When I was a kid, I had a dream that I would grow up to be Mayor of Minneapolis — but I woke up before I found out what came next. So over this past year, I have spent a lot of time thinking about what to do after I am finished being Mayor on January 2.
I have done a lot of soul-searching. I knew I wanted to keep working on the challenges facing my hometown and I didn’t want to be spread as thin as I am today. I wanted to focus as much energy as I can on one big issue, and it is clear there is one big challenge that dwarfs all others we face:
The young people of our region do not share the same future.
Our children of color are not learning as fast in our schools. Fewer of them are graduating. Fewer of them are getting to college.
We should be proud that Minneapolis–Saint Paul is at the top of so many lists of successful communities, but we should be ashamed that we also top of list of communities with the largest achievement gaps.
A great region cannot become greater if kids get a different education; if their success can be predicted by their race and where they live. Improving education for all children is clearly the civil rights issue of our time, and there is almost no region in the country that has to close more of that gap than Minneapolis St. Paul.
We have talked about this issue for a long, long time, but it is clear to me there is a growing consensus that we have to stop admiring this problem and treat it like the crisis that it surely is.
When the 35W bridge collapsed, we didn’t spend years talking about how it fell down, and a couple more thinking about how we would fix it: we raced into the water to save lives and broke down every barrier possible to get it rebuilt as fast as it possibly could.
If we can do this about a piece of infrastructure, then surely we can do that with the future of our next generation.
Today, I am announcing that when I am finished serving as Mayor on January 2, I will become executive director of Generation Next. Generation Next is a partnership of some of our region’s most significant foundation, business, education and community leaders, and has included Saint Paul Mayor Chris Coleman and me. It is modeled on successful Strive Initiatives in other cities that have built powerful community partnerships and transformed schools to attack the achievement gap.
I have been at the table with Generation Next over the past two years as we have built a strong coalition and foundation. But we have to do much, much more. Now is the time to move to an even higher level, with an even stronger coalition, with an even greater urgency.
We clearly face a crisis, but it can also be our greatest opportunity. If we can close the gap in our schools, our increasingly diverse next generation can help our businesses soar in a global economy where the most important skill is to cross cultural barriers. Kids in our schools do that every single day, and they can teach us how if we can only teach them better.
I have loved being Mayor, but my favorite part of the job has always been the STEP-UP summer-jobs program, the Youth Violence Prevention effort, all my visits to schools and the rest of my work with young people. I am so happy that I can continue to work for the children of Minneapolis — and now, also the children of Saint Paul.
I have a lot to learn. I will enter the work humbly. But I will also enter with urgency, because we don’t have a minute, or a young mind, to waste.
Generation Next will take up the bulk of my time, but I’m also pleased to announce that I will have another project: I will be teaching one class a semester at the University of Minnesota, which will be offered jointly by the Humphrey School of Public Affairs and the College of Design.
The first class that I am teaching this spring will be called “Mayor 101,” and it will cover some of the lessons I learned in my 12 years on the job.
Even though I am leaving a job that I have loved for the past 12 years — serving as your mayor — I am lucky that in both my future roles, I will continue to be able to serve the young people and future leaders of the city, region and state that I love.
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