Hayden: Empowering Black men doing positive things

As the adage goes, representation matters. That means not just seeing people who look like you on the front lines and in positions of power, but also having them reach back to uplift and empower their communities. This holds especially true for Black men who are constantly bombarded with negative stereotypes and statistics.

To that end, Positive Image MN is shining a light on the good that Black men are doing in the community with their first annual Men’s Empowerment Breakfast. The pre-Father’s Day celebration will focus on helping men strengthen bonds with their children, along with offering financial education and information on men’s health issues and child support.

Minnesota State Senator Jeff Hayden (DFL-62) will also be on hand as the keynote speaker to give an update on the state’s political landscape. When he was first elected in 2008, Hayden was one of two Black members of the House; now he is a member of the state’s most racially diverse group of lawmakers in history.

Since 2017, he has served on the Commerce and Health and Human Services Finance and Policy committees and is the ranking member on the Human Services Reform Finance and Policy Committee. Sen. Hayden is a member of the People of Color and Indigenous (POCI) Caucus, which was formed in 2017 to focus on closing the state’s racial disparities. He is also a founding member of the United Black Legislative Caucus, formed earlier this year to tackle and advocate for issues affecting Minnesota’s Black communities.

Weighing on the national crisis in public schools, he has passed legislation to guarantee all Minnesota students school lunch regardless of ability to pay. This year, it is his goal to increase the MFIP (Minnesota Family Investment Program) cash grant by $100 for all recipients, helping low-income families better afford transportation and childcare.

He spoke with the MSR on the importance of the Men’s Empowerment Breakfast and on his commitment to the community.

MSR: You’re speaking at the Men’s Empowerment Breakfast. Why is it important for you to support such an endeavor?

Submitted photo Jeff Hayden

Jeff Hayden: I think it’s important to give support to men in particular — as it pertains to them being fathers, brothers, uncles, mentors. So, it’s really just to listen to issues that people are having, to be able to support and show Black men in a light they often don’t get shown in, and being supportive of that.

MSR: You’re now in your third term. What are some of the initiatives you’re working on this session?

JH: We’ve worked on child protection issues in the African American community. We have worked on what we call equity, which is economic development and entrepreneurship training —what [Sen.] Bobby Joe [Champion] and I had initiated some time ago. We’re working on the funding and preserving the funding for that. Those are some of the specific [objectives].

Overall, we have worked on Republican cuts that are affecting our communities. They had provided a budget that was really about cutting services to people.

MSR: Politicians are known for talking a good game, but not many actually work on behalf of everyday citizens. You have a demonstrated track record of being committed to the community. What motivates you to make a difference?

JH: I was trained pretty well. My father Peter [Hayden] has been in the community forever — some 43 years, now, since he opened Turning Point. He has a longstanding dedication to working with the community in an authentic way. I was six when he got sober and 10 years old when he started Turning Point.

Often, people see me or him today and fully understand where we came from. Who we were. How far we’ve come. He never let me forget it, and I don’t forget. We want to be an example of what people can be.

If you were to take the odds, statistically, of me being where I am, you would lose a lot of money at the race track. It was a long shot. But, I believe more people can do it.

MSR: He couldn’t have been the sole influence.

JH: I come from a family of service. Also, a family that believes in working for people. And not forgetting where you come from. Though I recognize the position I’m in and the influence I have, I still approach it as an everyday person.

MSR: Anything else on that?

JH: People can let other people define success for them and don’t define it for themselves. They imitate, saying, “I want to be like them. Which means I can’t talk to this person, I can’t talk to that person.” They get a little far away from [their origin].

But you can have nice things, strive to do good work, and still on Saturday I can sit down with the boys and play dominos and drink a beer like anybody else. Later on that day, go to a gala. Everybody puts their pants on one leg at a time.

MSR: So, for you, “We shall overcome” didn’t change to “I have overcome”?

JH: That’s right. One thing somebody told me, “When you get there, when you climb the ladder, leave it there for somebody else. A lot of folks, once they get to the top, they pull the ladder up so nobody else can get there because they want to be there on high by themselves.

I come under scrutiny like anyone else in my position. It’s the community that is going to bring you through those tough times. Who will pick up the phone on the other end or go out and protest on your behalf? If you’re there by yourself, you’re easy to take down. You have to bring [the community] along with you.

MSR: You have a final word?

JH: Going back to this work we’re doing with this breakfast, I want to make sure people continue to look at our community — especially to look at African American men — and recognize that there are more good brothers doing positive things than there are negative brothers doing bad things. It’s just that the negative brothers doing bad things are the ones that get the press — the ones that you see on TV.

The good brothers that keep their heads down are working every day, who have families and are doing what they need to do. They don’t get the press because that doesn’t sell papers in the mainstream media. It takes our own [media] to give voice to that.

The Positive Image Men’s Empowerment Breakfast takes place June 8, 8:30 to 11 am, at the University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach-Engagement Center, 2100 Plymouth Ave. N. in Minneapolis. Free, open to the public. For more info or to register, check out the Eventbrite listing at bit.ly/2XbsYiW.