Janae Pierre: Thanks for joining us on The Takeaway. I'm Janae Pierre in for Melissa Harris Perry.
On Wednesday, the city of St. Paul moved forward with its plan to address systemic inequities and racism against Black residents through the formation of a permanent 11-member reparations commission. Here's Councilmember Jane Prince.
Councilmember Jane Prince: The city of St. Paul is entering the new year with a momentous new commitment to racial healing, racial equity, and racial justice as we adopt the St. Paul Recovery Act reparations ordinance.
Speaker 3: Paul in favor say aye.
Speaker 4: Aye.
Speaker 3: Opposed, motion prevails.
Speaker 5: 7 in favor, no one opposed. The ordinance is adopted. Let's do it.
Janae: The inequities for Black residents in St. Paul and the State of Minnesota are a reminder of the damage created by racism and an unfair system. The state of Minnesota has the third-largest racial wealth gap in the nation, and the state's income gap is the fifth largest. When it comes to health disparities, twice the rate of Black and indigenous babies in Minnesota die than babies that are white. According to the 2021 State of Black Minnesota report, Black residents lived 7 years less than white residents. Joining me now is Jane Prince, a St. Paul's City Councilmember for Ward 7. Councilmember Prince, welcome to the show.
Councilmember Prince: It's great to be here, Janae.
Janae: Also, here is Trahern Crews, a social justice advocate who was the Co-Convenor of the St. Paul Recovery Act legislative advisory Committee. He wrote the original resolution 2177, which led to the committee's creation and the new St. Paul Recovery Act community Reparations Commission. Trahern, thanks for being here.
Trahern Crews: Thanks for having us.
Janae: Trahern, we'll start with you. You've been involved in this fight from the beginning. Can you tell me how your work around reparations first started?
Trahern: Around 2016 or 2017, I was elected to be the chair of the Green Party of the United States National Reparations Working Group. Because of the Green Party does from the bottom up, I started at the local level and started holding workshops. Jane Prince attended one of those workshops. Then shortly after that, Evanston passed their resolution and then me and Jane got back in contact together and said, this is something that we can do here in St. Paul, so we got to work on that right away.
Janae: Councilmember Prince, were you aware of the lack of equity for Black Americans before meeting with Trahern and also how did you become involved in this fight for reparations?
Councilmember Prince: Absolutely, I was aware of the inequities and disparities and some of the information that has been analysis of funding that our city and state has put into programs that are intended to increase equity and to lift up the economy of our Black community. It just was clear that lots of money had been put into these issues, but with very little success. It became clear to me that we needed to be listening to the Black community and that reparations was probably the best, if not the only way to build really quality in our community.
Janae: Talk to me about the work the two of you did together to help spread the word and build momentum around reparations.
Councilmember Prince: Once Trahern and I heard about Evanston passing their ordinance, it became clear that we had an example in the upper Midwest of a bold proposal.
Janae: This is Evanston, Illinois, correct?
Councilmember Prince: That's right. Evanston, Illinois passed their ordinance, I believe it was in August of 2019. Trahern and I are very active, both of us in a local organization called the East Side Freedom Library, that was founded by Macalester Professor Peter Rachleff. We went to Peter and said, "What do you think about forming an ongoing study group or book group on the subject of reparations, not only nationally, but the potential for that at the local level?" That book group has been going since early 2020.
Janae: Trahern, was a lot of this work grassroots? Tell us what it looked like.
Trahern: Well, so once we started a grassroots community-led steering committee, and that group did a lot of grassroots work as far as conducting surveys, and then we formed a book. We also had a book club that we formed. When we started that book club, the first book club we met in person, but then COVID-19 hit. Then we had to start meeting by Zoom, but COVID-19 also showed why reparations were so important. The New England Journal of Medicine said that if reparations were in place when COVID-19 hit, that the Black community would not have been impacted as harder as it was by COVID-19.
