Leading a fight for racial equity

Sondra Jones speaks in favor of a citywide earned sick time policy at the Minneapolis Urban League in January.

Where We Live: Neighborhoods Organizing for Change

Location: 1101 W. Broadway Ave.
Contact: 612-246-3132
Website: mnnoc.org
Year founded: 2010

One thing has become painfully clear: Minnesota, long known for its high quality of life, is not a great place to live for everybody.

The median household income in 2014 for black Minnesotans was $27,000 compared to $64,800 for white residents, according to the Minnesota State Demographic Center. Thirty-eight percent of black Minnesotans were in poverty in 2014 compared to 8 percent of whites.

Study after study reveals the state’s significant racial disparities in income, education, health and other measures of living standards.

Despite the grim statistics, North Minneapolis-based Neighborhood Organizing for Change (NOC) — a key organization in the local fight for racial equality — had an incredible year in 2015.

After losing their building to a probable arson last April, they’ve more than doubled their full-time staff, moved into new offices on West Broadway and raised their profile and awareness about the challenges facing workers of color in the city.

NOC is a grassroots, member-led movement building power in communities of color across the Twin Cities to tackle the state’s racial disparities from the ground up.

Brit Fry, a communications association for the organization, said NOC will remain focused in 2016 on advancing a workers’ rights agenda by lobbying for paid sick time and fair scheduling policies, an end to wage theft and a $15 minimum wage.

Several NOC members attended a Jan. 25 listening session at the Minneapolis Urban League to show support for a proposed mandatory paid sick time ordinance in Minneapolis. About 40 percent of the city’s works lack access to paid sick days and they’re disproportionately low income workers of color.

Sondra Jones, a NOC member, spoke at the listening session. She’s become increasingly active with the group in recent months.

Jones, 25, entered the foster care system at the age of 2 and has lived in 23 different homes.

“I finally feel like I have a home,” she said of NOC.

She has been involved in the organization’s push for a fair scheduling ordinance, which would require employers to give workers advance notice of their schedules. She worked for two summers as a temp worker at Target Field and said she experienced the frustration of erratic scheduling.

“We could be called as little as two hours before we needed to report for an unscheduled shift and, if we couldn’t make it a couple of times — that was grounds for being fired,” she said. “I started going to the worker demonstrations.”

Last fall she bumped into NOC organizer Chase Elliot, a former classmate from Henry High School. He invited her to the NOC office to talk about her protest experiences at Target Field.

“Right away the staff welcomed me, embraced me, just like they do everybody. First by volunteering, and then by working part-time at NOC, I’ve developed a sense of personal power that I’ve never felt before,” she said. “At NOC, we do everything from really tough community organizing to helping old people shovel their snow when it gets too deep. We stand for building the community up one person at a time, and doing whatever it takes to accomplish that.”

By the numbers
(Source: Minnesota State Demographic Center)

  • $27,000: Median household income for black Minnesotans in 2014
  • $64,800: Median household income for white Minnesotans in 2014
  • 38: Percent of black Minnesotans in poverty in 2014
  • 8: Percent of white Minnesotans in poverty in 2014
  • 25: Percent of black Minnesotans that own a home
  • 77: Percent of white Minnesotans that own a home


What you can do

— Become a dues-paying member and come to monthly meetings. Everyone is welcome to participate in the community-building work of NOC. For upcoming meeting times, go to mnnoc.org.

— Host a house party for NOC to raise awareness and money for the organization. More details at mnnoc.org/houseparty.

— Follow NOC on social media to stay abreast of their work in the community and get alerts about upcoming events. (Facebook.com/MNNOC and on Twitter @mnnoc)