The challenge of social justice is to evoke a sense of community that we need to make our nation a better place, just as we make it a safer place. - Marian Wright Edelman, 2001
Murder on Lake Calhoun
The other day, I had the opportunity to attend a kick-off meeting for the 27th Annual Jimmy & Rosalynn Carter Work Project. I sat next to a well-known, former CEO who happens to live near Lake Calhoun. We were discussing the violence that is occurring in our city and he mentioned that a window of his home was shot out and a bullet lodged in a bedroom mattress during a recent murder that occurred on May 24. No one in his home was harmed and he praised the police officers who came to investigate for their professionalism in handling the incident.
The former CEO commented, that unless we, as a community, address the underlying causes of the lack of opportunity, hope, and education; we are all at risk of becoming a victim of violence, which is no longer confined to low-income communities in the Twin Cities and is spreading like a virus.
If everyone thought like this enlightened former CEO, we may be able to address some of the difficult and wicked problems that permeate low-income communities throughout the Twin Cities area.
According to Bruce Western’s 2006 book, Punishment and Inequality in America, “…for every increase of 1 percent in the level of black male unemployment, the homicide rate increases by 1.28 per 100,000”. While the correlation between violent crimes and employment rates are complex and caused by a multitude of factors; the analysis by Western does point to a connection.
Recently, Kris Jacobs, Executive Director of JOBS NOW Coalition, sent me a report by the Economic Policy Institute, released June 8, titled Uneven Pain: Unemployment by Metropolitan Area and Race. The report, which highlights the unemployment rate in cities across the country by race, indicated, “The black-white unemployment ratio was highest in Minneapolis and Memphis. In these metropolitan areas, the black unemployment rate was three times the white rate. In both of these cities, the black-white gap was also over 10 percentage points.” Thus, for whites in the Minneapolis metropolitan area, the 2009 unemployment rate was 6.6 percent; for African Americans, it was 20.4 percent. This is a difference of 13.8 percent! Moreover, the report found, of the 18 metropolitan cities surveyed, African Americans in the Minneapolis metropolitan area experienced the worst relative disparities. I was surprised and disappointed by these statistics.
The report goes on to state that education plays a major role in unemployment rates; however, in the Twin Cities, education levels do not explain the unemployment disparity between whites and African Americans. In other words, African Americans are much more likely to be unemployed in Minneapolis than whites, despite comparable levels of education.
Is this true? Could Minneapolis, in 2010, somehow be a bastion of discriminatory practices today – a city recognized as one of the most affordable, liberal and healthy places to live in the nation, a city that boasts the best biking and walking paths, a city with one of the highest levels of educational attainment in the country? I don’t want to believe it!
It is interesting to point out that the murder rate seems to be decreasing throughout the country, but rising in Minneapolis this year. Could there be something unique going on in Minneapolis in regards to unemployment rates among African Americans, and the murder-rate?
What has become apparent to me is that the old solutions no longer work. It may be time for us to consider a different approach. Just as the former CEO pointed out, unless we come to grips with poverty in low-income communities in our region, we will continue to see violence and murder spread throughout our community, and innocent bystanders will be affected. It is fortunate that the bullet that struck the former CEO’s house near Lake Calhoun did not hit someone. We are all vulnerable to this type of collateral violence.
Some would blame the perpetrator, some the government or the private sector, and still others would blame the nonprofit sector. If we have disproportional outcomes for African Americans, not explained by education, then this group does not have the ability to compete in the employment marketplace on an equal basis. One could infer that if all things were equal, we might not see this level of senseless violence in our community. The question for all of us is – What are we going to do about it?
HIRE Minnesota Coalition – Making a Difference
There are people working to make a difference on these important issues. HIRE Minnesota Coalition is an alliance of over 60 community, faith-based, and policy advocacy organizations led by Summit Academy OIC, ISAIAH, the Will Steger Foundation, and others. The coalition seeks public investments to grow the economy, provide living wages to low-income people and people of color, and promote healthy communities.
This year, the HIRE Minnesota Coalition negotiated an agreement with the Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) to invest more than $6 million in federal road construction funding to workforce-development for people of color and women.
One-half of 1 percent of all highway construction dollars that MnDOT receives from the federal government during each of the next five fiscal years will be used to achieve its diversity goals. During what remains of fiscal 2010, MnDOT will spend $700,000 on three workforce projects: $384,000 on six-month internships with trucking and highway heavy contractors; $250,000 on heavy-equipment operator training; and $66,000 on outreach to minorities and women in the west metro.
“This [agreement] has the potential to transform the lives of thousands of low-income people of color throughout the state of Minnesota,” said Richard Copeland, CEO of Thor Construction, one of the largest minority-owned construction businesses in the Twin Cities metro. “It will provide a path to stable, well-paying jobs with potential for career growth. It is these kinds of opportunities that people of color have historically been locked out of”.
Rev. Paul Slack, pastor of New Creation Church in Brooklyn Park, said, “After 17 years of MnDOT falling short of its goals to open the doors to disadvantaged workers, this agreement represents ‘a good win for all of us’ involved in the effort to change that”. What is most important, Slack added, is that the money will help “not just to get folks trained but also to retain people of color and women in highway construction jobs”.
I would encourage people who are concerned about our community, who want to make a difference on issues of both violence and economic opportunity, to join with and support the efforts of the HIRE Minnesota Coalition in creating opportunity structures to ensure that everyone has an equal opportunity to participate in this vibrant community. Our future depends on it.