Coalition developing racial equity report card for Mpls leaders

Mica Grimm of MPIRG and Black Lives Matter at a City Hall press conference Thursday. Credit: Photo by Sarah McKenzie

Voices for Racial Justice and a coalition of community groups focused on racial equity announced plans Thursday to develop a report card measuring the progress of Minneapolis officials on tackling the city’s substantial racial disparities.

The community-led project will measure the impact of officials within city government, the parks system and Minneapolis Public Schools for the OUR MPLS Report Card, which will be released in the fall.

Vina Kay, executive director of Voices for Racial Justice, said the report card will analyze official actions city leaders have taken to “dismantle barriers to opportunity in Minneapolis.” Organizers involved in the project will also reach out to community partners for feedback on progress to date.

“Our goal is simple: We will elevate the leadership and solutions that lead to racial equity in Minneapolis,” she said at a press conference in City Hall’s rotunda.

Mica Grimm, of MPIRG and Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said the report card will help the community analyze the work of the city’s politicians.

“We believe that this is imperative in moving the city forward to create a One Minneapolis just as Mayor Betsy Hodges has wanted,” she said.

David Gilbert-Pederson, an organizer with Hope Community, said the city’s parks system needs to focus on “authentic engagement” with communities of color and the development of a shared equity vision that ensures that underrepresented communities have a seat at the table.

“We demand a park system that is a model for racial equity,” he said.

Steven Mayer, director of the Effective Communities Project and a volunteer with Jewish Community Action, lauded city leaders for outlining a commitment to moving the dial on racial equity, but said actions speak louder than words.

“We have to get beyond concepts and endorsements to real political will and real political action,” he said. “That’s what we’re asking for.” 

Neeraj Mehta, director of community-based research for the University of Minnesota’s Center for Urban and Regional Affairs, said communities of color are the most “powerful assets” in addressing the city’s disparities.

“Communities of color in Minneapolis are not clients waiting to be served — they are not people waiting to be saved,” he said. “We are citizens. We are organized. We are powerful. We have an agenda. We’re ready. We’re coming.”

The OUR MPLS coalition shared a racial equity vision and agenda with Mayor Betsy Hodges and other city leaders in early 2014 after they took office.

The expansive agenda called for the implementation of a citywide racial and economic equity impact framework to be used when considering proposed policies — something that has been adopted by the School Board. It also calls for the adoption of an increased minimum wage, enforcement of the recently adopted responsible banking ordinance, the development of a more effective assessment of police misconduct complaints, an expansion of community policing and an investment in youth programming, among many other things.

The Minneapolis report card will build on the work that Voices for Racial Justice, which was previously known as the Organizing Apprenticeship Project, has done in creating the Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity

City Council Vice President Elizabeth Glidden (Ward 8) is excited about the project.

“It is part of the dialogue that frankly we need about how are we getting to a place where our results are matching up to our intentions,” she said.

As for key initiatives on equity, she pointed to the recent hiring of two new equity and inclusion managers in the City Coordinator’s office. Joy Marsh Stephens is focused on equity work within city departments and Julianne Leerssen is focused on the city’s Promise Zone in North Minneapolis — a White House effort focused on reducing racial disparities in public services and institutions, reducing violent crime and tackling the achievement gap, among other things. 

Glidden also highlighted work to diversify the city’s suppliers; the city’s involvement in the National Initiative for Building Community Trust & Justice, a national project focused on improving procedural justice and reducing implicit bias in police departments; and the discussion on a proposed paid sick time ordinance for all workers in Minneapolis. A report on proposed sick time ordinances is due to the Council on Feb. 24. 

She said the Council will also be focused on policy reforms in 2016 designed to expand affordable housing opportunities and address disparities within the criminal justice system.