The built-to-last economy will level the playing field for the middle class

President Obama’s State of the Union speech tonight is a road map for an America that’s built to last, the America the middle-class deserves.

But before we get to that, let’s start with some indisputable facts: after inheriting an economic catastrophe, President Obama has delivered 22 straight months of private-sector job growth. Mayors like me across the country have benefited from his leadership in putting cops on the street, teachers in the classroom and unemployed workers back on the job — including in the auto industry, which made one million more cars last year because of the President’s bold leadership. He has also delivered critical investments in small business, including upgrades in homegrown energy, which have created hundreds of thousands of new jobs that didn’t even exist before. He’s made it less expensive to go to college, made it possible for millions who never had it to get on healthcare, and made it possible for millions more to stay on healthcare and not go bankrupt.

In short, the President’s leadership has delivered for America’s middle class.

The built-to-last economy that President Obama laid out tonight will keep leveling the playing field for the middle class. The President’s vision for America is one in which people who work hard, do their fair share and play by the rules will no longer be swimming upstream, but will actually get ahead.

That’s just common sense.

Rehired officers look like Minneapolis

I’m very pleased that this week, we rehired eight rookie police offices whom we had to lay off in late 2009 because of budget cuts, just as they were beginning their careers. I’m especially happy that six of these eight officers are people of color, and that one is a woman.

For years now, we have been firmly committed to making the Minneapolis Police department look like the communities that it works hard to keep safe, and our efforts are paying off: now more than 19% of Minneapolis police officers are people of color. While that still doesn’t represent the percentage of people of color in our city, which is more than 40%, it’s a higher proportion of police officers of color than we’ve ever had in our history. This is good progress that we can be proud of.

It’s also progress that one of the newly-rehired officers is a woman. Our force is now 16% women — and while that’s still not good enough, we also have more women officers today than we have ever had in our history.

We’ve made good progress on public safety in Minneapolis: violent crime has fallen by double-digit percentages for each of the last six years, and in 2011, violent crime fell to a 28-year low. While we have serious concerns — above all, that it’s far too easy to get and use a gun — and while even one crime is too many, our work in partnering with community to make everyone safer is paying off. Thanks goes to Minneapolis police officers, led by Chief Tim Dolan, and to the many unsung residents who work hard every day to make their communities safer.

Please join me in welcoming officers Bowen Barnard, Kong Moua, Abubakar Muridi, Christopher Reiter, Tou Thao, Lincoln Vincent, Jeffery Webb and Yolanda Wilks as they join the ranks of the men and women who work with our communities to make Minneapolis a safe place to call home.

STEP-UP creates opportunity for youth today, prosperity for all of us tomorrow

Seven years ago, in the gym at Edison High School, I told a group of 9th graders about what was then a new summer-jobs program called STEP-UP.  One of the students who heard me was Hashim Yonis. Hashim applied and a few months later, he had a STEP-UP job at the downtown law firm of Faegre & Benson.

Yesterday, it was my turn to watch Hashim on stage — at the White House.  He and I were invited to attend the day-long kick-off of the Obama Administration’s new Summer Jobs Plus initiative, for which STEP-UP serves as a model. Hashim spoke on a panel of young people who have benefited from meaningful summer employment and skills training, and this extraordinary, 23-year-old man told his extraordinary story:

Born in a war zone in Somalia, Hashim lived in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya before coming to Minneapolis 10 years ago, speaking no English. After finishing Sanford Middle School, he enrolled at Edison,  got that first STEP-UP job, then another one in the Minneapolis Public Works Department before finishing at the top of his class. He went to graduate from St. Olaf College. Today he works as an administrator at Wellstone International School in Roosevelt High. (Check out this great MinnPost story about Hashim and STEP-UP.)

Hashim was the rock star of President Obama’s summit on summer jobs — impressive, when you consider that Jon Bon Jovi, a member of the White House Council on Community Solutions, was in the audience … along with Education Secretary Arne Duncan, Labor Secretary Hilda Solis, other presidential advisors and leaders of some of the country’s top businesses and nonprofits. Secretary Solis tweeted, “Hashim Yonis, a #summerjobs participant from Minneapolis, just shared an amazing story of perseverance and the power of opportunity.”

And when Hashim was done telling his story, President Obama hugged him.

Hashim is one of a kind — but he’s not alone.  He’s one of 14,000 young people who have held a STEP-UP summer job since we started STEP-UP with our nonprofit partner AchieveMpls. Many of these 14,000 young people have also taken advantage of the two other pieces of the Minneapolis Promise: planning their futures at college and career centers in every Minneapolis public high school, and financial help for college at the University of Minnesota and MCTC.

