By John Wilgers, President & CEO, Greater Twin Cities United Way
As we commemorate George Floyd’s life and his passing, it is heartbreaking that it took a tragic event for many to acknowledge the depths of injustice that exist and to engage in an urgent call for change.
Yet, there is hope. Globally, we are seeing citizens taking a stand through rallies and protests, nonprofits working to support Communities of Color, corporations and individuals investing in long-term solutions, and government enacting policy changes in policing.
Locally, at the onset of COVID-19 and the unrest sparked by the murder of George Floyd – which impacted People of Color the most – we responded to a 300 percent increase in calls through our 211 Resource Helpline, and we supported the community and the work of our nonprofit partners through our COVID-19 Response & Recovery Fund and our Twin Cities Rebuild for the Future Fund, thanks to the generosity of our donors. We also helped secure, with our coalition partners, $195 million in emergency state and federal funding and informed equitable policies through our advocacy efforts.
Recently, the St. Paul Community First Commission, which our own Acooa Ellis co-chaired, presented to members of the St. Paul City Council recommendations for a new approach to policing and neighborhood safety.
As you know, it takes changemakers like you and me continuing to work together over the long term to achieve our vision of a community where all people thrive – regardless of income, race or place.
Justice for All
The work United Way is doing around justice reform in collaboration with the Minneapolis Foundation and the Saint Paul & Minnesota Foundation is another great example of dismantling disparities, in this case, by bringing transformational change to our criminal justice system.
This is drastically needed, because at every point within the justice system, racism and biases perpetuate disparities. For far too long, People of Color – particularly Black People – have been profiled by police, unfairly held while awaiting trial, charged more harshly, incarcerated for disproportionate lengths of time, and kept from housing and jobs upon re-entry – all as a result of this unjust system.
The goal of Justice for All is to disrupt inequities within the system by listening to community members who have been directly affected, identifying issues within the criminal justice system, prioritizing critical areas of focus across all of the stages of justice, and defining policy solutions that can be scaled to bring transformational change. Part of this important work requires advocacy – educating policymakers on community needs and influencing them to pass and implement equitable policies to support our community’s well-being.
While we have a long way to go to achieve true social justice, we remain committed to elevating conversations and prioritizing actions related to disrupting inequity across our housing, food, education, employment, and criminal justice systems.
We acknowledge our community is still healing from stress and trauma, especially over the past 14 months. If you or someone you know needs help, the Minnesota Department of Safety offers useful resources here.