Fighting for Equity

Conversations about equity are perhaps the most important we are having today, as a community and as a society. For progressives, every day brings a new fight to uncover and remedy consequences of generations of inequitable policy and action. There are many things the City does that on their face seem to have little to do with equity, but are part of an ongoing effort to correct the systemic racism inherent in our history as a city and as a country. One of the challenges is to conquer the discomfort we all feel when we talk about race. But we can’t overcome hundreds of years of institutionalized racial inequality until we can identify it, name it, and discuss ways to correct it. Some examples of ways that I, as Ward 1 City Council member, have made incremental changes designed to tackle inequality are:

  • As the chair of the Transportation & Public Works Committee I have been closely involved in a new approach to the work of our Public Works department that applies an equity lens to all the work that department undertakes. That has allowed us to identify and implement fixes for significant gaps in basic amenities like bicycle infrastructure, sidewalks, street quality, reconstruction, and streetlights. It assists us in strategizing and prioritizing investment in traditionally underserved parts of our city. Four specific initiatives I am proud to be a part of are:

    • The Green Zones Initiative, specifically addressing long-term environmental justice issues that have disproportionately impacted the areas of our city that house our highest concentrations of lower income residents and persons of color. Our goal with the Green Zones Initiative is to spur redevelopment of new green industry in areas that have traditionally borne the highest negative impact from concentrated industrial pollution.

    • The Great Northern Greenway, a proposed corridor of bicycle and pedestrian trails and infrastructure that will span from Theodore Wirth Parkway in the west to the Diagonal Trail in the east. I have been working with Public Works and community members to move this project as a priority in order to catch up to other areas already well-served by this type of infrastructure;

    • Streetscape repairs and improvements – with over $20 million in additional funding, we can now more completely address too-long delayed maintenance and upgrades to our streets and sidewalks. To allocate the additional funding equitably, Public Works uses a criteria-based process with a focus on racial and economic equity as they prioritize street projects on an annual basis. The process is data driven, but also creates and seizes opportunities to align with established city goals and priorities.

    • In 2014, the city laid out its strategic vision for the next 4 years. This strategic vision, and in particular the direction “One Minneapolis Disparities are eliminated so all Minneapolis residents can participate and prosper,” are absolutely key to making Minneapolis the city we all want for ourselves and our children.

  • I have been working with my colleagues to implement several programs intended to improve and diversify the pool of people for open jobs. Specifically, we’ve focused on jobs in public safety, with two of my favorites:

    • The EMS Pathways Academy Student Internship Program aims to diversify the Minneapolis Fire Department and Hennepin County EMS workforce. As more jobs are created in this rapidly expanding field, it is essential that we fill these positions with qualified candidates who reflect the multilingual and culturally diverse communities they serve. And we’ve made progress! The first class of graduates included 91% people of color and was over 50% female. Graduates of this program have been successfully hired as Minneapolis Firefighters, dispatchers with Hennepin EMS, and some are continuing their training to become paramedics.

    • The Community Service Officer Program provides a pathway into the Minneapolis Police Department specifically for economically disadvantaged and non-traditional candidates. CSO trainees are paid and have access to an educational assistance program that provides up to $12,000 toward a two-year law enforcement degree. The City’s most recent class of CSOs was 61% people of color.

  • I resist any steps toward federalizing our local law enforcement. What is often referred to as a “sanctuary city” ordinance which is critical to the Minneapolis Police Department’s ability to do its job. Forcing MPD officers to do the work of U.S. Customs officials will harm their ability to keep people safe. Everyone, including undocumented individuals, needs to believe the police are on their side when they experience or witness crimes. Breaking that trust will make us all less safe.

  • When Central Avenue Clinic - a medical clinic that treats people regardless of citizenship, status of health insurance, or ability to pay - was at risk of being displaced by the Walgreen’s relocation, I worked with both parties to secure a new location the Clinic, which allows for greater capacity and visibility.

  • Every Minneapolis resident deserves access to the resources that provide opportunities to grow and prosper. Currently this is not the case, but I have worked with various partners to bring more resources to bridge these gaps.

    • The work at Edison High School, completed in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization and Holland Neighborhood Organization, provides cutting edge educational opportunities. The stormwater management improvements allow science students at Edison High School to see and participate in live field research at the collegiate level.

    • The greenhouse and garden space, incorporated into the Edison High School improvements, has led to a partnership with “Spark Y” - a new program designed around environmental biology and community activism.

    • The stormwater management improvements at Northeast Middle School, completed in partnership with Minneapolis Public Schools, Mississippi Watershed Management Organization, and Audubon Neighborhood Association, has provided an enhanced the middle school’s science curriculum and provided opportunities for on-site research and discovery, as well as significantly beautifying the school’s outside space.

    • The improved Jackson Park field, completed in partnership with the Minneapolis Park Board and Holland Neighborhood  Association, has created a quality athletic facility, because all our children deserve access to recreational resources and youth sports opportunities.

I know that we have a long way to go in realizing a City where equity is something we don’t even need to think about because applying it to policy and implementation is second nature. Being intentional about equity isn’t just about fairness, it’s smart strategy that makes our entire city stronger.

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