Linda Sloan: Formulating policies and legislation

Governor Tim Walz signed into law a bill creating a task force to explore the root issues and causes for our collective failure to value the lives and stories of murdered and missing Black women and girls in Minnesota.

Hailed as the first state-level action of its kind in the nation, the task force will secure accurate data, elevate public awareness and seek solutions to the problems unearthed in the staggering numbers of murdered and missing African American girls and women.

Linda Sloan, Executive Director of the Council for Minnesotans of African Heritage (CNAH), described the bill signing at North Minneapolis’ Capri Theater as a watershed event.  “The task force is really going to do the research, present their findings, and make recommendations.  They’re going to come to consensus with more accurate numbers of missing and murdered victims.. a number nationwide that could possibly fall between 64,000 and 75,000. They will identify what the major issues are and whether they’re systemic or politically motivated.  The group will be digging deep, examining the nuts and bolts of the issues, and then start to formulate solutions to the problems,” she said.

Findings and recommendations will be made to the legislature, Sloan said.  “Changes are driven through policies and legislation and then supported by appropriate funding and sustainable resources.  We’ve got to have the right people in the right places so we can get equitable funding for the programs our communities need.  We will ask, ‘who are the players capable of bringing about changes?’  I’m excited that we are the first state to take this bold and imperative step which bill author,  Representative Ruth Richardson said is long overdue.  The lives of young girls and women of color and those of indigenous lineage matter,” she said.

The Council for Minnesotans of African heritage was created 40 years ago.  It’s mission isto ensure that people of African heritage are able to fully benefit and participate in everything the state has to offer.  “Our charge is to advise the Governor and the legislature on issues that impact our people. 

 “I was out there on the streets with Clemons and Brown during the ‘21 days of Peace’ campaign,” Sloan said. “Believe me when I say that I gained an even greater appreciation for the work they do.  They are really serious, and I so admire them.”

Sloan said the actual task force has been set. This time next year, the task force will deliver a report that will include evidence-based, data driven information and recommendations,” she said.

Lisa Clemons: A village of moral support and empathy

Save the Mother, you save the child.  Save the Father, you save the family. Save the Family, you save the community. 

This is the motto for ‘A Mother’s Love’ (AML), a grassroots organization of African American mothers and fathers.  The communities and constituents the staff serves includes those who have been incarcerated; those who have buried children or siblings; single parents; and parents of children of the LGBTQIA+ community.  

The organization works to strengthen families by helping to build strong foundations socially, academically, financially, and emotionally.  But as founder and director of AML and her colleague, Jamila Abdul Brown described, the girls and women they try to save must respect themselves.  “We give families a village of moral support and empathy.   Our intent is to use our own life transformations to meet people where they are in life,” Clemons said.   

Al McFarlane called Clemons an inspiration, “the epitome of fierceness, courage, and integrity.” In a recent Conversations with Al McFarlane broadcast, he said, “I remind people that you were a sworn police officer.  You walked what some would deem a contradiction: possessing the ability to know and uphold the value and the need for law enforcement in the justice equation, and at the same time, being acutely and publicly aware of flaws and imperfections of the criminal justice system that disadvantage poor and people of color.” 

Clemons is unapologetic about having served as a Minneapolis police sergeant.

“It allowed me to have insight into law enforcement and shaped my viewpoints and actions of my advocacy today.  I bring to the attention of the powers-that-be that there are too few Amber alerts for children of color.  I inform them there has been a false assumption that young Black girls couldn’t disappear unless they wanted to disappear.  And then two years later, we find out exactly what happened,” Clemons said in the interview. 

“I worked in sex crimes and juvenile detention.  I mention these departments because in the Twin Cities and across the country these are the least desired units to work in.  It’s also where one is assigned if they are being punished for an infraction.”  She said, “Once a young person is classified as a runaway, no one was looking for them.”

 “I started “A Mother’s Love” initiative in 2014.  It took me four years to be invited to a table to talk about mothers and daughters.  It took four years for people to understand if 70% of households in Black communities have no fathers at the dinner table, then the mothers must be protected and supported.   So, while it has taken us a long time to get reach this bold initiative, the Bill is signed. And we intend to make it work.  It was a prideful moment.  There is more hope in saving our young girls.  The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, and others in leadership have been doing a lot of work in trying to resolve present adverse circumstances and support victims of violence in BIPOC communities.  The task force will provide strategic directions and accountability for results.     

