The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage (CMAH) hosted the 2023 African Heritage Day on the Hill at the Minnesota State Capitol on Monday to highlight its legislative priorities. It was the first time since February 2020 it was being held in person following the pandemic.
Almost 200 participants from across the state packed the Capitol’s rotunda for an afternoon of speeches from Black legislators, Attorney General Keith Ellison and Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan on recent legislative wins and bills of interest to the Black community that are still in progress.
“This has been the most productive session,” Attorney General Keith Ellison said to the participants. “It has been an honor to represent you to stop wage theft and stop Kia and Hyundai from making substandard cars.”
Ellison, the state’s first Black attorney general and first Black person to win statewide office in Minnesota, is serving his second term as the state’s chief legal officer.
Jill McAdams, who described herself as a working mother was accompanied by her 15-year old daughter Jayda. McAdams said she came to the event to lend her support to CMAH’s legislative initiatives.
“We are here to support the Council on matters that affect the African American community and the diaspora,” McAdams said. “I am here also for my daughter because she is our future, and it is good to see people still coming out after Covid to support (the Council).”
The Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage is a state agency charged with advising the governor and the legislature on issues affecting Black people in the state and how the community can “fully and effectively participate in and equitably benefit from the political, social, and economic resources, policies and procedures of the State of Minnesota.”
Lt. Gov. Flanagan emphasized the prevailing message of the day by reminding those present some of the long sought after pieces of legislations by the council that Gov. Walz just signed into law, among them making Juneteenth a state holiday, the CROWN Act finally becoming law and the restoration of voting rights to those who have completed their prison sentences.
“These has all been possible because we have the most diverse legislature right now, and it was time to get it done,” said Flanagan, highlighting the fact that the state made history last year when it elected Black women to the state Senate for the first time.
Monday’s event offered Black legislators the opportunity to share the legislative wins the lieutenant governor talked about as well as provide a roadmap for the remaining weeks of the current legislative session which ends in May. CMAH’s legislative priorities can be found at this link.
The number of Black legislators has almost doubled since February 2020 when the last CMAH lobby day was held at the Capitol. Back then, there was a total of six elected Black legislators in both the House and Senate. They are now ten. Most striking is the fact that Rep. Mohamud Noor of Minneapolis was the only Black elected male in the House. Rep. Noor has since been joined by Cedric Frazier of New Hope and Samakab Hussein of St. Paul.
Additionally, the current legislature also saw the ascension of Sen. Bobby Joe Champion of Minneapolis as president of the Minnesota Senate, the first Black person to do so.
Among those who came to mark the milestones the Black community has achieved post-covid was Liberian American businessman George Segbee of Brooklyn Center.
“I am a Black man, an African, so I needed to come here and connect myself with everyone here, and I am also a businessman so I wanted to come here and give voice to small business people like myself and see what else we need to do,” Segbee said.
As the legislators spoke, they all emphasized the importance of constant engagement and not just on lobby day.
“Let’s be absolutely honest, when this space (capitol building) was built they never thought of we standing out here or you all sitting out here,” Rep. Ruth Richardson of Inver Grove Heights said. “Remember that this is your house, your voices matter, your collective voices are powerful and please continue to show up as we have a chance to make real transformative change.”