Our View: Are we there yet? No, but there is progress this MLK Day.
The path to achieve King's dream is clearer than it was just a few years ago. Now it's up to every Minnesotan to decide whether to follow that path.
In the not-so-distant past, Minnesota wasn't exactly a focal point of national attention on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Sure, there were the usual observances all over the state, including the annual breakfast at the Rochester Golf & Country Club, where King's impact and legacy were rightly celebrated by Minnesotans of all races. Those who attended such gatherings usually received a strong message about how far we were from fulfilling King's dream, even in a state that never knew the violence of Selma, Tulsa or Birmingham.
Today, however, one could argue that Minnesota has seized the spotlight in our nation's struggle for racial equality and social justice.
It's a distinction we would have preferred to avoid, but one can certainly argue that the killings of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Philando Castile have forced a long-overdue acknowledgment that lurking behind the facade of “Minnesota nice” is a persistent set of beliefs and biases — some unconscious, some highly intentional — that directly conflict with King's vision.
The reckoning, playing out on TV and social media, has been ugly, costly and embarrassing. People around the world who had never heard of Minnesota now know it as the place where a police officer casually knelt on the neck of a black man until he died, while other officers watched and bystanders begged him to stop. The world watched as rioters took over the streets and more than 1,000 buildings were destroyed or damaged by arsonists.
But the world now knows Minnesota as the place where Derek Chauvin will be imprisoned for the rest of his life, and where three of his fellow former officers soon will stand trial for their own involvement. Minnesota is the place where a police officer who shot and killed an unarmed Black 20-year-old faces years in prison, despite claiming that she simply made a mistake.
These are small steps, taken in response to tragic, criminal actions — but we think MLK would herald them as signs of progress.
And more positive steps are being taken in Minnesota.
Next November, it's possible — likely, we hope — that Minnesota voters will be asked to vote on an amendment to the state constitution that would require all children to receive “a quality public education that fully prepares them with the skills necessary for participation in the economy, our democracy, and society.”
Former Minnesota Associate Supreme Court Justice Alan Page is the driving force behind this amendment, which is aptly named “The Page Amendment.” For years, Minnesota has tried unsuccessfully to narrow its large achievement gap between white students and students of color, and Page and the amendment's backers believe their proposed amendment could push Minnesota to make long-overdue, targeted investments in public schools – especially schools that primarily serve students in the lower half of the socioeconomic spectrum.
Will this amendment pass, and would it work? Time will tell, but the idea certainly seems sound.
At the local level, one sign of progress in Rochester is the success of the Community Engagement Response Team, or CERT. After a fatal shooting downtown in June, volunteers united to bring free food, haircuts, basketball games and other activities to parts of Rochester that previously were deserted and/or dangerous after dark.
Crime and calls to police declined. Fun, not fighting, was the norm. People who might otherwise never have met each other — or would have met in less-than-pleasant circumstances — chatted and laughed together as they battled on the basketball court.
We think Dr. King would have liked a Minnesota in which justice is blind to the color of a person's skin. He would have liked a Minnesota in which a black child growing up in poverty attends a school with teachers, technology and resources that rival what is found in the wealthiest metro suburb. And he would have liked a Rochester in which young black men battled police officers on chess boards, rather than on the streets.
Are we truly there yet? We are not. The developments described above are isolated examples, and change takes persistence and time.
Still, we believe the path to achieve King's dream is clearer than it was just a few years ago. Now it's up to every Minnesotan to decide whether to follow that path.