Though not often considered a Black stronghold, the Blackness of the 300,000 who live in the state does not go unnoticed. Minnesota has been the recent site for national coverage of Black tragedies like the police killings of Philando Castile and Jamar Clarke. From those killings and the outrage they sparked arose activist energies that were felt across the nation.
Organizers at the A. Philip Randolph Institute (APRI), a national Black education and labor union forged during the Civil Rights Movement, took note and realized they didn’t really have a presence in Minnesota. Also, said APRI President Clayola Brown, Minnesota is home to the esteemed labor advocate, former Congressman, and current State Attorney General Keith Ellison (and, of course, Prince).
To make its presence felt and bring Minnesota Blacks into the fold of its activism, APRI set its 50th annual National Education Conference at the Radisson Blu Mall of America Hotel in Bloomington Aug. 7-11.
“We are excited to come to Minnesota,” said Brown to the MSR.
Coming with her and APRI are a slate of Black stars of stage and picket line: Danny Glover; Sheryl Underwood; Co-President of The Women’s March Tamika Mallory; Baltimore State Attorney Marilyn Mosby; and, his health permitting, Reverend Jesse Jackson, among many others.
There will also be speakers from Minnesota, including MN Attorney General Keith Ellison, Minnesota AFL-CIO President Bill McCarthy, and Meet Minneapolis CEO Melvin Tennant.
The theme of the 2019 conference is “What’s Going On?”
“It’s been a struggle and a fight since the last presidential election,” said Brown. APRI and its many partners and allies had to rethink its approach, especially in their get-out-the-vote efforts.
“The last presidential election was a time the voting rights were not exactly protected,” said Brown. Not since the Voting Rights Act was passed in 1965, said Brown, had the organization seen so many violations across the span of the country and found itself in so many court battles.
Their response was more boots on the ground. APRI went into Black neighborhoods populated with people who “have never been on an airplane before” as well as to enclaves where people hail from the rarified likes of Spelman College and Florida A&M University, making sure no Blacks were uninformed or being boxed out of the voting process.
It’s an awareness that can never start too early. “We catch folks young,” said Brown of APRI striving to inform students as young as 14 of their voting rights and of the importance of harnessing the power of the Black vote.
“We wanted [the political Right] to know they had new eyes looking at them: younger, more verbal, ready to take on another fight,” said Brown. Last year, APRI registered over 100,000 people to vote.
That’s but a taste of the activist work APRI has done since the last conference, like extensive work in water rights and the cost of energy, and buttressing unions in right-to-work states is the work. The APRI conference will summarize, discuss, and make plans to expand upon their work at the Bloomington conference.
Other topics to be addressed include health care, the criminal justice system, and gerrymandering.
Registration for the entire weekend is $300; for just the dinner and awards gala, $100. For registration visit apri.org.
Solomon Gustavo was a contributing writer at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.