Messages from the Council Chair

A new commitment to anti-racism and addressing economic disparities

April 2021
Charlie Zelle

Last week, I signed a commitment to participate in the Regional Anti-Racist and Economic Justice Trust as part of our ongoing partnership with the Center for Economic Inclusion. It commits us to important actions and measures that will move us and the other members of the trust more intentionally toward a more equitable region.

This is not merely a commitment on paper. This agreement anticipates active participation with other regional partners toward economic justice and racially inclusive policies. It commits the Metropolitan Council to act, hire, retain, and invest in ways that have real impact on the region’s communities and residents. The trust will be measuring progress. We will be held accountable.

We will also learn with other members of the trust — government partners, businesses and corporations, and philanthropy — what methods have real, sustainable impact.

The Center for Economic Inclusion has created a program that provides a unique context that brings clarity of purpose, encourages innovation and shared learning, and facilitates public transparency. This trust will really make us move from promise to action.

I’m excited about the measures the Center for Economic Inclusion has identified. I’m excited to make collective progress together. But most of all, I’m excited to elevate the innovative ideas each of our organizations has and see what great things we can accomplish together.

This process gives me so much hope, especially during a tragic few weeks for our region, where the disparities and injustice, particularly for Black Minnesotans, have been magnified, again, with the senseless killing of Daunte Wright, in the midst of the Derek Chauvin trial. It’s difficult for many of us to see a path forward to breaking down the systems that contribute to these acts of racism and brutality. But I am optimistic the work we will do as part of this trust will help create a more equitable and thriving region for all of us.

We know being anti-racist means disrupting the status quo. We know that means investing in different approaches, different voices, and asking more critical questions that turn the spotlight right back on us. That’s exactly what we’ll be able to do with this Center for Economic Inclusion partnership. It specifically calls for changes necessary to reform actions, policies, and investment, and to dismantle systemic racism.

It also calls for us to invest in Black leaders and be vocal champions for anti-racism and economic justice in our region.

Each year, we have some discretionary funds in our budget for targeted efforts. The Management Committee, under the leadership of Council Member Chris Ferguson (committee chair) and Acting Regional Administrator Mary Bogie, recommended several projects, brought forward by our divisions, to advance regional equity (PDF):

  • Increasing contracting with underutilized businesses

  • Increasing housing stability through investment in more deeply affordable, larger family housing units

  • Training and hiring youth, who identify as people of color, in our Environmental Services workforce

  • Evaluating ways to more intentionally involve and benefit people who identify as Black, Indigenous, or People of Color in transportation prioritization and investment

  • Reducing barriers to maintenance technician careers through a training program

  • Expanding multi-cultural representation in transit marketing

These projects, which the Council approved on April 14, are an important step. And though we know there’s so much more work to do, we’re committed to doing our part for racial justice and equity in the region. Thank you for your efforts and resolve, especially during these difficult times for our communities. We’re on an important journey together.