Activism against the odds


Shanaye Mitchell’s story of juggling study, activism and care for her mother inspired attendees at the April 30 State of Democracy in Minnesota planning conference, sponsored by the League of Women Voters. Mitchell juggles her work on a planned double-major, double-minor in French, Italian, Chinese and Japanese, attending the University of Minnesota on full scholarship, while also participating in spoken word forums, online activism, and serving as a personal care assistant to her mother.

A 2007 North Community High School graduate, Mitchell intends to return and teach languages at North. This Horatio Alger scholar also dreams of studying abroad, starting her own business and someday, working as an interpreter at the United Nations. She was one of four engaged, amazing teens telling the conference what citizenship meant to them, and the hard work it takes that they are willing to give to build a community they want to grow with them.

Mitchell, the youngest of four children, is the only one that provides her mother constant care,. She explains: “She’s permanently disabled by scarcoidosis. It’s narrowing her spinal cord and scarring her lungs.” Sarcoidosis is an inflammation producing granulomas throughout the body. In the United States, African American women like Mitchell’s mother are most likely to contract this condition and experience it more severely than other races.

“It’s hard to juggle all of this,” Mitchell acknowledges. “School work, work, and taking care of my mother. I realized last semester that if I don’t thrive academically, then I cannot and won’t be in a position to help my mother, help my family thrive.”

Rena Mora, of the Urban Embassy outreach and education program, emphasized that individual determination and hard work are not enough. Mora’s focused ease and casual demeanor makes it hard to believe she’s raising teenagers and leading a movement. As a mother to four young men she says she recognizes the importance of keeping neighborhood ties strong and stable.

“We have to know, as parents what’s going on in the community,” Mora said. “We have to share the importance to our whole community, the importance of being active and aware of public policy because it impacts all our lives.“

The nonprofit Urban Embassy is inspired by St. Paul city council member Melvin Carter and aligned with TakeAction Minnesota. They aim to mobilize, educate minority and under represented voters through community meetings and structured legislation, like ‘re-enfranchisement’ of the 65,000 Minnesotans convicted of felony, impacting 22.4% of all African-American men living in the state.

“I’m a community advocate here to uplift and protect our worth, lend it a voice because it’s critical to teach and empower our community,” says Mora.

Sina Black, is stylish, spritely and a most-mobile citizen activist working with Community Action Partnership in St. Paul. As a CAP Fellow and voter engagement organizer, Black has spent the past three years co-creating a blueprint to end poverty.

“We lead discussions. We educate the community [and] region as people living with poverty. After I finish my degree, I will soon run for office. I’m thinking for city council because I truly represent the North End, low-income voices in the community.”

The League of Women Voters, sponsor of the conference, is an institution promoting democratic involvement and self-actualization has been active for more than 80 years. The recurring them attendees took from the conference was: we have hope for the future and together, we can do something.

Rachel Dykoski lives and writes in the Whittier neighborhood in Minneapolis.