Star Tribune Opinion Exchange: Racial equity is an economic imperative

August 4, 2022 | By Tiffani Daniels

Minnesota, let's get this right

August 1, 2022 (Star Tribune) Minnesota is a great place to live — unless you’re Black. That’s a saying I’ve heard time and again, and for many persistent disparities in education, income and homeownership bear that out.

As we come upon our second year of the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE), our 70-plus member companies continue to work toward a more prosperous state with and for Black Minnesotans, which we believe will benefit everyone. Our coalition members are large enterprises such as Best Buy, U.S. Bank and 3M, and smaller companies such as Children’s Minnesota, Delta Dental of Minnesota and Great Clips.

Racial equity work has no road map, and yet the periodic killings of Black people by police here and around the country — such as George Floyd, Daunte Wright and Amir Locke — continue to point to a need for resources and systems that ensure a higher level of public safety, so that everyone has a chance to live out their best life.

Growing up in the vibrant Black community of my hometown, Detroit, I knew racial inequities were woven into the fabric of our nation, but it wasn’t until I pursued my education and landed my first job that I often found myself the only Black person or person of color in the room.

That strong sense of otherness made me feel like I didn’t have a say. It muted the woman my mother and village had sacrificed for me to become. As I rose the corporate ladder, which involved relocating to Minneapolis, my early career experiences stayed with me and made me want to ensure that others felt they could bring the fullness of who they are not only to work, but to every aspect of their lives.

As the MBCRE looked across the spectrum of need, we decided to create smaller working groups, which we called pillars. We focused on policy, philanthropy, the workplace and allyship. Our goal was to identify the ways in which the business community could harness and deploy its collective resources and expertise on behalf of justice and prosperity for Black Minnesotans.

We hired a lobbyist to reach out to legislators and help us advance policies centered on racial equity that are also backed by our business community. We created a best practice guide for companies of all sizes to establish and/or improve their diversity, equity and inclusion practices. And we put together allyship resources and materials to foster a more welcoming environment for the Black Minnesotans employed by MBCRE member companies.

I’m grateful for our members’ commitment to leading initiatives and contributing financial and in-kind resources to our coalition. And I’m thankful for the employee representatives who generously contribute their time, which goes well beyond the scope of their day jobs.

Before I became managing director of MBCRE nearly a year ago, something in my spirit was calling for change. Even though this new role required that I take a detour from the fast track of my career at General Mills, I sensed that the opportunity would help me channel the grief and heaviness I’d carried after George Floyd’s murder, which shadowed me across the pandemic.

Oddly enough, it was on the day of Floyd’s tragic death that I found out that I was pregnant with my youngest son, DJ. From that moment, I sensed that there was something more I was supposed to be doing. When my two sons get older, I want to be able to tell them that, amid a racial reckoning, their mother and father stepped forward and showed leadership. It also felt right to answer a call that I felt deep down in my soul. I’m grateful that General Mills understands that racial equity is a business imperative and gives me space to apply the skills I’ve gained there as a general manager to leading MBCRE.

I’m proud that the Minnesota business community actively partners with and advocates for Black Minnesotans to co-create a vision for equal economic opportunity and a chance for everyone to thrive.

One of the things that is important to MBCRE — because it is important to Black Minnesotans — was taking a stand on public safety. We were formed in the aftermath of a public-safety tragedy two years ago, so it was critical for us to put forth reform measures and investments that foster trust between community members and law enforcement.

We recently wrote a letter to our legislators about the importance of law-enforcement accountability, supporting:

  • Enhancing Minnesota Peace Officers Standards and Training Board intervention efforts to include licensure revocation or suspension when officers have a pattern of misconduct or complaint.
  • Body-worn cameras and other technology for training.
  • Co-responder models that offer law-enforcement alternatives as needed, including investment in crime prevention and youth intervention.
  • Funding for officer recruitment and retention to increase diversity.

We must stop oversimplifying racial equity as the right thing to do. In fact, a 2018 study found that the U.S. economy could be $8 trillion larger by 2050 if the country eliminated racial disparities in health, education, incarceration and employment, it would also bolster the nation’s competitiveness for decades to come.

According to the Alana Community Brain Trust, the opportunity cost of racism in Minnesota, via loss of income, lack of homeownership, tax burdens and business losses, is estimated to be $287 billion. Building a more just and prosperous state is not a matter of being Minnesota nice, our economic future depends on it.