Stairstep Foundation CEO Alfred Babington-Johnson and Conversations with Al McFarlane moderator, Al McFarlane in April co-hosted a virtual Town Hall meeting to introduce an initiative to support Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT) efforts to broaden engagement around the project for African American and African immigrant residents who may be impacted by improvement considerations.

Forum participants included: Reverend Dr. Francis Tabla, senior pastor Ebenezer Community Church in Brooklyn Park, Bishop Richard Howell, the Diocesan Bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World and Pastor of Shiloh Temple Church in North Minneapolis, Reverend Cyreta Oduniyi, a pastoral leader at Liberty Church in North Minneapolis and Superintendent McKinley Moore, pastor of Jehovah Jireh Church of God in Christ in Brooklyn Park.

Babington said the panelists were part of an august team of church leaders whose churches and members are situated in or live and work along the Hwy 254/I94 Corridor in Brooklyn Center, Brooklyn Park and North Minneapolis.

Chris Hoberg, MNDOT’s Civic engagement manager for this project, said “I don't want people to think that we've figured everything out because we haven't. But our intention is to be very mindful of where the opportunities lie, where the resources are and how we can bring those resources to eliminate barriers and get people plugged into careers in highway heavy construction.”

Project Manager Jerome Adams, said, “People always ask when, how are you going to make this actionable? My goal is that in 2021, we'll be able to work with the Stairstep Foundation and the rest of the community, in actually saying, ‘Hey, here is a class you can take that helps you get into the highway heavy construction trade or here's a journeymen class or here's how to connect with the union.’ And I'm hoping that that plan has an actual mechanism where the state helps an individual in the community connect with those resources.

 “Taking it a step further,” Hoberg said, “Are there things that we can do in how we procure our contracts with big contractors and small contractors? Can we take portions of the construction work and size them appropriately for smaller firms so that smaller firms can become more involved in highway projects and build their capacity to take on additional work? Should we be doing things with the big contractors, the prime contractors to say, Are there things that we can do to incentivize the hiring of people who come from these programs and plug them in now? So, now we're going from, "Okay, you came out of the trade union with an apprentice status, and now we've got a plan to work with our contractor to take you from an apprentice status to a journeymen status."

So, I'm hoping that's something that we can implement in 2021. This is just kind of a sketch, but hopefully it’s something we can implement that in 2021, promoting classes and helping people get trainings. And then as 2027 approaches, when construction happens, just like Chris said, we're actually doing contracting methods to help small businesses actually perform the construction work with the big prime contractor.

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