Then also why we were doing this process, George Floyd was murdered by Derek Chauvin, and that also showed why reparations were so important. George Floyd's great-great-grandfather, Stewart was enslaved and freed himself and had his land stolen from him, and for George Floyd to die over $20 was a travesty. That also gave us, some of us are involved in the BLM movement and we were able to discuss reparations with a global platform by doing grassroots organizing and having grassroots rallies, protests, et cetera, where we were able to highlight police brutality, but also the racial wealth gap and white reparations were so important.
Janae: Councilmember Prince, tell us about the Rondo Inheritance Fund and how that plays into the effort for reparations.
Councilmember Prince: Well, Mayor Melvin Carter himself an African-American man who grew up and he was a descendant of the Rondo neighborhood. Rondo was a growing Black middle-class community in the center of St. Paul that was demolished to make way for the Interstate 94 to be built through our city. This clearly, I believe that it was something in the area of 157 million in housing equity that was lost to the African-American community as a result of the demolition of the Rondo neighborhood.
Mayor Carter, who is one of 15 mayors around the country, who are organizing for reparations and equity has proposed, and we have included it in our 2023 budget to create a $2 million fund for descendants of the Rondo neighborhood to get housing support, to be able to buy a home or stabilize housing in the Rondo neighborhood, so this comes along just as we're seating our reparations commission. We have been in touch with a local foundation that is very interested in being able to support the Inheritance Fund as part of our first foray into reparations.
Janae: We'll have more on this in just a moment. It's The Takeaway. I'm speaking with Jane Prince St. Paul's City Councilmember for Ward 7, and Trahern Crews, a Co-Convenor of the St. Paul Recovery Act legislative advisory Committee about the city's newly formed reparations commission. Trahern, why do you feel that it's important to start this work, this effort at the local level first?
Trahern: Reparations efforts at the federal level have stopped for about 30 or 40 years, and just me coming from the Green Party at the time, we believe in grassroots democracy which means that everybody should have a say, so we would start from, and I believe that change starts from the bottom up, not top down. If we could show that we can have a successful model at the municipal level, then that means that we could have a successful model at the state level.
If we can have a successful model at the state level, we would be able to have a successful model at the federal government. Also, what it does is it makes, so the same part Recovery Act actually makes our St. Paul City Council reparations advocates, so the city itself will be advocating for reparations at the local state and federal level.
Janae: What are the systems the commission will look at to address the inequities in the city's government?
Trahern: We should be looking at all of the city's plans, how the city has previously harmed Black Americans, and making sure that Black Americans whose ancestor descend from slavery are included in future plans like the 2040 Comprehensive Plan, whether it's the water department's plan, the small business of the Office of Financial Empowerment plans, and the police departments, how are they going to not just be equitable, but cessation means stopping the harm. How are we going to make sure that the city of St. Paul stops harming Black Americans and begin to start addressing the racial wealth gap?
Janae: Councilmember Prince, I'm curious, has there been any resistance from non-Black residents in the city of St. Paul?
Councilmember Prince: I honestly have to say, Janae, that we have had numerous listening sessions and public hearings, and we have not gotten significant pushback from anyone in the community. There's the comment sections in the newspaper, the anonymous comment sections where people express some level of opposition or frustration that this should not be a city priority. In terms of people coming forward to oppose it, I actually have been really surprised by that. I think one thing that listeners need to understand is George Floyd's name is important all over the world as a symbol of systemic racism and terrible discrimination.
For Minnesota, it is really a reckoning. Trahern and I started this in 2019, the discussion, the book group and so forth, but George Floyd was murdered in Minneapolis in May of 2020, and I really have felt that his life and his death have been a really important guiding presence for this work going forward. I really believe that my colleagues on the city council felt, after George Floyd was murdered, that we cannot go backwards. This came along as an opportunity to say not only are we not going back, but we are going to address this in a completely new and significant way to try to build real equality.
Janae: Councilmember Jane Prince, St. Paul City Councilmember for Ward 7 and Trahern Crews, social justice advocate and Co-Convener of the St. Paul Recovery Act Legislative Advisory Committee, thank you both for joining us.
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