Building bridges across the leader divide

Unlike R.T. Rybak and Peter McLaughlin, I see the need to groom and look at young minorities as potential leaders.

The recent closing of the University’s General College constitutes an attack on current and potential minority students, and with that on minority communities. It will severely limit access to advanced degrees, and therefore advanced opportunities, for minorities. Many of the professionals who work and serve in our communities wouldn’t be where they are now if not for General College.

With this election year, we have an opportunity to potentially support numerous minorities in running for public office, but there are next to no places where young minorities are being prepared for this work. General College was a primary place in the Twin Cities for developing young minorities for future leadership for office, but now that’s gone.

Neither Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak nor his Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party rival Peter McLaughlin see the need to nurture a future local leadership from our minority communities. Oftentimes, they use the label of “progressive” to get votes from low-income people, minorities and first-generation college students.

However, there is more needed than a label to be progressive – people have to know who you are and see you working in their communities. Many times in my campaign, I’ve talked with many people who don’t know the name of the current mayor and who have never heard of McLaughlin.

For example, McLaughlin came to a couple ofcommunity forums about the impending closing of General College. He said, “Hello,” made a speech, shook some hands and then left. Rybak never showed up at any of these forums. Not only did I go to every event concerning the college-closing issue that I was invited to and spoke at every event, but also many who participated in these forums were people I have worked with side by side.

Too often, we spend our time as minorities educating white people about our issues. They thank us for the education and tell us what a good job we’re doing. However, they rarely apply these lessons in their leadership.

This is the case with both Rybak and McLaughlin. Most of the people who are working in their mayoral campaigns as staff members and volunteers are white. Now, how many of these people are working in these campaigns out of a commitment to the community, and how many are working for personal or political gain? Instead of recruiting minorities, low-income people and other people from the variety of communities that make up Minneapolis, Rybak and McLaughlin are reproducing the same old homogenous leadership through their workers – leadership that does not reflect the multiplicity of our communities.

Rybak often brags about how there are 81 languages spoken in the city of Minneapolis. Of those languages, how many does he or McLaughlin speak? There are very large Somali, Hmong and Latino communities in this city. Where are people from these communities in Rybak’s or McLaughlin’s campaigns and office staff?

Unfortunately, General College was reflective of those communities and now no longer exists. Through General College, students could control their own career path and design their own degrees. Not only did students get support, they were free within the program to take any direction in life they chose.

In the end, my candidacy is more than just lamenting the loss of General College, and it’s not about attacking Rybak and McLaughlin.

It’s about starting a movement in which the people are in control of our government. Where many people can experience the democracy that few in power have taken for granted, where rhetoric does not supercede substance. My concern is that communities are becoming more apathetic in allowing power to be taken from us. In addition, those of us who work in social justice have had more limitations placed on our work and on us.

I’ve always believed that prevention is better than a cure. So before it became too late, I wanted to run for office. I wanted both Rybak and McLaughlin to realize that they can’t take the votes of our communities for granted; my goal is to be elected as mayor of

Minneapolis and make a statement along the way: If you don’t discuss the nonglamorous issues, you’re perpetuating the apathy that’s plaguing our communities. And if you do that, you’re also not tackling institutional racism.

One of the ways I would address institutional racism is to look at young minorities as potential leaders and groom them, nurturing them to become amazing leaders in the struggle to end poverty and racism. With the closing of General College, that will be a tougher task to accomplish. Hopefully as mayor of Minneapolis, my leadership will be able to make that impact.

Farheen Hakeem is a Green Party candidate for Minneapolis mayor. Please send comments to [email protected]