A quote from Martin Luther King, Jr.’s last book Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?, a collection of essays he penned before his assassination reads “The contemporary tendency in our society is to base our distribution on scarcity, which has vanished, and to compress our abundance into the overfed mouths of the middle and upper classes until they gag with superfluity. If democracy is to have breadth of meaning, it is necessary to adjust this inequity. It is not only moral, but it is also intelligent. We are wasting and degrading human life by clinging to archaic thinking.”
Those who gathered Wednesday at UROC (University of Minnesota Urban Research and Outreach Engagement Center) in Minneapolis for a debrief from black legislators on the 2019 Minnesota legislative session that concluded in May seemed to share some of Dr. King’s thinking, based on their questions to the legislators following the debrief.
The debrief, organized by the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage, featured four of the only six black legislators that sit in the Minnesota legislature. Present were Representatives Rena Moran, Mohamud Noor, Ruth Richardson from the House side and Senator Jeff Hayden from the Senate side. The two that were not present were Representative Hodan Hassan and Senator Bobby Jo Champion.
“The things that will give black people prosperity failed,” Senator Hayden told the gathering. “The things that we were working on that will get our children out of bondage like the Child Protection System got killed and did not go through, as did the Insulin bill.”
Hayden called what was accomplished in the 2019 in as far as the back agenda is concerned as “nibbling at the edges.” The representatives from the House side led by Moran however seemed to view the 2019 session in a ‘glass half full’ sort of way as she implored the community to not get discouraged.
“Nothing happens in just one legislative session and we have to find a way to accept a win,” said Moran.
She cited black lawmakers’ abilities to build relationships that are necessary to pass legislation that is important to the black community, pointing to the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act. The bill sought to protect black children from being removed from their families and to preserve parental rights, a longstanding concern in the black community.
First term legislator and the only black man serving in the Minnesota House, Mohamud Noor, said one of his main focus in the just concluded session was economic development.
“One of the bills that I worked on was Launch Minnesota, where $5 million was allocated to support IT projects so that anyone interested in getting in the sector can get up to a $75,000 through DEED,” said Noor. “That way you do not have to worry about paying for your office and paying your bills by getting that help.”
Noor also brought to the attention of the gathering his work on tenant rights which will now result in greater transparency and protections in lease agreements.
Representative Ruth Richardson is the only one of the six legislators that represents a suburban district. One of the bills she worked on that will benefit the community was the securing of funding for the Minneapolis YWCA.
“That funding is focused on helping to prepare people to be early childhood providers by getting them certified and giving them access to well-paying jobs, ” said Richardson. “It goes a step further and provides technical assistance for those who might want to open and operate their own child care centers.”
Richardson also said that she was proud of working on the Homeless Youth Act which secured additional funding as well as more funding for shelter based mental health funding.
The frustrations and challenges faced by black lawmakers at the Capitol raised the ire of the gathering and was best summed up by comments by the prominent Rev. Jerry McAfee of New Salem Baptist Church.
“I am like Jeff (Hayden) and you all need to tell it like it is, that it is the Democrats that are sticking us and not just Republicans,” said McAfee. “Democrats don’t love us, Ken Martin (Minnesota Democratic party chairman) and every DFL and the governor need to be in this place explaining to us how this gets fixed.”