Thursday, February 13, 2014
By: Sheila Regan, TC Daily Planet
Secretary of the Board of Isaiah, a faith-based social justice coalition of congregations, Stephens said her work is focused in Brooklyn Park, which has recently seen a lot of development, but has a вЂњvast wealth disparity from a racial standpoint.вЂќ
Stephens moved to Brooklyn Park in 1998 from South Minneapolis. вЂњThere was a myth that the suburbs were better,вЂќ she said. вЂњThat the schools were better, the communities were better вЂ” all of those myths. ThatвЂ™s why I bought into it.вЂќ
But when she got out to Brooklyn Park, вЂњIt wasnвЂ™t all I thought it was going to be,вЂќ she said. At the time, the city was вЂњsignificantly less diverse than it is today,вЂќ she said. В In an email, she noted that “the city wasn’t really set up to positively respond to the changing racial demographic. That hasn’t really changed all that much since I’ve been here. Fifteen years ago, it didn’t matters as much. Today it is a much bigger deal. The people on my street, by and large, were quite welcoming. Welcoming neighbors didn’t equate to racially conscious schools, however.”
Her eldest daughter, who had spent first grade in a school in Minneapolis, had been doing well academically. But when she moved to Brooklyn Pak, somehow she didnвЂ™t qualify for gifted and talented programs, and the teachers focused on her behavior. В Over time, her daughterвЂ™s confidence level decreased, to the point were Stephens pulled her out of the school that was literally across the street and sent her back to school in Minneapolis.
As the demographics changed, many people were not as comfortable. Now that Brooklyn Park has become more diverse, вЂњto me itвЂ™s a great delight,вЂќ she said.
Today, Brooklyn Park has about 50 percent people of color, many of them African Americans, African immigrants and Asian Americans. Stephens said that many people have moved to the suburb from North Minneapolis for better opportunities, but the shifting demographics also has unintended consequences.
For example вЂ” one woman Stephens knows, who is an African immigrant, told Stephens that when she and her mother were looking for a place to live, were told by the real estate agent that Brooklyn Park and Brooklyn Center were the two places she should look. вЂњShe was steered away from Eden Prairie and Edina,вЂќ Stephens said.
Even within Brooklyn Park, there are different experiences depending on where you live, Stephens said. The city is divided into north and south sides, with a dividing line at 85thВ Street. The north side has larger homes with fewer people of color and the south side has an older, more diverse and blended community.
Currently, Stephens said, the city has contracted a consulting company to rebrand Brooklyn Park, emphasizing the great things about the city.
вЂњIвЂ™m very happy on the street that I live,вЂќ she said. вЂњIt is a great community.вЂќ At the same time, she doesnвЂ™t think poor PR is really the cityвЂ™s biggest challenge.
Brooklyn ParkвЂ™s City Council members вЂ” who В are all white вЂ” вЂњdonвЂ™t have an intentional relationship with communities of color,вЂќ she said. вЂњTheir perspective is things are great вЂ” letвЂ™s ignore the negatives.вЂќ