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File photo: Young Minnesotans at the Columbia Heights Family Center Pre-School.

Richard Sennott, Star Tribune

MINNESOTA INEQUALITY


"The racial income gap is wider today than it was at the time of the March on Washington in 1963. Not only is this morally wrong, it is unsustainable. Demographics are changing in Minnesota, and people of color will be the majority of residents by 2040. If we don’t fix this now, we’ll wake up without the workforce, leadership and revenue our community needs to compete in the global economy and sustain a good quality of life."


-Sandra Vargas, the Minneapolis Foundation

Commentary: Minneapolis must address racial inequities

  • Article by: Sandra L. Vargas
  • September 21, 2013 - 5:43 PM

A mayoral race is an opportunity to envision the future of a city we love. If we’re intentional about the leadership we select, we can create a greater Minneapolis that’s inclusive, vibrant and ready to compete.

As president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation, I have the privilege of helping thousands of donors realize their own visions for a better future. Our donors — beginning with our founders in 1915 — attribute their success to this community and are committed to making sure it thrives well into the future.

Unfortunately, I also see needs that far surpass what philanthropy can address. And while the scale of those needs is daunting, the nature of them is unconscionable. From the first breath drawn in a Minneapolis hospital in 2013, a baby’s chances at education, employment, health, wealth, safety and long life are determined simply by the color of his or her skin.

In fact, the racial income gap is wider today than it was at the time of the March on Washington in 1963. Not only is this morally wrong, it is unsustainable. Demographics are changing in Minnesota, and people of color will be the majority of residents by 2040. If we don’t fix this now, we’ll wake up without the workforce, leadership and revenue our community needs to compete in the global economy and sustain a good quality of life.

Our board of trustees recognized this and boldly committed to tackle inequities with the resources entrusted to the Minneapolis Foundation to meet community needs. Our first step was to measure where we are and where we need to go.

Our resulting “OneMinneapolis” reports document how each racial/ethnic community is faring on key indicators of a healthy, productive life. Dozens of local agencies now also use this data to improve their programs and public policies.

Our goal — and we are currently far from it — is for all Minneapolis residents to score 100 percent on measures of kindergarten readiness, reading and math proficiency, graduation and higher education, voting, employment, stable housing, public safety, and livable wages.

To achieve this, we invest in the highest-impact strategies we can find. With partners that span sectors and political ideologies, we research what works and strive to replicate it and bring it to scale.

So here are three key ways we can start to turn the tide for Minneapolis:

• We can RESET education. We’ve achieved important victories on early childhood education, but those gains are lost in a K-12 system that fails more children of color than it graduates. Earlier this year, the foundation joined educators, parents, nonprofits, business leaders and other foundations to promote a proven formula for creating district and charter schools where every student succeeds. That’s every child — regardless of race, income or ZIP code.

RESET is an acronym for the five proven strategies — real-time use of data; expectations, not excuses; strong leadership, effective teaching, and time on task — and there is supporting data behind each one.

Bernadeia Johnson, superintendent of the Minneapolis public schools, has committed to adopting these strategies for the district. Supporting this “Shift” (as the superintendent has dubbed her plan) offers all children their best chance at school success.

• We can reprioritize and redesign public services to get better outcomes for everyone. For example, stable housing strengthens our education and workforce efforts. It’s also cost-effective: Sheltering a homeless family costs $2,770 per month, while just $963 in rental support can help such a family into an apartment.

• We can make Minneapolis truly “open for business.” Small businesses generate two-thirds of all new jobs, and the majority of hires by minority-owned businesses are people of color. Ensuring access to capital, credit and technical assistance will launch and grow more minority-owned businesses, helping to close the employment gap.

Expanding programs that effectively train and place people of color in jobs with the potential for advancement is another effective, sustainable strategy. It builds a more inclusive workforce while stabilizing families through livable-wage jobs.

Ensuring that we get full value for our tax dollars is also critical. Last year, Minneapolis increased its minority hiring goal from 11 to 32 percent for construction projects. In a city where 40 percent of residents are people of color, raising expectations and increasing accountability will ensure that everyone in our community benefits from investment of public tax dollars for private enterprise.

This truly is a pivotal moment for our city. In addressing the significant disparities that threaten our future and preparing for sweeping demographic changes, the mayoral race cannot be merely a contest about who cares more, who better articulates the challenges or who’s able to build a bigger task force.

We need our mayor to choose the swiftest, most sustainable path to giving all people the tools and opportunities they need to provide for themselves and their families, contribute to our shared economy, and enjoy an excellent quality of life.

Together, I believe we can create OneMinneapolis.

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Sandra L. Vargas is president and CEO of the Minneapolis Foundation

© 2014 Star Tribune