Glidden travels to Brazil for lessons on addressing racial inequality

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden recently took a two-week trip to Brazil to learn how elected officials are tackling social inequality among Afro-Brazilians and whites and see what lessons might be gleaned to benefit work on racial equity in Minneapolis.

The trip was part of Glidden’s two-year Bush Fellowship, which she was awarded to explore ways city leaders can have an impact on reducing racial disparities.

 “This is the context that is motivating so many of us on the City Council — that is driving organizing efforts across the country, and certainly in Minneapolis, around thinking about these tough concepts of white privilege, dominance of one culture and what do we need to do to correct that inequity,” she said during a recent interview.

She chose to travel to Brazil because the country has a history of slavery like the United States. The country also passed a series of laws five years ago designed to reduce racial inequality in the country, including implementing quotas for the number of blacks in government jobs.

“I was curious about how those reforms were playing out,” she said.

She met with Mauricio Pestana, secretary of racial equality in Sao Paulo, Brazil — a city with a population of about 11 million. Pestana’s new role follows a career in journalism and work as a cartoonist where he developed a reputation for being a sharp and astute critic of government. Now he’s focused on improving economic opportunities for Afro-Brazilians.

Glidden (Ward 8) also visited Porto Alegre — a leader in “participatory” democracy in city government, which allows citizens a greater role in crafting the city’s budget and has lead to other creative ways to engage citizens in policy making.

City leaders in Porto Alegre are trying to tackle distrust of government and build a more equitable city, she said.

As for progress in Minneapolis on the racial equity agenda, Glidden pointed to the city’s work on diversifying its workforce, including a successful effort in the Public Works department to hire more people of color. She’s also eager to see what kind of impact new employees focused on racial equity in the City Coordinator’s office will have on advancing the city’s goals.

Glidden said the Minneapolis Working Families Agenda is also a crucial piece of the racial equity agenda along with new ideas to increase affordable housing options in the city.

Mayor Betsy Hodges and the City Council have been working on proposals to address low-wage workers’ concerns about lack of sick time, wage theft and unfair scheduling practices and have pledged to vote on the proposals by year’s end.

“I feel that working on this working families agenda is about racial equity,” she said.

She said the city is stepping in to help low-wage workers because of the “gridlock at the federal level,” among other things.

“What we are doing is not unusual around the country,” she said. “There is a need to respond to what we are hearing from residents about workplace standards. The legal framework is not keeping up with the changes that are happening in the industry.”


Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden and Mauricio Pestana, secretary of racial equality in Sau Paulo, Brazil.