AML initiative’s focus is on the elimination of gun and domestic violence, which, intertwined, magnify each other to the detriment of women and families. A simple disagreement or argument is often resolved with the use of a lethal weapon.  A Mother’s Love attempts to de-escalate situations through ‘Boots on the Ground’ outreach. The staff works with residents in communities most affected by traumatic violence. The AML journey begins with prayer and listening circles and then moves into workshops promoting group/self-esteem building outreach for youth, ages 8-18.  The staff is trained in mentoring, de-escalation techniques, trauma care, procedural justice, first aid, and Narcan administration.

“I must be honest about my concerns,” Clemons says.  “If we hire more doctors, social workers, and mental health clinicians, more than likely they will not look like those who need help the most.  They can’t tell us what’s best for our community because they’ve never lived our life experiences.   And then we’re often told where the funding will go because funders think they know what’s best for people of color.”

 “Allow me to give you a good example,” she said.  “Several summers ago, we plastered the community with flyers announcing an at-risk youth program in the Gordon Center, a building created for children.  The city decided they wanted to put a temporary shelter for women in that space.” 

“My immediate response was, ‘So, you’re going to put women victims of domestic abused in North Minneapolis in a shelter up the street near an unsafe area?’  We canvased the community asking residents to offer than opinions.  They decided young people should have a safe place to just be, to learn their history, and in some cases, just relax; to change the narrative.   You could hear the representative from the city, the county, and the school board just shut down.  They took their money off the table and left.  If we weren’t going to do what they told us to do, we weren’t going to get the funding earmarked for our community,” she said.

Jalilia Abdul-Brown: Substance abuse rising

The devil whispers, “You won’t withstand the storm.”  The warrior replied, “I AM the storm.”  Anonymous

Warriors’ like Jalilia Abdul-Brown, founder of Change Starts With Community and Lisa Clemons, founder of A Mother’s Love, have long been in the fight to save those who are incapable of embracing hope and saving themselves.  Now, both are demanding more adequate and sustainable resources to combat the battles. 

Abdul-Brown, a champion for creating equity in health care, is the Co-Founder & Executive Director of Shiloh Cares Food Shelf and a pastor and mental health specialist. The Minneapolis native recently was honored by the Minneapolis/St. Paul Business Journal Health Care Hero Awards for her work in promoting health equity.

But what they do is not work. It is a calling. They move at the direction of divine instruction. 

Clemons lost a niece to violence. Brown’s sister was shot in the City of Minneapolis, but by God’s grace survived and thrived. 

Both shared wisdom and insight in a recent Conversations with Al McFarlane broadcast.

Al McFarlane asked, “How have we allowed our youth and others to become so vulnerable?  How do people get trapped, traded and trafficked in textbook situations?  There’s a process. A young woman is naïve, unaware. She’s spotted, cultivated, hooked, and sold -- not only in sex trafficking but in drug abuse. She is lured into a variety of rebellious, nonproductive, and self-destructive behaviors. She experiences a certain degradation which elevates the negative side of her own personality. She thinks she’s okay.”

 “Let me begin by confirming that there is a serious substance abuse problem in our communities,” said Abdul-Brown.  “I'm seeing a lot of young people, ages 12 and up, on fentanyl. It’s gotten so bad that it was necessary for Shiloh Temple (on West Broadway) to start a health-based food shelf.  So many youths are battling substance abuse both on Broadway in North Minneapolis and on 38th Street in South Minneapolis. I noticed that a lot of them were overdosing.  The reality is when we were getting to them, they were about to die. We decided to be preventive and not reactive, as we weren’t going to continue to watch people die. We became a Narcan site for North Minneapolis. Anyone can come into Shiloh Temple and get a Narcan kit to save their lives.”  

Abdul- Brown says her work never stops. She has to save as many girls as she can. “We’ve got to wrap our arms around the entire family dynamic to really attack the problem,” she said.  “There are ramped up resources for Black men and boys, but what about their sisters, their wives or the mothers of their children… young Black girls who are murdered and missing?”

“For them, there is trauma on top of trauma that creates cycles of distress.  I think the Murdered and Missing Black Women and Girls Task Force  is long overdue.”  

“Empowerment.  Hope.  That’s what these young people need,” she says.  

