Until recently, many Twin Cities residents were oblivious to the fact that our metro region ranks among the worst in the country when it comes to racial disparities in employment, education, housing and incarceration. These disparities are particularly bad between whites and African Americans, and whites and Native Americans. But disparities have become a common theme in politics in the Twin Cities. Politicians are constantly talking about eliminating disparities and closing gaps.
This represents a major shift. Just five years ago, politicians and government officials were hesitant to talk about race. Many would change the topic or point the finger in another direction – or even deny there was a problem. This has changed dramatically, as we see government officials looking at race issues head-on through strong statements. But talk is not enough. Communities of color have been developing solutions for the issues their communities face for a long time. Because of the current climate around inequities, these solutions are finally being heard and are rising to the top.
Dayton’s Bluff is a community that has a majority of people of color. Many of the issues that face our region as a whole are magnified in our neighborhood. We have an opportunity to learn and share with other communities, so we can all benefit from their knowledge and expertise.
One of the biggest issues being debated in the Twin Cities is the development of the Southwest Light Rail system, which would be an extension of the Green Line. Transit cannot, by itself, create racial equity, but it does represent a significant opportunity to help people of color access better employment or housing or education. Communities of color in Minneapolis and its suburbs have come together to take advantage of this opportunity. Thirty organizations have formed the Equity Commitments Coalition and developed a set of requests around the light rail that will help move towards equity. These requests are related to increased access to all forms of transit including buses, land-use planning and development, and access to employment and training opportunities. These requests have been presented to several government agencies including the Met Council, Hennepin County and the City of Minneapolis. Each is developing a response to have a real dialogue with communities of color.
In Minneapolis there has been a small group of residents – all white – who are completely against the light rail development. They have made comments that this is not an equity train, and that communities of color are being used by government agencies so the rail will be developed. This is an old way of thinking. These individuals would rather kill the project in the name of equity rather than listen to communities of color and use the project to move toward equity.
On the East Side, with strong communities of color, we have an opportunity to move towards equity. With transit development coming our way, we have an opportunity to learn from the great work of communities in our region and to quash that old way of thinking. All the tools are in place. East Side Transit Equity (ESTE) organizers are on the ground in our communities and have been connected to the Equity Commitments Coalition work. We have strong allies in government, such as Ramsey County Commissioner Jim McDonough, who are ready to represent our communities and our values as transit is developed. It is time for our community to take action and take advantage of this opportunity.