Minneapolis has hired a new race and equity director to rebuild the department, improve the city's work culture and help residents heal after George Floyd's murder.
Tyeastia Green, who grew up in Minneapolis, began a similar job in Burlington, Vermont, in March 2020, just before the coronavirus upended life in the United States and two months before Floyd was murdered by police.
"Since then, I felt this incredible draw to come back home and to do this work here," Green said. "I felt not that the community needed me, per se, but I felt like I wanted to be a part of what was happening in Minneapolis in regards to racial justice, racial healing."
Minneapolis' Division of Race & Equity aims to reduce disparities throughout the city, which consistently logs some the country's widest racial disparities in education, health and homeownership. Its past work has focused on finding ways to better gauge how city policies would impact people of different races — as elected officials are weighing whether to pass them — and on improving access to mental health and youth programs.
Interim City Coordinator Heather Johnston, who supervises the division, said she hopes Green will work first to replenish its staff. The division is budgeted for 4.5 employees but will have just two when Green starts because of recent turnover. She hopes Green will also build strong relationships in the community, strengthen the city's race and equity plan, and help efforts to form a Truth & Reconciliation Commission.
"She is really doing in the city of Burlington what we want her to be able to do here," said Johnston, who selected Green out of a pool of nearly 60 candidates.
Burlington and Minneapolis are vastly different in terms of size and demographics. Burlington, about an hour south of the Canadian border, has a population of nearly 45,000 people — about 85% of whom are white, and about 6% Black. Minneapolis has nearly 430,000 people — about 64% of whom are white, 19% Black and 10% Latino.
In a public meeting after Green's resignation was announced, three Burlington city councilors praised the work she did there, crediting her with improving staff training, working on a reparations task force, implementing programs supporting businesses run by people of color and supporting a clinic aimed at reducing racial disparities in COVID-19 vaccination rates. Some of them also said they felt the mayor had obstructed Green's work and they hoped her departure would prompt city leaders to reflect on how they could better support the office in the future.
"This is a huge loss for people of color and people of color, again, let me remind you all, especially the mayor, that we [are] not objects that people need to use when they want or to make political gains," Councilor Ali Dieng said in the meeting.
In one of the more high-profile incidents, Mayor Miro Weinberger removed Green, who is Black, from her post overseeing a consultant's review of the city's police department, and replaced her with a white man. He reinstated her after a public outcry.
The mayor's office didn't respond to a request for comment. In a statement to local news outlet VTDigger, a spokesperson for the mayor said Burlington had gone further than other Vermont cities in its efforts to promote racial equity. "The Mayor is currently very focused on supporting the ... department through this critical transition to ensure the momentum of the last two years is not lost," the statement said.
Green said she encountered racism and resistance in Vermont and expects to in Minneapolis as well, but she's looking forward to being closer to relatives and friends who can provide her with a support system outside of work.
Green begins her job in Minneapolis on March 28 and will earn a salary of nearly $140,000. She said she hopes to focus first on building strong relationships with community leaders and on implementing new policies that will help city employees feel accepted in the workplace. "No more having two versions of their selves, no more code-switching," she said.
Green expects implementing anti-racist policies will take time: "I liken it to pushing a boulder up a hill barefoot on sharp rocks, and I have to take many breaks and I'm bleeding, and I'm in pain, but I'm determined to push this boulder up this hill. No matter how long it takes me, every inch is a win."