On the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s unforgettable “I Have a Dream” speech, how do we in Minneapolis act to bring home the powerful message that Dr. King delivered 50 years ago, and President Obama reinforced today?
Each of us in our own way should hear the words about opportunity for every single American, but all of us should remember that the remarkable city of Minneapolis has a gaping weakness: We have some of the largest gaps in jobs, wealth and education of any community in the country.
So many people in Minneapolis are working to close these shameful gaps, but we must all do more. Building One Minneapolis, where people of different races and different neighborhoods are no longer separated from each other by gaps in jobs, wealth and student achievement, has been one of my key goals since taking office and the work continues. In my recent budget proposal, I laid out several strategies that are targeted at doing our part to end those gaps.
Build a City government workforce that looks like Minneapolis
In a city that is now 40% people of color, we need to build a City government workforce that looks like the residents of our city. For several years, we’ve been laying the groundwork:
- My budget doubles the Urban Scholar program, which brings promising young college students of color into the City for the summer to do high-level work. These are the future leaders of City government.
- In addition, I am continuing to fund the remarkable STEP-UP program that in 10 years, has provided 18,000 young people — 86% people of color, 50% from immigrant families, 93% from families living in poverty — with real-life summer work experience in some of Minneapolis’ best employers, including the City of Minneapolis.
It’s especially important that our diversity be reflected in our Police and Fire Departments. My budget funds new recruit classes for both departments, as well as other pipelines for joining those departments, for which we will recruit heavily in communities of color.
With an impending “silver tsunami” of retirements across City government, we are seizing the opportunity to close gaps and ensure that the City of Minneapolis workforce of the 21st century looks like Minneapolis of the 21st century.
Make every neighborhood a safe place to call home
Every Minneapolis neighborhood needs to be a safe place to call home. We have seen some real success in recent years in lowering violent crime: 2011 and 2012 saw the lowest numbers of violent crime in Minneapolis since 1983. We are, however, seeing increases in some parts of the city this year, particularly on the Northside, and I am working closely with Police Chief Janeé Harteau to help bring it down.
This progress has been led by a dramatic decline in youth violence. I was pleased to join President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder and a group of mayors from across the country at the White House yesterday to share the strong results of Minneapolis’ youth violence prevention efforts, which I am continuing to fund in my budget. From 2006–12:
- The number of youth involved in violent crime is down 57%.
- The number of youth involved in gun violence is down 67%.
- The number of youth injured in gun violence is down 62%.
Finally, for Minneapolis to be a safe place to call home, it is essential that our police officers not only look like our residents, but demonstrate respect for them every day. There is no place for racism and discrimination in our Police Department, and when even one officer makes even one offensive comment — or behaves far worse, on or off duty — it jeopardizes the good work that the vast majority of our officers do every day. My budget funds new training, hiring and community-engagement practices that are aimed at ending all incidents of disrespect and misbehavior.
Invest where the gaps are the greatest
In order to eliminate gaps — and in particular, put an end the shameful gap in unemployment between whites and African Americans in Minneapolis, which is one of the largest gaps of its kind — we must also focus on efforts on growing businesses and jobs in the neighborhoods that need them most. My budget funds an innovative effort to attract large anchor employers to the Northside called Grow North. In addition, I am proposing the use the proceeds from the sale of the City’s share in Gaviidae Common downtown to fund small-business improvements in our neighborhoods through our successful Great Streets program, and to invest in the Midtown Global Market, which has been one of the most successful incubators for entrepreneurs of color that Minneapolis has ever seen. Finally, my budget also continues to fund our Small Business Technical Assistance Program, which in 2013 is providing technical assistance to 650 business owners and entrepreneurs, a very large number of whom are people of color.
My budget also continues to fund our very successful workforce-training efforts: since 2002, we have placed nearly 14,000 hard-to-employ and dislocated workers into good jobs, and last year, they were 81% people of color. I also continue to fund RENEW program, which takes people who have been hard to employ and trains them for specialized, high-paying, green jobs — and in 2012, our RENEW trainees were 93% people of color. Finally, we are also aggressively pursuing the goal we have set of making sure that 32% of the people hired to work on the new stadium and the renovation of Target Center are people of color.
Improving our schools so that every student succeeds
Along with what we have done in our budget — and although the mayor has no direct control over our public schools — I will continue to use my role as mayor to push for the strong, immediate actions we need to more aggressively attack an unacceptable achievement gap in our schools. The shockingly low percentages of students of color who graduate on time from our schools are a direct assault on the vision and work of Dr. King, and of so many more people. There is no simple or easy solution, but I will continue to work with parents, young people, community and school leaders to bring the urgency and spirit of innovation to our schools. I will be advocating for
- having our young people spend more time in school and in high-quality, out-of-school-time activities,
- rapidly increasing the diversity of our teacher corps, and
- supporting Superintendent Bernadeia Johnson’s proposals to allow more innovation in underperforming schools.
I will also continue my strong support for successful early-childhood interventions like the Northside Achievement Zone. And all Minneapolis residents should join me in thanking Governor Dayton and the Minnesota Legislature for finally passing all-day kindergarten.
50 years later: working hard to making Dr. King’s dream Minneapolis’ reality
Fifty years ago, Dr. King inspired us to dream of a world where every person had the ability to live the American Dream. Today in Minneapolis, we have to keep working even harder to end the gaps in race and geography that are keeping us from realizing Dr. King’s dream, and to make his dream Minneapolis’ reality.