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Eyes on Minneapolis: Twin Cities Leaders Share Visions of Justice

Two weeks after the tragic murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, the global movement for Black lives has been as active as ever. City by city, demands for justice and equity have resulted in tangible policy change—and the sea change is far from over.

With a long-standing commitment to dismantling systems of inequity and building up the leadership of young people (mostly of color and many of them Black), Public Allies steps wholeheartedly into the complex reality before us. Throughout the country, our network of members, alumni, and supporters are doing what they can to make an impact.

In the city where this movement found its latest spark, Public Allies Twin Cities leaders have found a variety of ways to support their community. What’s their vision and plan for change? We asked them:

In the case of George Floyd and beyond, how can we achieve true justice and equity?

Donte Curtis (Alumni, ‘17, ‘18): The first step was when our Attorney General charged all of the officers involved, because historically officers have been able to kill Black people, kill people of color, and not get charged at all. Forget about a conviction, they just weren’t charged. I think that is a great step to show they care.

Jeannine Erickson (Ally, ‘20): I’m based at South Minneapolis High School, so one of the biggest wins that we’re celebrating is that the school district will no longer be partnering with the Minneapolis Police Department (MPD). Students have been organizing to get police out of school for years, so this is good news.

Sam King (Ally, ‘20): Having the officers who killed George Floyd be charged is, in my mind, the bare minimum. We have demanded justice like this for years and this one win is just the first step in a longer and much-needed process. It has been great to see communities come together to take care of each other, and it has me wondering: Do we need police? The answer for me is no. This question is now being considered by the City Council. The world’s eyes are on Minneapolis and other cities will follow suit when we take action.

Sylvie Dosseh (Ally, ‘20): Justice would look like putting these killer police officers in prison. We’ve seen this over and over: They get charged, but what happens after the trial? Not Guilty. It’s true that these officers have been charged; that’s a step forward, but it’s not enough.

Aaliyah Hannah (Ally, ‘20): Justice and equity to me looks like not only charging police officers who have been directly involved in the deaths of Black people but also reopening cases and investigating instances of negligent behavior. Specifically, Black trans women have sometimes been excluded from the conversation, although I think more and more people are recognizing the importance of including them. I want to see justice and equity for all Black lives.

What does “leadership” look like to you during this time of unrest?

John Brown (Former Director of Public Allies Twin Cities): We see a profound lack of leadership in America, in terms of people in legitimate authority. If there are good things to come out of the current crisis, it’s that everyday people are leading more, whether by defending communities from white supremacists, directing traffic, organizing volunteers, and so on. The motto of “everyone leads” is not just a thing you say; anyone at any point can go out and get things done.

Donte Curtis: When it comes to leadership, there is so much you can do, whether that’s delivering diapers or protesting or calling representatives. There is no reason why anybody should think they have nothing to do. If you want to sit at home, that’s fine! Sit at home, but grab your phone and make some calls. There is work to be done at every level. You don’t have to go get arrested and tear gassed; leadership does not just look one way.

Sagal Hadafow (Ally, ‘20): For me, leadership in this time looks like reminding people of the joy that is always within them and around them, especially when it’s the toughest. Beyond sharing mental health resources to Black folks, it’s important for all of us to know that joy is revolution, joy is resistance.

Jeannine Erickson: I have seen a lot of leadership in my host organization, 826 MSP. The amount of grace the CEO has provided me in these last two weeks has been revolutionary for my mental health. She even invited me to a board meeting with the national 826 organization to talk about how white board members in particular are going to better practice anti-racism moving forward.

Latosha Cox (Director of Public Allies Twin Cities): Public Allies has a great role to play. One of the reasons why our organization exists is to have more people of color working in nonprofits, which hopefully results in more leaders of color at the table to make decisions that greatly impact our communities.

An Opportunity for Equity

Amidst ongoing struggle, our country has a genuine opportunity to create new systems based on equity. As demonstrated by our network in the Twin Cities, this process can and should be guided by those with a firsthand understanding of what it’s like to try to thrive in a racist world. With their leadership, we will move forward to a future where no community is left behind.