When I became the chief administrator for the City of Minneapolis back in 2006, the first report I read was titled “Mind the Gap: Disparities and Competitiveness in the Twin Cities.” Although the report praised Minneapolis and Saint Paul for possessing “an egalitarian spirit that many other metropolitan areas envy,” it went on to state that “the region does not work for everyone.”
The report noted that while Minneapolis and Saint Paul had some of the nation’s highest incomes, “black household income is among the lowest.” And while the region’s white population might have the highest share of adults with a high school diploma in the country, “the region ranked only 40th among the 100 largest metropolitan areas for Latino high school educational attainment.”
With this alarming news at the root of our planning sessions, city leaders went on to develop a set of strategic initiatives to begin tackling the gaps (view today’s set of goals). About a year later, the Itasca Group, a high-level group of corporate executives, also stepped up to independently endorse separate “Close the Gap” initiatives, encouraging their member businesses and other organizations to adopt race-informed strategies, plans and employment practices.
So one would think that 10 years later—with all this angst, consciousness and well-intentioned planning—the gaps would be gone, and we’d be witnessing equality in living standards and economic outcomes among racial groups. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and many disparities persist.
In actuality, the outcome disparities between racial and ethnic groups in Minneapolis remain pervasive. A Minneapolis Foundation report stated a few years ago, “In nearly every category, racial minorities, especially those of low-income, lag behind affluent and white residents.” Such racial division has only been compounded by the tensions and actions surrounding police officer-involved shootings and ensuing protests.
Fortunately, however, the leaders of Minneapolis are the first to acknowledge the lack of proper progress over this past decade, and embrace new approaches to arrest the problem. Mayor Betsy Hodges, in last year’s State of the City address, said, “In Minneapolis, we get to take into account two of our own complementary and deep truths. Minneapolis is a remarkable and wonderful city, and Minneapolis is a city of deep challenges, particularly regarding race.”
So what’s a city to do?
The Government Alliance on Race and Equity (GARE), a national network of local governments broadly devoted to achieving racial equity and advance opportunities for all, is working with cities to operationalize equity through changed practices, policies and priorities. GARE is driving cities to take specific actions, to go beyond valuable dialogue and discussion on race and make changes that target and demolish the institutional racism that’s part of the government’s DNA.
To their credit, Minneapolis and Saint Paul are both part of the GARE network, and are taking important steps to fundamentally change the way they work. Between the two cities, they are:
- Creating full-time positions to focus their enterprises on racial equity at every turn.
- Requiring racial equity “action plans” in all city departments.
- Training police officers to recognize unconscious or implicit biases to achieve “fair and impartial” policing.
- Using mayoral platforms to transparently highlight racial disparity data, and acknowledging progress to close gaps when achieved.
- Diversifying their workforces.
This work—in Minneapolis and Saint Paul and beyond—holds promise for institutionalizing a racial equity lens in what is often one of the largest employers in America’s large cities: city government.
That’s the goal of a cutting-edge initiative, Racial Equity Here, which is committed to advancing racial equity and opportunity in five U.S. cities: Albuquerque, Austin, Grand Rapids, Louisville and Philadelphia. Also facilitated by GARE, the two-year project provides city governments with tools and best practices to dismantle actions that perpetuate disparate, racialized outcomes.
Too often as a nation we’ve allowed difficult race conversations to paralyze us into inaction. At some point we must get beyond just talk and do something, but doing something tangible is much harder than even a difficult dialogue.
Like so much in the “innovation space,” our cities have the ability to lead the way in undoing the debilitating institutional racism that’s keeping us from the equity everyone deserves. The sooner that government leaders move beyond rhetoric and make the real changes needed to impact lives, the sooner we also realize our deeply-held democratic values of liberty and justice—and equality—for all.
Register now for the 3rd Annual Summit on Government Performance & Innovation, which highlights new policy perspectives and practical implementation strategies around the groundbreaking Equipt to Innovate framework.