We cannot use old solutions to solve new problems and that is the essence of #factivism. Nigerian social activist and political blogger, Japheth Omojuwa
St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter says he is proud of what the city has accomplished under his leadership, but even more proud of how things get done in the Capitol city.
“We've had a tough last couple of years on the planet, in our country, in Minnesota, and certainly in St. Paul,” Carter said in a Conversations with Al McFarlane interview recently. “I am seeking re-election and I’m doing so for two reasons. One, because I'm really proud of all the things we've been able to accomplish from raising the minimum wage, to eliminating library late fines, and to investments we've made in affordable housing, to starting newborns with $50 college funds,” he said.
“The second reason is that we have only begun to do the work that needs to be done to help heal our city.”
“This is why I always tell folks my favorite thing about the work we're doing. It isn't the ‘what.’ It’s not the policies or the budget items, either. It's the ‘how,’ he said.
“When I got elected and it was time to choose our cabinet, what did we do? We didn't create a small, exclusive transition team to be the most kind to insiders. What we did was say, ‘Listen, we're going to call for community to come and participate in what we call our community-based hiring panels. As a result, St. Paul has the most diverse cabinet the city has ever seen. Cabinet and community members looked through resumes, conducted the first round of interviews, and then forwarded me a list of finalists.”
And in 2019, he said, his administration “brought together an estimated 100 residents and local leaders to co-create a $3 million research-based public safety initiative centered around jobs and resources for youth, housing, mental health supports, and a public health approach to violence prevention.
Carter said long before George Floyd was murdered, St. Paul, “decided our police department could not go into a back room and write their own use-of-force policies. This is a contract, a covenant between our police officers and the community. We were adamant that we would take two months and build in planning and structure through two-way conversations. When we build our budget, whether it's our regular annual budget or whether it's American Rescue Plan COVID dollars we have access to, we do it through a public budgeting process,” Carter said.
Carter described popular commonly used and popular terms like equity and transparency as “rather amorphous. But it’s still about self-determination, listening, and working among the people. In corporate America, equity is clearly a ‘money’ word. Who are the owners? Who are the decision makers? Who is allowed to participate in an economy? In other words, if I own a company and have equity, and that company has a good quarter, I have a good quarter.”
He said, “That's how we build our equity, and frankly that's at the core of how we've been able to do all the things we’ve accomplished for our city. It’s been the visions of the people. We must decide if we’re all in this historic and reckoning moment together, or whether it’s business as usual and every person for themselves.”
Carter said his grandfather used to say ‘if experience won't teach you, then nothing else will.’ What he has learned over the last two years, he said, is the extent to which enormous disparities at all levels impact people of color. The disparities have plagued Minnesota far too long and actually endanger all residents directly or indirectly, he said.
“Through the pandemic and painful racial unrest and the surge in youth violence, people everywhere have begun to acknowledge that when one of us can’t afford a safe home or be able to take two weeks off to quarantine or take care of a sick child or senior, then we’re all even worse off,” Carter said.
He said research has proved that when people can take care of their children, know where they’re going to sleep at night, and frequently connect with other community members, statistically, they are less likely to become an offender or a victim. “But when whole parts of a community are concerned about their ability to trust and rely on the men and women who swore an oath to protect and serve, the disconnect becomes more pronounced,” Carter said.
“All I'm saying is, if we're going to drive equity, it can't be about me, even as a city's first Black mayor, disappearing in my office and saying, ‘Here's what I'm going to do for these other people.’ It's got to be about self-determination. It's got to be about people being able to participate in the governing process, and that's why we do the work in the way that we do. There is an informed, active, and participatory agreement on how we decide to move forward. It’s about the visions of the residents who desire a safe and wholesome place to live,” Carter said.