Minneapolis NAACP Vice President Anika Bowie says her native St. Paul community has a family feel to it. Too bad she also feels intimidated there.
She enjoyed sharing public spaces like festivals or the park for some music and barbeque with her siblings, cousins, and community elders everyone called “Grandma” or “Grandpa.” That is, until the police came around and people felt it was time to “get out of here,” said Bowie.
The 26-year-old Hamline University graduate, former high school teacher, and current political consultant is running for St. Paul City Council in Ward 1. She wants to build her community up with steady jobs, safe streets, and a welcoming city council and police force.
Bowie, the first of four children, was raised in the Rondo neighborhood. Households full of children, either cousins or friends, lined the block. On warm mornings, they would meet in St. Paul alleys to talk, play basketball and double dutch. The elders would yell at them for trampling flowers. “We learned the rules of the neighborhood.”
Bowie spoke with the MSR at Golden Thyme, sitting at the table closest to the door. “Hey, good to see you,” Bowie said between questions, speaking to folks coming and going — first to an older Middle-Eastern man, then a young bearded White man, and finally to local Black historian Mahmoud El-Kati. Any visitor popping into the lively shop greeted the navy blue-suited Bowie and her regal waves with the passing respect and casual familiarity reserved for local icons or landmarks.
Come winter months during Bowie’s formative years, kids would go to the library to hang, but Bowie said they never really felt welcome. Now, she notes, the Rondo Library is much more intentional about teen and adult space. She believes the City can extend this thoughtfulness to all public spaces.
Bowie’s mother raised her and her siblings. Her father was a businessman who owned a grocery store and shipping company. “My dad also had a past,” said Bowie. He went to prison for marijuana possession. “My dad didn’t have a college degree or even a high school diploma,” said Bowie. “He had a wife and kids.”
Bowie went to Central High School, where she cultivated goals to be a journalist and lawyer, to help her community and tell its stories. Her dad going through the criminal justice system was not the beginning of her ambitions, but it was a “really strong springboard.”
“Not only do I have to help my community.” said Bowie. “I have to help what’s closest to me.”
She went on to college at Hamline, just down the block and about the same size as Central, where Bowie was the only person of color in any given classroom. “It was a huge culture shock, which is kind of strange,” said Bowie.
On her way to a degree in criminal justice, Bowie noticed literacy was a large factor in the odds on whether or not someone would wind up behind bars. “Those most vulnerable to entering the criminal justice system are those most vulnerable in our education system,” said Bowie.
So, after college, she worked as a teacher for the Children Defense Funds’ Freedom School, which partnered with the Rondo Community Center. Bowie helped students with reading and writing.
After her stint in education, including time teaching at Gordon Parks High School, Bowie worked for Ramsey County as a clerk typist. She was the first contact person momentarily stabilizing people seeking suicide intervention or assisting single mothers who hadn’t received their food stamps for two months.
Now she is a political consultant for Darris Consulting in Minneapolis and co-chair of the Minneapolis NAACP’s criminal justice reform committee. As a result of being in such “dope spaces,” she was around people she trusted who asked her if she’d considered running for office. She hadn’t, yet.
“I just kinda felt I didn’t have all of the assets or privileges to step into that boldly,” said Bowie, adding she didn’t acquire that requisite confidence until seeing other people like her run, Black women like Ilhan Omar and Angela Conley.
Now that she’s decided to run, which she announced Feb. 1, Bowie’s neighbors are talking to her in a more personal way than ever before. In their honesty, Bowie said, they are “more prone to share their fears than hopes.”
The top concern is safety. In the month Bowie announced, there were three gun-related deaths. She said residents want the council to balance a need for more safety with curbing police violence, misconduct and mistrust.
Bowie wants to invest in her neighborhood, build “pathways to sustainable living,” and have a community “no longer vulnerable to turning to guns or drugs.” She also supports a $15 minimum wage — and thinks it can be higher — as well as job creation that isn’t part-time or contract work but rather full-time work that supports a full family.
“My vision for St. Paul is to ‘R.A.C.E. to the top.’ It’s a four-point acronym that stands for restore, access, community, and equity. These four values anchor us in the foundation of what makes St. Paul a place we all can call home.”
Bowie’s biggest issue, however, is restorative justice. She also proposes to end the cash bail system: “If someone is booked for a misdemeanor or gross misdemeanor, we shouldn’t utilize bail as a way of penalizing them before they are even tried.”
What will help, she added, is an ordinance that would allow the county attorney to collect data on who they are convicting. “Currently, we don’t have information on race, age or gender of who is being convicted on a City level.”
No matter what else she hears from the community or wants to get done, Bowie feels the St. Paul City Council and police department need to be more receptive to the people they serve and protect. They could also look more like the members of the community. Bowie was part of a civilian police group that heard presentations from St. Paul police officers, “none of whom were women of color.”
Anika Bowie wants to join the city council ranks and be that woman of color who stepped up to the plate.
For more information, visit anikabowie.com.
Solomon Gustavo was a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.