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Distributing the Equity Agenda – Javaris and Sebastian’s story

University of Minnesota students Sebastian Zeck, a senior graduating with an Intercollege Program major titled “Social Justice and HECUA,” and Javaris Bradford, a junior majoring in Sociology, are current Inequality in America participants. They are both semester-long interns with Voices for Racial Justice, a progressive nonprofit dedicated to organizing for racial justice. They wrote the following short post for us to shed some light on what the first weeks of an internship with HECUA can entail.

Sebastian and Javaris write:
On the morning of Wednesday, February 18th, Voices for Racial Justice (VRJ) unveiled their Legislative Report Card on Racial Equity at Christ Lutheran Church in Saint Paul. The Legislative Report Card ranks legislators based on their voting record in a given legislative session, and specifically names racial equity bills in several categories. Those legislators who consistently voted for racial equity earn the title of Racial Equity Champion. Despite the cold weather, the rally drew nearly 200 people, many representing community organizations in the Twin Cities.

Throughout the event, emcee Andrew Thomas introduced a number of speakers who performed spoken word pieces and spoke about racial equity in Minnesota. These speakers included VRJ’s Gabriella Anais Deal-Marquez and Monica Hurtado, Nekima Levy-Pounds, Abena Abraham, Tong Thao, Toki Wright, and VRJ’s Executive Director Vina Kay. The power of their words was amplified as the sound reverberated throughout the church. After the legislators were awarded and performances were completed, Andrew encouraged everyone to participate in conversation and movement building over coffee provided by Brotherhood Brew.

As interns, our role at the rally was to ensure that everyone received a copy of the Legislative Report Card for Racial Equity and the 2015 Racial Equity Agenda. Though this role seems purely logistical, it allowed us to meet virtually everyone that attended the rally, including a number of legislators included in the Report Card. Our internships began only a week prior to the rally, so our involvement in this event provided insight into the value of the work being carried out by Voices for Racial Justice.

During the legislative session, Voices for Racial Justice tracks a number of bills that are assessed based on their racial equity impact. These bills are an essential component of the Report Card. The importance of evaluating bills in terms of their racial equity impact cannot be understated; at the state level, the legislature has the capacity to advance racial equity throughout Minnesota. Currently, Voices for Racial Justice is seeking to conduct racial equity impact assessments on a number of bills relating to early childhood education, criminal justice, economic equity, and health.

We’ve listed some of the high-priority bills below:

SF 6/HF 46: Sen. Hoffman, Rep. Murphy, and SF 606/HF 603: Sen. Cohen, Rep. Kresha

Among the many education bills introduced, the implementation of different preschool programs remains at the forefront. Some argue that universal all-day preschool would provide an opportunity for everyone to participate, while others believe that early learning scholarships better address disparities and use available funding more efficiently.
SF 355/HF 342: Sen. Champion, Rep. Cornish

In terms of civil rights and criminal justice, the bill seeking to restore the right to vote for convicted felons after incarceration is significant in addressing the effects of felony disenfranchisement. The current law disproportionately affects people of color and American Indians. Restoring the right to vote would foster community participation and investment.
SF 224/HF 97: Sen. Champion, Rep. Hamilton

The opportunity to access driver’s licenses is impeded by immigration status. Countless individuals are unable to access jobs, schools, and other opportunities due to their undocumented status. Equitable access to obtaining driver’s licenses regardless of immigration status is a fundamental goal in advancing racial equity.
If you’re interested in contacting your representative regarding these issues, access the Minnesota State Legislature District Finder site at http://www.leg.state.mn.us/leg/districtfinder.aspx. These are only a few of the bills being tracked in the current legislative session. For a thorough list of our racial equity goals, click the link to find the 2015 Racial Equity Agenda, and additional resources, at www.voicesforracialjustice.org.

— Javaris and Sebastian

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