Sitting around a table with the country’s top education official, a White House adviser, and the mayor of Minneapolis, young people of color from around the Twin Cities spoke frankly on Friday about their worries and hopes.
They told stories about dealing with crime and drug addiction, shared concerns about interacting with police and wondered why it sometimes seems that their schools don’t offer the same classes and opportunities offered to their peers in other parts of their cities. The officials — on a brief tour of “listening sessions” that included a stop at the St. Paul school where police shooting victim Philando Castile had worked — promised that they were listening and ready to take action.
The two meetings featuring U.S. Education Secretary John B. King Jr., presidential special assistant Michael Smith, Mayor Betsy Hodges and other officials, were not open to reporters. But in a news conference following the events, the officials said the conversations had been meaningful and helpful as Minneapolis and St. Paul embark on efforts to work more closely with young people of color.
“Adults spend a lot of time talking about young people and not nearly enough time talking with young people,” Hodges said.
They pointed to both cities’ participation in My Brother’s Keeper, a White House initiative launched in 2014 that aims to help boys and young men of color. Officials said the program is expanding; at least one city in each of the 50 states is now participating, and those communities collectively attracted more than $1 billion in private funding for local efforts.
King said it’s important for young people to know that government officials, teachers and others in the community won’t give up on them.
He said he shared his own story of growing up in New York City, losing both of his parents at a young age, and finding the kind of support at school that prompted him to graduate and become a teacher and principal.
“Folks could have looked at me and said, ‘Here’s an African-American, Latino male student with a family in crisis, going to New York City Schools,’ and they could have given up on me,” he said. “But they didn’t. They invested in me and gave me a reason to be hopeful.”
The officials who attended the listening session said they left the young people with specific commitments to help improve their lives.
Hodges said those promises include work underway in the Minneapolis Police Department, where officers are receiving training about recognizing biases.
She said police are also beginning to participating in “racial reconciliation” work, in which officers meet with community members to talk about their experiences and perspectives.