A Neighborhood with Promise

betsy-hodges-headshot-640x426-copykeith-ellison-copyWhen city planners drew a Minneapolis map in 1935, North and Near-North neighborhoods were marked as “Negro” sections and Sumner-Glenwood was given the title of “Negro Slum (Largest in City).” These distinctions led to a generation of discrimination and disinvestment. Ignored by local government, black residents were systematically denied access to financial assistance granted to their white neighbors. For example, Federal Housing Administration mortgages were only available to white families and communities until the Civil Rights era. Businesses paid black workers less than their white colleagues.

The effects of pernicious segregation and decades of disinvestment persist in North Minneapolis today: 60% of residents in the 1935 city-designated “Negro Slum” still live in poverty — a rate three times higher than the rest of the city. Unemployment is 20% higher, graduation rates are 50% lower, and median family incomes in North Minneapolis are 5 times lower than their neighbors across the freeway.

Our shared strategy for reversing these decades of disinvestment is long-term and organized investment in North Minneapolis. To this end, the City of Minneapolis worked collaboratively with 150 community leaders and stakeholders to apply for the federal government’s Promise Zone designation. After a concerted effort, on April 28, the Obama Administration selected a big part of North Minneapolis as one of only eight Promise Zones out of 123 applicants from across the country.

The 10-year Promise Zone status provides major opportunities to refocus and expand our efforts to rebuild a community that has long-struggled against poverty and racism. Specifically, it will provide non-profits and local agencies with a distinct competitive advantage and preferential access when applying for federal grants. Thirty-seven programs within 12 federal agencies are Promise Zone partners, including U.S Departments of Justice, Housing and Urban Development, Education, Health and Human Services, Labor, and Transportation. Minneapolis will also receive five AmeriCorps VISTA members and a federal liaison to navigate these federal programs. Our offices and the City of Minneapolis will be a resource for advocates, stakeholders, and community leaders as they navigate federal grant opportunities and resources.

The Promise Zone will not erase the effects of segregation and disinvestment in North Minneapolis overnight. The achievement gap between white and black students in Minneapolis is too high. Too many people of color have been denied access to high-quality schools, a robust job market, and financial opportunity because of the color of their skin or the zip code where they were born.

The work to empower residents is already underway in North Minneapolis: the Northside Achievement Zone’s early-education programs, or job training programs through Summit Academy and EMERGE, to name only a few. With the Promise Zone designation, we can amplify and focus investment in the work of community leaders to reduce poverty, create jobs, increase economic activity, improve educational opportunities, and create meaningful safety. Much will depend on continued, intentional collaboration between the federal government, our offices, and community.

The Promise Zone designation has the potential to make generational, transformational change in, for, and with North Minneapolis. But there’s something in the Promise Zone for everyone in Minneapolis — North or South, Northeast or Southeast or Downtown. When the people and neighborhoods in North Minneapolis can unleash their talent, there is no limit to how great our entire city can be.

June 22, 2015
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