Minneapolis' top elected officials hope to boost support for programs promoting racial equity as they settle on a city budget for the next two years.
Much of the work aimed at reducing the racial disparities long entrenched in city life stalled in the two years since George Floyd's murder as staff, many of whom felt their work was marginalized and tokenized, left the division responsible for overseeing those efforts.
When he unveiled his $3.3 billion budget proposal earlier this summer, Mayor Jacob Frey included plans to boost staffing for the division and elevate its status in City Hall — a change Council President Andrea Jenkins was also exploring.
"It's not about going back to the old normal," Frey said in an interview last week. "We want to blow by that to see true and realized change."
Floyd's death in 2020 placed renewed focus on Minneapolis' racial disparities, which are frequently among the widest in the country. People of color — and particularly Black and Indigenous residents — often report lower income and homeownership rates than their white counterparts. They are disproportionately impacted by COVID-19 and by crime in the city.
Minneapolis has for years housed its racial equity programs within a division of the city coordinator's office. Earlier this summer, a group of current and former employees in that office publicly raised concerns about "toxic, racist and unsafe workplace conditions" within City Hall. Many division employees left the city, some saying that they feared elected officials were making bold promises to promote racial justice but weren't providing them with the resources needed to ensure those efforts succeeded.
The division began 2020 with a roughly $1.5 million budget and plans to employ seven people . By the time Tyeastia Green took over as the new director this spring, just one other employee remained.
Under the mayor's new budget proposal, those programs would receive roughly $1.5 million for each of the next two years, including the money to cover salaries for eight employees. The division would now operate as its own department and receive a new name: Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
"I took this as an opportunity to build a new department with a clean slate, with a different name, to move us forward," said Green.
Green has a list of changes she hopes to make if City Council signs off on the expansion: She wants to boost anti-racism training within city government, offering it not just to the mayor and department heads who are currently participating, but also to mid-level managers and eventually to first responders and other front-line workers.
By year's end, her employees hope to offer a public presentation on changes they can make to implement a resolution that more than a year ago declared racism a public health emergency. By next summer, Green plans to release a public report recommending policy changes aimed at reducing disparities within City Hall and in the wider community.
Green hopes to boost city funding for a Trans Equity Summit, a free, day-long event that aims to support transgender and gender nonconforming residents and connect them with services. She hopes to hire someone to help departments boost the quality of their Racial Equity Impact Analyses, which elected officials use to gauge the impacts of their policies before passing them. And she recently hired two people — one Black and one Indigenous — to revive work on a stalled effort to create a Truth & Reconciliation Commission aimed at promoting healing.
Green said her ultimate goal is "to ensure that race is not a determining factor in any measurable outcome."
"I know that that is a high bar, and I know that we won't reach it in this lifetime, probably," she said. "However, we are going to drop a lot of seeds and we will reach it as a community. We'll reach it as a country. And the work that we are doing now is going to ensure that."
It's too early to tell how this new proposal might compare to the one that ultimately passes in December. The group that raised concerns earlier this year declined to comment.
Jenkins said she and many of her colleagues are still in the early stages of evaluating the proposal, along with funding pitches made by the city's other departments. But, she added: "I do think that people are really anxious to see shifts in the race-equity, currently division, becoming a department. I think, from what I'm hearing, people are all on board with that.
"[It's] not to say that the coordinator's office is not a great incubator," Jenkins said. "But that's the definition of an incubator, right, is it sort of is like a test lab for various projects, and once they have sort of morphed and grown and developed, then they need to kind of go off on their own."