Minneapolis' top racial equity official misinformed the City Council — and the public — when she said last month that the Bush Foundation had committed $3 million to the city's first Black expo, according to statements from the city and the foundation.
Not only had the foundation never committed a dime, the city never really asked, according to the statements.
The revelation raises questions surrounding the planning of the "I Am My Ancestors' Wildest Dream Expo," which drew far fewer attendees than initially hoped and required a late influx of taxpayer money.
In the end, the free Feb. 25 event at the Minneapolis Convention Center, while praised by some who attended, cost taxpayers upwards of $500,000 and drew some 3,700 people to register online. There's no official attendance number, but it's clearly far fewer than the 20,000 that Tyeastia Green, the city's lead organizer, forecast weeks before.
Green was hired a year ago to lead the city's race and equity efforts and serves as director of the newly formed Department of Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging.
Her statements to the City Council at an emergency meeting last month have proved to be untrue. Green couldn't be reached for comment this week, but a statement by the city acknowledges the inaccuracy, while leaving other questions unanswered.
What Green said
The expo was to be the department's — and the city's — annual marquee event celebrating its African-American community. This year's inaugural event carried extra weight because it was the first city-sponsored event about the Black experience since the police murder of George Floyd in 2020. The plan was for a combination of city and private funds to pay for it.
With the event only weeks away, word began to circulate around City Hall that Green's department was short of funds, and on Feb. 17, an emergency City Council meeting was held to deal with the shortfall.
Green told the council that some unanticipated costs had arisen, but it was her story of what happened to the hoped-for private donations that caught everyone's attention.
"We could not receive those funds," she said, explaining that city attorneys had informed her that her direct solicitation of funds from private entities violated the city's ethics code.
"So the money that we were receiving from corporate sponsorship, we had to return," Green said.
Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw asked Green, "Do you remember how much money that was?"
Green responded: "Bush Foundation had offered us $3 million, but they had some stipulations that we could not satisfy, and I would say we probably had about almost $200,000 in funds from organizations."
Immediately after the meeting, Green said that the St. Paul-based Bush Foundation had offered $3 million over three years to support the expo, and that four other groups had offered funding in September. She didn't name those four entities.
Green's comments, which were reported in the Star Tribune later that day, created frustration among several council members who felt that a way should have been found to partner with willing donors without violating city ethics rules.
Green said she had a plan for that but her father died in November, and the plan "fell apart."
Green portrayed the entire sequence of events as an honest mistake.
Green's claims about the Bush Foundation, a 90-year-old philanthropy that pays out tens of millions of dollars annually to causes in the Upper Midwest, weren't true.
"We did not commit $3 million to the Minneapolis Black History Month Expo," Bush Foundation spokeswoman Kari Ruth said in a statement. "We only make grants through open processes and did not receive a proposal for this project.
"Tyeastia Green did request a conversation through our inquiry line and talked with a Bush staff person about the event and our process. However, without a proposal, the idea was never under consideration for funding from the Bush Foundation."
The city acknowledged as much in a statement from spokeswoman Sarah McKenzie.
"There was not a 'commitment' by the Bush Foundation to fund this event at the $3 million level over three years," McKenzie said. "The foundation told us that they were open to an application related to racial healing efforts in the City. We did not submit an application but may do so in the future."
Without any statements from Green or further clarification from the city, there's no explanation for why Green made the claim.
The Star Tribune has also asked the city for clarification on the $200,000 in donations from groups that she suggested the city received but then returned. As of Thursday, the city hasn't directly answered that question.
The Feb. 17 council meeting concluded with council members appearing to accept Green's explanation at face value and approve additional funds to close the event's budget hole. They approved an additional $145,000.
It's unclear what, if anything, will happen next.
Vetaw said she plans to talk with city officials to get more information internally, but she also said the public, the Bush Foundation and members of the Black community deserve answers.
She said when news of the recanted donations spread, a small drumbeat began among residents and business owners about other ways the money could be spent in the community.
"There could have been a backlash against the Bush Foundation because people might think they took their money back and don't support people of color," she said. "Three million dollars? That would be a huge deal. To actually say the name of a foundation, that is bold, when you don't have the receipts to back it up."