Insight News

Feb 07th

Urban League loses $1 million program serving Black youth

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Blacks get the misery; whites get the money

Another $1 million budget social service program has been diverted from a premier social service agency serving Minneapolis' Black community, and placed with a white controlled and directed agency that does not have the same history of service to the Black community.
"It is another blatant case of white people profiteering off of Black poverty. We get the misery, they get the money," one observer said. The decision by Minneapolis City Government and Hennepin County Government to yank the contract for providing truancy prevention and family support services from the Minneapolis Urban League is consistent with what some describe as a mean-spirited contempt for Black people, Black leadership, and Black created and controlled institutions that serve them.

The termination of the contract to manage the Curfew/Truancy Center also means a dozen people hired by the program will be unemployed effective December 31, when the current contract expires. The Minneapolis Urban League has managed the program for the city and county since its inception, 12 years ago. The program was created as collaboration between then County Attorney (now U.S. Senator) Amy Klobuchar, and then Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton.

The program was created to provide services to students to help stem truancy and curfew violations. The program served over 27,000 youths without a complaint regarding quality and efficacy of service from a single student or family served over the 12 year period.

In fact, Minneapolis Urban League CEO Clarence Hightower said in an open letter to the community, “Over the course of a decade, not one young person or family has ever complained about the efficiency or effectiveness of the services provided by the Center.”

Hightower said the Center’s director received recognition from the Office of Hennepin County Attorney in 2003 for Outstanding Community Leadership and in the three audits that were conducted over the past 12 years, external evaluators found no fault with the work of the Minneapolis Urban League staff.

Hightower’s open letter praised the work, accomplishments and commitment of the Urban League staff in service to the program’s youth of whom 90% are Black.

Hightower said, though “not chosen as the service provider of the future for curfew truancy, our resolve to be instrumental in the growth and development of young people is not dampened, nor is our excitement for the work that was accomplished over the last decade diminished. As a matter of fact, it is quite the opposite. We are ever proud of our work.”

The low-key calm of Hightower’s letter belies the Urban League’s frantic maneuvering to keep the program, and disbelief that the program, the families served by it, and the families of people who worked for it, could be disregarded in a seemingly cavalier and whimsical fashion. Some say this is part of a vendetta against the Urban League for daring to question the effectiveness of Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak’s Empowerment Zone initiative.

The Empowerment Zone initiative funneled development and capacity building dollars into targeted neighborhoods, in theory, to arrest decay and deterioration by supporting creation of businesses that in turn would create jobs, thus revitalizing neighborhood economies. The Urban League was a strong critic of the program during Rybak’s tenure as mayor, pointing out that while Black misery was the index upon which funds were sought and acquired, white businesses and programs received the money.

“We get the misery, whites get the money.” To put this in a current context, one observer said, “It’s like the lesson of the current box-office hit movie, American Gangster. The movie pulled the cover off public policy and practices that make Black misery and crime a ‘cash cow’ for white people.”

The Coalition of Black Churches and African American Leadership Summit, in its meeting Wednesday, said it will mobilize Black voters and residents to challenge the unbridled and arrogant systematic dismantling of institutions serving Black community interests.

Whether it means class action lawsuits, or direct action blocking and delaying of the reconstruction of the I-35 Bridge, we must act in our own interests, said Rev. Randolph Staten, Coalition co-chair.


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