Fifty-seven years ago, Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I Have a Dream” speech at the march on Washington for Jobs and Freedom. In front of 250,000 civil rights supporters, he uttered those famous words: “I have a dream.” But is that dream just a dream for Black Minnesotans? Today, Black Minnesotans are still riddled with a mountain of racial inequalities amongst the worst in the nation.
Is this the dream King had for Minnesota? Minnesota is home to 16 of the largest companies globally. It ranks #13 in the number of U.S. companies listed on the Fortune 500 ranking in 2020 by state. Suppose you are Black and work for one of those companies or a profession earning above the poverty line, then maybe you feel as if you have reached the mountain tops of King’s dream. To you, Minnesota is a place with 10,000 lakes, an abundance of jobs, excellent schools, and the police don’t bother you.
However, if you are not one of those educated, employed Black Minnesotans, then Minnesota is a place amongst the worst in the country for racial inequalities. The typical Black family only earns 44% as much as the typical white family. And according to the Minneapolis police data, Black and East African drivers account for 78% of police searches.
Minnesota is struggling to deliver on the promises within King’s dream. King said, “I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed … We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Ask any Black Minnesotan today if they feel equal. Ask the Black and East African drivers of Minneapolis if they feel equal when they are pulled over for traffic violations and end up getting searched 78% of the time.
Why is Minnesota struggling to rise and live out the true meaning of its creed? Look no further than our educational system. It was Horace Mann that stated, “Education then, beyond all other devices of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men, the balance-wheel of the social machinery.” Minnesota’s failure to educate students of color leads to an imbalance-wheel of economic advancement, which only exacerbates the racial inequalities it faces.
As an educated Black man in Minnesota, I am not immune to the inequalities that many have experienced at the police’s hands or dealings with teachers with low expectations for their Black students. I am still Black, and that blackness in Minnesota calls into question our economic class that drives the racial inequalities that it sees. The Harvard professor Henry Gates knows this all too well, arrested in front of his home in 2009 on suspicion of burglary. Or Omar Jimenez, who was taken into custody by the Minneapolis police during live broadcasting.
Breathe life into the dream
If you want to see King’s dream come to fruition in Minnesota, it needs to educate our Black students. Education can be an equalizer, an antidote that empowers the youth, prepares them for the future and inspires them to tilt the wheel of economic advancement. Black Men Teach, a nonprofit organization, is looking to solve this problem. Their mission is “that all students have the opportunity to attend schools staffed with racially and culturally diverse teachers and leaders, reflecting the students’ race, ethnicity, and cultures, thereby creating an environment that affirms students for whom they are.” Minnesota needs Black male teachers to breathe life into King’s dream for students. That breath will allow more Black Minnesotans to benefit from the abundance of jobs, schools and simple freedoms, so many of them don’t have today.
If we want to see King’s dream come to fruition in Minnesota, we need to get more involved in community engagement. PRIME, a self-organized group of Black Golden Valley residents, is doing just that. PRIME stands for prioritizing race and inclusion for more equity, and its mission is to promote racial equity and inclusion for the Black community within Golden Valley through partnerships with the city championing positive change in the community and city government. This group most recently successfully advocated for the hiring of Golden Valley’s first diversity and inclusion manager. This type of advocacy will start to level the playing field and make Minnesota an equal place for all.