One of the best things about STEP-UP is that it’s there for young people who haven’t always gotten the opportunities they deserve: more than 50% of STEP-UP interns come from immigrant families, 86% are youth of color and 93% come from families living in poverty.

It’s no coincidence that since STEP-UP began, graduation rates in Minneapolis Public Schools have climbed from 53% to 78%.

The success of STEP-UP has only been possible because leaders of 211 employers in the private, public and nonprofit sectors have funded STEP-UP jobs, with help from the state and federal governments. I cannot thank them enough — and I want to extend special thanks to U.S. Bank Chairman and CEO Richard Davis, a strong business champion for our youth, who co-chairs STEP-UP with me.

The jobs these employers have provided are huge gifts from this community to these kids. In 2011 alone, these jobs put $3 million in payroll into low-income families. 

But make no mistake: these new young leaders are also a huge gift to our community.  Hashim, for example, speaks seven languages, and many STEP-UP interns speak at least two. Think of it this way: no other city in the country is training a workforce that is as globally savvy. These young people will make the Minneapolis of tomorrow a global economic powerhouse. 

Hiring promising young people from disadvantaged backgrounds for high-quality summer jobs and putting them on the road to success is the right thing to do. But it’s more than the right thing to do: it puts money into our economy today and it prepares our economy for the future.

Here’s where you can help: by hiring a STEP-UP intern where you work. Our community has done much to grow STEP-UP but we need to do more, because we have a waiting list of 2,000 deserving young people who are ready to work hard and give back. And if your workplace already has a STEP-UP intern, you already know how good they are — so you can help by hiring another.

If you or your employer is willing to help, contact Tammy Dickinson at the City of Minneapolis or Jane Austin at AchieveMpls.

Since that day seven years ago when I met Hashim at Edison, I have been promoting STEP-UP and the Minneapolis Promise at 9th-grade assemblies at every Minneapolis high school, every year.

This year at Roosevelt, I was introduced to the 9th graders by Hashim, now an administrator at their school. He told them that he once sat where they are and if he could make it, they could too.   

From my vantage point on that stage, I looked out at all those young faces from so many backgrounds, and I saw a very bright future for Minneapolis.

New director of nutrition at public schools will move Homegrown Minneapolis forward

One of the top goals of Homegrown Minneapolis has been to get more healthy local food in our schools.  Now Minneapolis Public Schools Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson has taken a significant step to make that possible by hiring Bertrand Weber to the top food position at the school district.

I first learned of Bertrand’s pioneering work through my wife, Megan O”Hara, who cochaired Homegrown Minneapolis. Megan and I are very excited about this new appointment and stand ready to help.

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

January 4, 2012 

Minneapolis Public Schools names new director of nutrition services

MINNEAPOLIS – Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson on January 4 announced the selection of Bertrand Weber as director of nutrition services for Minneapolis Public Schools effective January 9, 2012. The director of nutrition services leads the MPS Child Nutrition Program, including management of staff, operations, facilities, menu, purchasing, budget, financial operations and community relations.
 
“Bertrand is a motivated and innovative professional with 37 progressive years of school food service and premier hospitality management experience,” said Johnson. “Our students will benefit from his expertise in food service and his commitment to creating healthy meal options.”
 
Of the hire, Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak said, “Bertrand Weber is a leader in the farm-to-school movement and is seen as a hero by the folks involved in our Homegrown Minneapolis initiative, including my wife Megan O’Hara. His proven ability to bring fresh foods to school cafeterias will be great for our kids and key to expanding Homegrown Minneapolis.”
 
Since 2006, Weber has been employed as director of wellness, nutrition and culinary standards for Taher, Inc., in Minnetonka, where he was responsible for the development and implementation of nutrition standards, wellness policies and culinary standards for 106 school districts in the upper Midwest. He also worked as Royal Cuisine director of operations in the Hopkins school district from 2003 to 2006. In the hospitality industry, Weber was employed as general manager of La Toscana Ristorante from 1998 to 2003; general manager of the Whitney Hotel from 1991 to 1997; food and beverage director at the Wequassett Inn in Cape Cod, MA, from 1988 to 1991; general manager of the New Bern Golf & Country Club in New Bern, NC, from 1987 to 1988; general manager of the Beach Club at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra, FL, from 1984 to 1987; assistant food and beverage director at Pier 66 Hotel and Marina in Ft. Lauderdale, FL, from 1980 to 1984; and assistant manager of resort operations at Palm Beach Polo & Country Club in Wellington, FL, from 1978 to 1980.
 
Weber completed his education at the Ecole Hotelière de Genève, Switzerland.
 
Of his new position, Weber said, “I welcome the opportunity and challenge of positively affecting the lives of the students of Minneapolis Public Schools. I am committed to making MPS Nutrition Services a national leader in promoting the health of children through nutritious school meals.”