Political leaders voice minority views at summit

Charley Bruce

Education, business development, immigration and health care were all discussed at a minority political summit Monday.

The Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs had a meeting for local minority community leaders to address minority political views in modern political campaigns.

More than 80 people were present in Cowles Auditorium for a two-hour forum in which 25 speakers received two minutes each to address issues important to minority communities.

The forum was organized by a group of civic leaders and professors from around the Twin Cities.

Bruce Corrie, a professor of economics at Concordia University-St. Paul, who helped organize the event, said the group chose the Humphrey Institute because it has experience with political discussions.

Minority community leaders had the forum because their issues have not been represented in candidates’ political platforms, Corrie said.

“They might refer to broad policies in a one-size-fits-all (approach), but the reality is that when you look at minority communities there are unique issues there,” he said.

Political candidates were invited to the forum, but they were asked to stick to issues regarding minorities, Corrie said.

Candidates such as Independence Party gubernatorial candidate Peter Hutchinson, Democratic congressional candidate Coleen Rowley and Democratic congressional candidate Keith Ellison attended the event.

Education
Jennifer Godinez, associate director at Minnesota Minority Education Partnership, a group seeking to increase minority students’ success in Minnesota schools, said there are unacceptable racial gaps in learning and graduation.

“Racial disparities in education are not caused by inherently different competencies by communities of color and that’s what needs to be clear,” Godinez said.

She also highlighted the importance of passing the Dream Act in Congress.

The Dream Act, also known as the Illegal Immigrant Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act, is legislation to give children who were brought to America as illegal immigrants and remained in the United States a chance to go to college.

The legislation would permit illegal immigrants who are high school graduates to apply for six-year conditional status. During that time they would have to complete two years of a four-year program, receive a two-year degree or finish two years of military service.

Health care
Vinodh Kutty, project coordinator for the Hennepin County Office of Multi-Cultural Services, who said he wasn’t speaking for the office, said Minnesotans need to understand the unique issues of health care specific to minority populations.

He said policies in health care need to incorporate the needs of populations by focusing on diseases disproportionately affecting minority populations, such as sexual transmitted infections and tuberculosis, developing interpretive services so people understand their health care problems and solutions available, and rein in increasing costs of health care.

“(Minority communities) are waiting and watching,” Kutty said. “Waiting to be invited to be a part of the solution.”

Immigration
Michael Fondungallah, an immigration attorney and member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, said the immigration system is broken and needs to be fixed.

There is bipartisan legislation in Congress called the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill that needs to be supported, he said.

Fondungallah said there are 11 million people in the United States illegally, some of whom entered the country legally but, for instance, might have overstayed their visas.

“What we do with the people who are here is the key issue,” Fondungallah said.

Business development
Readus Fletcher, director of Economic Opportunity for the city of St. Paul, said economic health in societies today comes from small businesses, especially minority-owned small businesses, because they create jobs, pay taxes and help protect neighborhoods.

Fletcher said minority members need to occupy key decision-making jobs within their companies because these are the people who actually put policy rhetoric into action.

“In the last four years the city of St. Paul generated a billion dollars’ worth of housing and economic development projects,” Fletcher said. “We did not engage minority contractors in the manner they should have been and we need to correct that in the future.”

On Oct. 20 the event planning committee will follow up to see whether any political candidates have put the ideas presented at the forum into action.