Mpls & St. Paul NAACP chapters unite to target state’s racial wealth gap

(l-r) Dr. Artika Tyner, Meda CEO Gary Cunningham, Village Financial Co-founding Director Me’Lea Connelly and MN Attorney General Keith Ellison (Photo by: spokesman-recorder.com)
(l-r) Dr. Artika Tyner, Meda CEO Gary Cunningham, Village Financial Co-founding Director Me’Lea Connelly and MN Attorney General Keith Ellison (Photo by: spokesman-recorder.com)

By Stephenetta (isis) Harmon

A new plan is being formed to help address the racial wealth gap in Minnesota. Last month, the National NAACP announced the creation of an Economic Inclusion Plan (EIP) ​for the Twin Cities. The forthcoming plan aims to address the myriad racial disparities and issues affecting Black communities in the Twin Cities — from mass incarceration and economic injustice to entrepreneurship and rising education costs.

The national organization previously released plans for three cities in February 2018. “Minneapolis and St. Paul were chosen due to the recent social unrest surrounding the police shootings of Philando Castile and Jamar Clark,” said Joel Franklin, JD, NAACP Minnesota/Dakotas Area State Conference President.

A who’s who of Black leadership gathered Dec. 10, hosted by the organization’s Minneapolis and St. Paul chapters, to begin the work and gather community input for the plan which is set to be released this spring.

Moderated by Minneapolis NAACP President Leslie Redmond, panelists shared their expertise with the more than 100 attendees who packed the house at the Minneapolis Urban League in North Minneapolis.

Redmond told the MSR that they handpicked panelists from both Minneapolis and St. Paul areas “recognizing that these economic disparities are impacting both of us and that we need to be able to work together and move forward.”

Their conversations focused on solutions and pathways towards change, including Attorney General Keith Ellison’s call to end the war on drugs.

“I think it’s incredibly horrible to deprive someone of their freedom for something that is absolutely legal in three or four states of our union, [and] Mexico and Canada,” said Ellison. We have “to always oppose these mandatory minimum sentences, particularly in the drug area.”

“As an attorney, I can tell you it is more difficult to address when somebody is entangled in the criminal justice system than stopping them from ever getting there,” added Dr. Artika Tyner, associate vice president of diversity and inclusion, University of St. Thomas.

Ellison noted how systems use incarceration as a tool for certain populations “to be economically stronger” while draining Black communities and other communities of color. “What happens to the household economics when a parent goes to prison? What happens to that kid’s income?

“I know a guy who has not seen his dad face-to-face in over 11 years,” Ellison said. “He’s coming home. What will that mean to the family even if Dad just makes minimum wage? That kid’s income will go up.”

Bridging the wealth gap

Dr. Bruce Corrie, planning and economic development director for the City of St. Paul, explored the gap between the average income of St. Paul’s Black households and their housing costs, making most neighborhoods unaffordable to them. “We have a serious income problem that needs to be addressed. How do we build wealth? We really have to focus attention on very practical ways of building wealth at every level.”

Gary Cunningham, president and CEO of Meda, shared his visions for activating Black and communities of color to access entrepreneurship capital, referring to a report that it would take over 240 years for Blacks to accumulate the wealth of a White family today.

Tyner noted that when she received the same report in 2016, it was 228 years. “The gap will continue to grow because it’s like me telling you to get from home plate to a home run and I’m already on third base.”

“If we really want to change the game,” said Cunningham, “we have to open up the opportunities, and we’ve got to be ready to compete with those opportunities once they open up. But, we can’t do it just sitting in here.

“We got to go to the legislature, city hall, the County, because when you look at the numbers, there’s no way, statistically, this can happen,” he continued. “It’s just impossible to have that kind of outcome unless there’s something else happening in the system that keeps you from getting opportunities.”

Holding the system accountable

Me’Lea Connelly, Blexit founder and co-founding director of Black-owned credit union Village Financial, called for more than new laws to be passed. She challenged attorneys to sue for equitable treatment based on current laws.

“There’s a lot of data that we heard earlier that…Minnesota has been studied to death [for its] inequities, but there aren’t a lot of lawsuits,” said Connelly. “If there’s no accountability, no fear of consequence, then institutions like Wells Fargo — who preyed on Black communities and were the reason why we lost a huge amount of generational wealth — only get a slap on the wrist,” she said.

“I look back at ‘Nader’s Raiders’ and how that small initiative shaped corporate accountability for our country for generations to come,” Connelly continued, referring to a group of law students led by Ralph Nader in the ’60s and ’70s.

“[They were] a group of attorneys that sued the pants off of corporations to make them create regulations to make sure people were safe, specifically in the car industry. I would love it if the Black community in the United States became one of the most litigious communities in the world, because we’ve got plenty of reason to expose everybody,” she said.

Working together

The panel also called for those working toward change to build bridges across organizations and to lead by example.

“You can have all the skills and talent in the world as an entrepreneur, as a college graduate, but if someone does not show you the way, it does not matter,” said Tyner. “A job and a degree cannot bridge everything — build a ladder and help to create new opportunities.”

“I think the time has come for us to collectively go beyond our own egos and our own interest and our own visions to work together to build and take advantage of this momentum and make something really happen,” said Corrie. “But it can happen only if the whole village is involved.”

“But we got to be organized,” Cunningham added. “We’ve got to be on point and we’ve got to demand what we want or it won’t happen.”

The conversation continues at the Minneapolis NAACP’s State of Minneapolis inaugural address on Mon., Jan. 28, 6-8 pm at North Community High School,1500 James Ave. N., Minneapolis.

For more information, visit mplsnaacp.org.

This article originally appeared in the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.

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