On May 21, Neighborhoods Organizing for Change member and Food Justice Leader Selam Yosief joined dozens of others in demanding racial equity in the Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board’s (MPRB) Urban Agriculture Activity Plan.
“I ask you Park Board to take action tonight and add racial equity into the plan,” said Yosief. Later, she reflected on the meeting and having community voices heard, saying, “I felt more powerful.”
For good reason. Yosief and a diverse alliance of community members successfully pressured the MPRB to take a groundbreaking step forward for racial justice in Minneapolis. Mothers, gardeners, elders, students, workers and park lovers stepped to the microphone one after another to demand that racial equity goals be included in the Urban Agriculture Plan before it gets passed by the full MPRB. Because of Hope Community, Inc., and the Hope Food Justice Team Leaders, 25 of the 38 speakers that took to the podium that evening strongly advocated for racial equity to be explicitly included in the plan moving forward (watch the video here).
Commissioners got the message loud and clear. The planning committee of the MPRB has sent the Urban Agriculture Activity Plan back to staff to be amended to include all three community demands they heard at the hearing:
1) Include racial equity in the plan.
2) Include a definition of racial equity in the Urban Agriculture Plan’s glossary of terms.
3) Include a Racial Equity Impact Assessment in the evaluation measures for all three of the Plan’s strategic goals.
This means that communities of color and low- income communities, currently suffering the worst consequences of the industrial food complex, will have more access to healthy food and land to grow that food on in Minneapolis parks.
The Importance of Being Heard
This a significant victory for the community and one that took a fair amount of last-minute scrambling to achieve. With only nine days notice, the MPRB posted the draft final version of their Urban Agriculture Activity Plan and invited public comment at the May 21 public hearing.
While the Plan reflected a strong commitment to increase opportunities for urban agriculture activities in parks, it made no commitment to racial equity. As a matter of fact, the word “equity” was only mentioned twice in the entire 16-page document. The Plan included nothing about how equity would be defined, measured or achieved. And there was no clear strategy in the Plan (or on the part of the MPRB as a whole) to specifically address racial equity concerns. We applaud the MPRB’s commitment to urban agriculture. However, we also want to see a demonstrated commitment to racial equity and a plan for how it will be made a reality.
The absence of racial equity language in the proposed Urban Agriculture Plan was disappointing given that in December MPRB staff held a public input meeting at Hope Community seeking feedback on a draft of the Plan. At that meeting, there was much discussion about making sure it included language to address and ensure racial equity. The Plan presented on May 21 did not reflect any of the comments we heard at Hope in regards to racial equity.
But the May 21 hearing is an example of what can happen when people make their voices heard. Ray Charles Robinson, a Hope Food Justice Team Leader, added his voice to those asking for racial equity that evening. In reflecting on the meeting, Robinson said, “ I felt the meeting was a good meeting but I was nervous… It reminded me of back in my Alabama days when we weren’t allowed to speak up to people in authority.” Robinson continued, “It’s been 10 years and we’re still fighting. We’ve done a real good job; most people would have given up…I’m proud we’re a part of this history.”
The Land Stewardship Project stood in solidarity with Hope community at the meeting, demanding the MPRB include racial equity in the plan — we know there is no sustainability without racial equity. This is a testament to the work of the Hope organizers working diligently since 1999 on park equity with the MPRB. And this effort continues a five-year history of Hope Community and LSP partnering to build power in the community and creating the infrastructure for growing healthier, more sustainable and equitable communities for all.
Thank you to everyone who courageously spoke at the meeting, who supported us with their physical presence and in spirit with your thoughts. We would also like to pay respect to all of the many people who have put in work organizing for racial justice in Minneapolis parks over the years. Another round of thanks go to park commissioners for stepping up to the challenge and showing leadership on racial equity.
Last week’s hearing proved that our voices matter. This is just the first step—please be on the look-out for ways to get involved as we continue the march toward racial and economic justice for all. For example, join us on Wednesday, June 18, at the MPRB ‘s next meeting to move the final Plan forward with racial equity. For more information, e-mail me at email@example.com or call 612-722-6377.
Dylan Bradford Kesti is an LSP organizer working on urban agriculture issues.