up in Milwaukee. After seeing the film, Hayes said he felt empowered by it: “There is always hope, and I am hopeful.”

Hubert Humphrey speaks to community members in a screenshot from TPT’s Our Rights 101 – Justice for All  (Courtesy of TPT)

After the screening and panel discussion, Hayes told the MSR, “To acknowledge the great work that was done, and to then make sure I am doing my part to move it forward, I was left with this challenge to make sure I am doing what I have to do to move things further along than what I inherited.”

State Human Rights Commissioner Kevin Lindsay, who moderated the panel, told the MSR, “I really appreciated TPT and what they have done on this first installment of three productions that we are doing. It’s a big challenge to be able to cover the rich history of the state and tell the many stories and many perspectives of the people that make up Minnesota. I think they’ve done a very good job in capturing that, and look forward to the second and third production.

“One of the nice things of the job is being a part of these conversations,” said Lindsay. “I am really hopeful people are energized and take what they heard tonight…to all corners. The panel discussion is one of those rare occasions where honest dialogue [occurs] with people really sharing deep within their soul how they felt. We really need to move the country forward.”

Our Rights — Justice for All will be shown again on the TPT Minnesota channel on July 2 at 1 am, 7 am and 1 pm; and on July 9 at 12 noon on TPT Life. You may watch the first episode of the series below.


 Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to