Black community leaders on Thursday unveiled a legislative agenda they said would be critical in beginning to close racial disparities in education, health and the workforce.
Leaders from local civic groups, as well as activists with Black Lives Matter, gathered at the state Capitol for their annual day of lobbying. They highlighted GOP-led legislation they opposed, such as a bill that would stiffen penalties for protests that block roads and highways and another that would pre-empt local ordinances around the state from enacting their own labor and pay laws.
“Our agenda this year is more focused and strategic because unfortunately we find ourselves playing defense on several fronts,” said Steve Belton, president of the Minneapolis Urban League.
Belton called on lawmakers to fund programs that would support black communities across the state.
“Many of us have been using different tactics but we all wanted the same goal: we want racial equity, we want to see black liberation,” said Wintana Melekin, civic and political engagement director with the Minneapolis nonprofit, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change. “We want to see strong and powerful black communities in Minnesota.”
Among the groups represented Thursday were the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, the Northside Community Reinvestment Coalition, Ummah Project, Voices of East African Women and the Minnesota Black Nurses Association.
Rep. Erin Maye Quade, DFL-Apple Valley, said fellow legislators should take heed of the set of proposals black leaders are supporting.
“If we want to solve racial disparities in Minnesota, we have the script. We have the bills,” Maye Quade said, adding that “these folks all came together to put together a package that truly addresses the needs of black Minnesotans throughout the entire state.”
Among the legislation are bills that would support youth summer jobs programs, recruit more teachers of color to the state, fund full-service community schools and support urban agriculture.
Mica Grimm, an activist with Black Lives Matter Minneapolis, said the proposal, called the United Black Legislative Agenda, provides a blueprint for state lawmakers as they put together a two-year budget with a projected budget surplus of $1.65 billion.
“No longer can politicians say they don’t know what our community wants,” Grimm said. “That’s exactly what this agenda is about.”