Local officials look to increase representation through new legislative caucus

Black community members said they need officials to address incarceration and homeownership inequality, among other issues.

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks during the United Black Legislative Caucus at the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

Jack Rodgers

Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison speaks during the United Black Legislative Caucus at the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside on Wednesday, Feb. 27, 2019.

Isabella Murray

Members of the Minnesota House and Senate created the United Black Legislative Caucus in early February with sights on increasing representation at the Capitol.

Rep. Mohamud Noor, DFL – Minneapolis, and Rep. Hodan Hassan, DFL – Minneapolis, are two members of the newly formed caucus aimed at addressing racial disparities in the Legislature. Noor, who represents the University of Minnesota and its surrounding neighborhoods, said the group will be significant for black communities in his district. 

“We know there is a significant disparity in our system, and we’re working together on the Senate side and the House side with people who understand the challenges of the black community,” Noor said. 

Noor and Hassan were joined by Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison and Ward 6 City Council member Abdi Warsame at a town hall at the Brian Coyle Center in Cedar-Riverside Wednesday to discuss community issues at municipal and state levels.

The town hall tackled topics like unemployment, income, incarceration and homeownership inequality, issues the caucus also hopes to address.

“I think having representatives that have shared lived experience, they bring that perspective to the table and will help their fellow senators or elected officials get a different perspective,” said Salma Hussein, who runs the girls program at the Brian Coyle center.

Noor said he will use community input from discussions like the town hall at the Legislature, specifically in the newly formed caucus.

“We’ve talked about a lack of students of color, especially black students, at the U, and how we can really change that,” Noor said. “We’ve talked about the economic challenges of the people of Cedar-Riverside and the surrounding area, with a significant number of East African immigrants.”

Freshman lawmakers Noor and Hassan joined the House this year, joining a record number of black and Somali-American legislators. But the newly-formed caucus makes up less than 3 percent of the Legislature.

“Having Hodan and Mohamud is really helpful. And the fact that Hodan and Mohamud are part of the black caucus will help bringing the domestic African community and our immigrant communities together and help create a commitment for us to be one and support one another,” Hussein said.

Hassan will prioritize child protection and juvenile correction reform, she said at the town hall. She also discussed the need to stop the racial profiling that East-African business owners face. 

Abdirizak Abdi, a former mental health provider and business owner, said he has experienced racial profiling.

The black caucus is important for positive representation at the Capitol, he said.  

“We want someone at the state level telling people positive things we’re doing. Fingers are being pointed at the Somali community,” he said. 

Noor said while the caucus hopes to address the issues brought up by community members this session, efforts are long-term. 

“It’s a multitude of issues we can’t all address in this session, but we’re starting to connect the dots where they need to go,” he said.