By Toni Newborn, Interim Assistant Director – Complaint Investigations Division
Waking early on a warm and humid Saturday, members of the Minneapolis Department of Civil Rights (MDCR) staff set up shop at the annual Juneteenth Festival, watching with amused excitement as a smiling MDCR Assistant Director tried to lure festival-goers to the resource table, enticing them with department notepads and other swag. But this Assistant Director had a mission: to get as many surveys completed by festival participants as possible, seeking to gauge Minneapolitans’ knowledge of the many resources provided by our department. Our staff and community volunteers struck up conversations and listened attentively as citizens voiced their suggestions and concerns for their community.
Juneteenth is an important event for the Civil Rights Department: the festival observes the June 19, 1865 proclamation abolishing slavery in Texas and celebrates freedom for all people. This year’s festival participants were able to enjoy food, fun and live music. A mixture of gospel, R&B, soul, blues and jazz filled the air as people from all over the Twin Cities toured through the community and business booths, creating a relaxed atmosphere where people seemed ready to connect with staff on the issue of civil rights.
Several members of our staff had the pleasure of helping out at the festival, meeting folks and providing information about our different divisions to as many people as possible. MDCR also had the help of a local Fraternity, the Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc. – Pi Eta Chapter of the University of Minnesota, who assisted in engaging the crowds by passing out surveys about our services. Our survey included questions such as “How likely are you to report and incident of discrimination or police misconduct?” and “Are you aware that the Contract Compliance Division promotes utilization of minority- and woman-owned businesses?” Survey results found that the vast majority of participants had experienced some form of discrimination and of those participants most were interested in using the many resources provided by MDCR.
Although our time at Juneteenth abruptly ended around 3:00 p.m. due to the torrential rain that thoroughly drenched Minneapolis, our attendance was well worth it! As our department moves forward with its outreach efforts, the goal will be to continue to maintain an active presence in the community and to provide educational resources to the broad masses of Minneapolis.