In 2019 Abdul-Brown and her colleagues began to work with African American women and girls, and girls of color by forming the first public health gender-based violence prevention program in the City of Minneapolis and Hennepin County. They are first role models, and get straight to unpacking trauma using a “trauma informed care approach.” With this method they started seeing changes taking place. Those that weren’t going to school are now attending classes. Many wouldn’t go home, but now they go home, and they have jobs. The girls are rewarded for their good behavior.  “It’s clearly understood they can’t bring any kind of foolishness into our space.  We have work to do,” she said,

“I grew up in the projects in the City of Chicago. I saw some things I probably should not have seen. I dodged bullets and walked over dead bodies.  I’m telling girls what I know personally about pulling yourself out of trauma and the potholes of life.”  

Abdul-Brown recently received “the first-ever Health Equity Award” presented by the Minnesota Business Journal.  She was also distinguished with a Hometown Hero Equity Award on-field from the Minnesota Vikings for the trusted information she continues to disseminate to those in need, especially the youth and their families in African American communities.

 She said when she began to see Black people dying of COVID19 at alarming rates, she, like Lisa Clemons, set up clinics immediately. “An urgent call went out to anybody with financial means to come to the community and help us right where the need was.  Many in the BIPOC communities have no public transit or alternative transportation to get where most of the clinics were.”

Along with Lisa Clemons and her team at A Mother’s Love, they vaccinated over 600 people at the onsite clinics.  At Shiloh Cares Food Shelf Thanksgiving turkey giveaway, they vaccinated 400 more.  Some even got boosters at our community vaccination clinics, including Hennepin County Sheriff, David Hutchinson.  “We connected with ‘Hutch’ and his office to persuade young people to ‘put their guns in a bucket’ rather than be arrested, and to get out of that traumatic violent mindset and determination for vengeance where even innocent young children have been killed by stray bullets,” Abdul-Brown said.

A pastor, mental health trauma informed care specialist, and early childhood advocate, wants to see the Missing and Murdered Black Women Bill signed by Governor Walz get national attention lifting up Minnesota as the first state stepping forward to formally address this critical issue.  “Transformation must replace pain and chaos in communities of color. Laws, policies, and resources are desperately needed to help us fight this fight!  I want to see the kind of resources that will help me get young women out of environments of danger before violence happens. I want to see a kind of natural empathy and compassion in every child, identified, acknowledged, celebrated, and supported,”  she said.

Abdul-Brown makes one thing perfectly clear.  She doesn’t take anyone’s money to do her work unless they meet her in North Minneapolis or on 38th and Chicago and not at a Starbucks located in a place where they can’t see where the help is needed. She also encourages those philanthropic individuals and foundations to volunteer in our community.  

“Parents also have to do their part and prevent their daughters from walking into the fire,”  Abdul-Brown says. “They witness girls getting into a car of a known sex trafficker or drug kingpin and then are devastated when they’re thrown out of that same car, landing in an alley having taken their last breath.”

 She said quality of life improves when there is a fair share of all available resources including philanthropic contributions. “There is less crime, less violence, better grocery venues, and the academic gap begins too gradually close.  But the cycle won’t stop until the root of systemic racism is acknowledged. People at the table of decision must reflect our community. Our voices and what we say has to matter. I want these missing and wounded girls and women, some physically, some emotionally, to know they have a place to go.  They don’t have to be lost in the streets or lost to the system,” Abdul-Brown said.

An early childhood provider for Hennepin County for 12 years, Abdul-Brown says one of her greatest joys is personally investing in some of these young girls.  She started a violence prevention summer camp for girls of color, and has taken many out of the neighborhood showing them how the “other half” lives.  One field trip cost $2,000. She chartered a bus that drove down streets lined with manicured lawns and beautiful blooming flowers and trees. The group visited the Children’s Museum and the Science Museums. She encourages S.T.E.M. (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) programming.  She says the first five years of life are impressionable and critical stages where the narrative can be changed.  

“Why shouldn’t they believe they can be scientists or mathematicians,” she asks. “I want Black girls to believe they are more than just their body.”  

After selling a house in South Minneapolis, Abdul-Brown and her husband agreed upon a portion of the profit to be reinvested back into her work in saving young girls and women of color and finding their children safe environments to live until they could live peacefully and successfully on their own.     

 “We've had so many Black girls and women shot and killed alone this year in the City of Minneapolis. It’s beyond the crisis level.  I can’t tell you how many people I have watched die or helped to bury.  Over 600 individuals have been shot in the city of Minneapolis, and a large majority are people of color, girls, and women.  It’s the innocent children that break our hearts. Without a doubt, if we don’t change laws and create policies that actually work for us, we’ll continue to see more of the same cycles of trauma and violence, because “hurt people, hurt people.”

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