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Ground Level: On a cold morning, a conversation about race and hope
By: Marianne Combs
Tom Weber, MPR News, right, and Lissa Jones, left, KMOJ, host a discussion on hope Jan 4, 2018, at the Hawthorne Huddle in north Minneapolis with Terrall Lewis of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board and April Graves of the Minneapolis Health Department.
On a bitterly cold morning, 50 or so people gathered at Farview Park Recreation Center in north Minneapolis for a conversation about hope.
MPR News host Tom Weber and KMOJ host Lissa Jones moderated the conversation, convened in cooperation with the Hawthorne Neighborhood Association. The starting point was MPR News’ recent Ground Level survey in which African-American Minnesotans expressed hope for the future at a level 10 percent higher than whites.
Weber presented the findings of the Ground Level survey, and said that while white people he spoke with found the results startling, black people didn’t seem surprised. Panelist April Graves, youth violence prevention specialist at the Minneapolis Health Department, said that’s because in her community, hope isn’t a choice: “What’s the alternative?” she asked.
To Listen to this conversation on MPR news, please click here
Black Women and Political Leadership, Cornell University
Teen Mom to Political Leader
A city that was historically white, Brooklyn Center, is a first ring suburb of Minneapolis, that has seen an exponential increase in the population of immigrant communities. According to the state demographer’s office, Brooklyn Center is one of the most ethnically and racially diverse communities in Minnesota with 57% of the population being people of color. April Graves is currently serving a second-term on the Brooklyn Center City Council. When she was first elected in 2014, she became the first councilwoman of color ever elected. I chose to spotlight April Graves because she emulates the fearlessness and confidence that is necessary to be a black woman in politics. Her leadership style, like other historical black female leaders, focuses around consensus building. Graves recognizes that collaboration is the most effective way to tackle the complex issues of Brooklyn Center. Before April took her seat, the council was comprised of all white men, however in spite of the pressures of a white patriarchy, April remains true to herself and stands firm in the policies she wishes to see in her city.
Like many who have come before her, April Graves feels a responsibility to advocate for the black community. Unlike her white male counterparts who operate as individuals, minority leaders such as April are automatically identified as representatives of their communities. Her lived experiences help her identify the unintentional consequences that malevolent policy may have for people of color. Graves understands the importance of community engagement and has used her mixed-race background to relate to others and build relationships, in turn, furthering her political agenda. Drawing back to the women we have studied in class, we see the trend of a shared leadership model more often employed in female leadership.
One of the many things I admire about April Graves is that she became a political leader with no prior experience in politics or activism. She didn’t gain power through an establishment or an already existing movement, she simply paid the twenty five dollar fee and talked to her fellow neighbors about her campaign. In stark contrast to Winnie Mandela, Beverly Manley or the Garvey wives, April Grave’s accomplishments have never been linked to the presence of a powerful man. Graves has full control over her own narrative. She reminds us that a man’s support is not necessary, that we are resilient, and if we are motivated, we can create change.
April is passionate about issues that directly affect the well being of women and families. Her work at the Minneapolis Health Department focuses on dating violence and teen pregnancy prevention. As a teen mother herself who previously dealt with the hardships of domestic abuse, April’s experiences equip her with the knowledge to advocate for women who might find themselves in similar situations. April has a personal stake in every issue she advocates for. Her story connects her with others and fuels her passion for policy. She aims to help people navigate systems that disproportionately affect low-income communities of color, and have the power to completely dismantle families. Graves is aiming to use her platform as Hennepin County Commissioner to focus on the well being of families who find themselves ensnared in the system by investing in proactive measures and keeping families together.
Council member on racism, changing face of Brooklyn Center
by Dwight Hobbes
Brooklyn Center City Council Member April Graves is looking to change the face and landscape of the city’s political system by working within it. Now into her second term, she has learned to appreciate the virtues of deliberation and consensus-building in governing.
According to RoadSnack, Brooklyn Center has the largest Black population in the state. Nearly 30 percent of the city’s residents are African American or are of African descent. Yet, Graves noted, until recently the council did not look like its residents.
“When I first ran [in 2014], there was no one of color on the council or running. No women — especially single mothers like myself, which make up a fair amount of the population. It didn’t make sense in a city this diverse.”
That diversity is something she feels well qualified to appreciate and served as her impetus to run. “I’m used to being a bridge builder between different views or perspectives. I come from a very mixed family. My mom’s White, my dad’s Black. I also have cousins and niece and nephews who are Native and Asian American,” she said.
“The council should be representative of the city in which we live. I thought I could bring a voice to the conversation that hadn’t been there in its history.”
Growing up in St. Paul’s historic Rondo neighborhood, she was a teen mother of four who persevered, obtaining a bachelor of the arts degree in social science and creative writing from Metropolitan State University. In 2013, she served a term of service through AmeriCorps at Brooklyn Center High School.
To read more about this story, click here