National NAACP President and CEO Ben Jealous says that Minnesota “is more like Mississippi than it should be.”
Having once worked in Mississippi, a state known for its poor education and high prison rates, Jealous, the featured speaker at the October 12 Roy Wilkins Center’s 20th anniversary dinner at University of Minnesota’s Hubert Humphrey Center, admitted how surprised he was to learn that Minnesota is among the worst in black unemployment and black graduating rates, and near the top in black incarceration rates.
“I was a little surprised when I looked at the stats of the state of Minnesota. Black folk here are less likely to graduate than black folk on the average in the country, more likely to be incarcerated than black folk on the average in the country and less likely to have a job,” stated Jealous.
“These are times for all Americans and Minnesotans to become courageous in reaching out and helping people understand that Minnesota is more like Mississippi than it should [be],” he continued. He believes that the state’s present black generation must be included to help change things.
“They were supposed to be the first generation to be just like us — confident of their heritage,” pleaded Jealous. “They need to be trained to be organized. They need to be taught how to fight [on issues]. They need to be told about our history, not for nostalgia but for instruction. We need to pass the baton.”
Jealous also strongly urged the audience to “be on fire about killing” both the marriage and photo ID measures on the November 6 ballot. “If a law is not intended to solve a problem that exists, it creates a problem,” he believes.
“I think…Mr. Jealous’ speech tonight really got us feeling like we were put on notice to get out and get involved, and turn around some of these terrible and daunting statistics regarding African Americans in Minnesota,” said former Minneapolis Mayor Sharon Sayles Belton, who was among the 230 persons who attended last Friday’s dinner. “It’s not like we haven’t heard them before, but what he said was that we got to do something about it.
“We can’t sit and watch the status quo going forward. I think he sat the crowd on fire. We got to take ownership for it.”
Before his scheduled speech last week, Jealous spoke to local reporters, including the MSR, on the two issues.
“The NAACP has taken a firm stand in support for marriage equality and against attempts to encode discrimination into the state constitution as we are seeing here,” stated Jealous on the two constitutional measures. He added that the anti same-sex marriage amendment “wouldn’t just hurt the LGBT community — it would set a bad precedent for the nation, essentially reversing a century-long trend of having a more inclusive constitution.”
Pro-amendment forces “are investing dollars in splitting our community in a way that is reprehensible and designed to do great harm on a wide range of issues,” believes Jealous. “If they succeed on splitting us on this issue, it will have repercussions on other issues.”
On the voter ID amendment, “If the NAACP doesn’t stand up and rally the troops on fighting voter suppression, we really can’t expect anyone else to play that role,” said the NAACP national president. “The type of law that is on the ballot here has been struck down in places like Texas, and the implementation has been delayed in such places as South Carolina [and] Pennsylvania for multiple reasons.
“Principally these laws are aimed to do mischief — to suppress the vote,” he continued. “There is nothing more important than winning this battle on voting rights.” Jealous as a result urged Minnesotans to vote no on both amendments.
The MSR asked Jealous to speak on the “voter suppression billboards” now up in several black neighborhoods in Ohio — the AFL-CIO last week said in a press release, “We urge Clear Channel to remove these billboards and replace them with information that will help voters exercise their fundamental right to vote in this year’s critical election.”
“It’s unconscionable that a major corporation like Clear Channel would aid in these efforts in any way, and we are hopeful that they will speedily reverse course,” responded Jealous. He also briefly evaluated the two presidential debates prior to the second Obama-Romney debate that took place on Tuesday — Jealous said that “the question[s] should be more inclusive.
“There have been two debates and there has been one question on women’s rights, and we’ve gone through two debates with no questions on the future of affirmative action and the future of migrants who are pushing out of this country in a way we basically haven’t seen since the late 19th century.
“And there’s no discussion about mass incarnations. Nobody talks about the fact that our country leads the world in incarcerations. We not only have the most black people incarnated on the planet, but also the most White people incarnated on the planet.”
Jealous closed his speech pledging that the national NAACP “will figure out how to be helpful to Minnesota” in solving the issues that currently face local blacks.
“[After] working in Mississippi and the perception that he thought he knew about Minnesota, and to come here and to hear those numbers, I’m sure it took him aback,” noted former St. Paul NAACP president Nate Khaliq afterwards. “This may be one of the main places where the NAACP national office needs to dig in and make a stand.”
“A state like Minnesota can do so much better than the country in so many ways, and it can do much better for black people than it is doing right now,” said Jealous.
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