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House panel on racial justice hears hours of public testimony

A 13-member bipartisan group spent the last three Tuesdays delving deeper into the history, how and why of some race-related issues.

The House Select Committee on Racial Justice was created last month to examine disparities Minnesotans of color face regarding health, public safety, education, employment, housing and in?other areas.

The first three hearings have focused on what racism is, the impact of racism on children and trauma left by racism.

Things got more personal this week when more than 50 testifiers shared personal experience and recommendations on ways they think things could be improved in Minnesota.

“Racism is a social system with multiple dimensions. Individualized racism is internalized and interpersonal, and systemic racism is institutional or structural, and is a system of structuring opportunities and assigning values based on the social interpretation of how one looks,” said Rep. Rena Moran (DFL-St. Paul), a committee co-chair. “That unfairly disadvantages some individuals and communities. It unfairly advantages other individuals and communities. And it saps the strength of the whole society through the waste of human resources.”

Among the ideas testifiers proffered were: partnerships to help with health and socioeconomic issues, grants to businesses owned by people of color, better medical statistic reporting by race and increased employment training.

Educational changes were also among ideas brought forth.

Michelle Koffa, policy manager for Ed Allies, said “racial justice must begin in our schools.” To create an anti-racism and equitably focused society she wants schools held accountable for all students and ensuring what works continues and changes are made when needed.

“We hope this committee will use its influence to push policies that will benefit our students of color and reform our inherently racist education system,” she said.

That includes a “bold approach to recruiting and retaining teachers of color,” investing in alternative teacher certification programs that recruit more diverse candidates, and reforming school disciplinary policies. She said Blacks are eight times more likely — and Native American students 10 times more likely — to be expelled or suspended compared to white students, often for the same infractions. 

St. Paul Human Resources Director Toni Newborn highlighted a new external-focused equity initiative in the Capital City.

“We have recently launched a prosperity project, which is a guaranteed income pilot from the Office of Financial Empowerment,” said Newborn, who was named the city’s first chief equity officer in January 2018. “The people’s prosperity pilot will provide up to 150 St. Paul families with $500 per month in guaranteed income for a period of up to 18 months.”

Moran said the plan for the group’s final meeting — Oct. 20 at 1 p.m. — is to examine the economic costs of racism.

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