Minneapolis Ward 2 City Council challenger brings grassroots approach to change

Robin Wonsley Worlobah is vying for the seat in the November election with a focus on the working class and community organizing.

Robin+Worlobah%2C+a+Ward+2+City+Council+Candidate%2C+poses+for+a+portrait+in+Coffman+Memorial+Union+on+Monday%2C+March+1.+Worlobah+is+also+a+current+Ph.D.+student+at+the+University+of+Minnesota.

Parker Johnson

Robin Worlobah, a Ward 2 City Council Candidate, poses for a portrait in Coffman Memorial Union on Monday, March 1. Worlobah is also a current Ph.D. student at the University of Minnesota.

Samantha Hendrickson, City Reporter

Chicago native Robin Wonsley Worlobah came to Minnesota for a change. More than ten years later, she is dedicated to being that change.

The 29-year-old community organizer, originally from South Side Chicago, is running for the Minneapolis City Council Ward 2 seat in the upcoming November elections. She is taking on incumbent Cam Gordon and challenger Tom Anderson.

Minneapolis continues to struggle with issues like a housing crisis, public safety and social unrest in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Worlobah said she has seen city officials “cower” and that grassroots movements of working-class people she has spent her career organizing are the first steps toward healing Minneapolis.

“I’ve seen the inaction and the lack of political courage and will from elected leaders,” Worlobah said. “This summer was a really major awakening for all of us that we cannot continue on with the same old things to get better.”

What she is working to change

Worlobah has often worked with incumbent Gordon to advocate for Ward 2 residents. While she said she appreciates his progressive views, she also said it is time for a leader to organize around people and not just the council.

“I don’t just show up to vote; I put in work ahead of time,” Worlobah said. “He’ll show up, and he’ll most likely vote the right way when it comes to it, but he does not lead or champion proactively.”

Worlobah’s focus is on transforming public safety, revolving mostly around police reform. She is an avid supporter of expanding the definition of law enforcement into positions like mental health responders and decreasing the police force as a whole.

“I would love to see public safety get to the point — and it needs to get to the point — where our police officers are the very last resort,” Worlobah said.

Housing is also a passion of Worlobah’s, and despite her and Gordon’s differences, she has been a staunch supporter of the rent stabilization work he has led in the council. Her experience living in South Side Chicago has further pushed her advocacy for more homeownership to combat the housing crisis, especially among Black and Indigenous people and other communities of color.

“The difference that I’m bringing into City Hall is my connection and commitment to grassroots and working-class people and BIPOC communities,” Worbalah said. “Right now, even as a candidate, we’re engaged in their fight.”

From the South Side to Southeast

Worlobah attended Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, and moved to Minneapolis in 2014 after graduating. For the last seven years, the city has been her home as she moved between several neighborhoods, including Southeast Como, Prospect Park, Seward and Cedar-Riverside.

In 2014 Worlobah became the program coordinator for the University of Minnesota’s Women’s Center and a board member for Restorative Justice Community Action, which helps people expunge low-level offenses from their criminal records in exchange for community service and outreach.

“There’s a system of racial capitalism that creates disproportionate positions of equity, largely for working-class folks as well as Black and brown and Indigenous communities,” Worlobah said.

These roles helped launch her into various advocacy positions around the Twin Cities, from fighting for immigrant rights to advocating for more public school funding.

On top of her advocacy work, Worlobah is currently a Ph.D. student at the University and aims to receive her degree in feminist studies and gender, women and sexuality studies.

While studying at the University, Worlobah has led research projects involving racial disparities and housing alongside Attorney General Keith Ellison and others. She helped produce the Minnesota Trust Black Women and Girls report, which outlines the inequity and overall housing crisis of Black people in Minnesota. The study also outlines disparities in education and mental health care, specifically for Black women and children.

As a current student campaigning in University neighborhoods, Worlobah said she plans to keep students in the conversation around serious issues like public safety, affordable housing and minimum wage.

“We’re building relationships with those groups now because they have to be at the table,” Worlobah said. “These decisions and changes that are being made, and they’re impacted directly by them.”

Seven years of advocacy in the Twin Cities

Worlobah worked with several nonprofits as a fundraising consultant after her work at the Women’s Center.

“She has a holistic approach to leadership,” said Amber Jones, a friend and fellow community organizer who also moved to the Twin Cities from South Side Chicago. “That’s something that we really need.”

But following the police killing of Jamar Clark in 2015, Worlobah became more involved with local branches of the Black Lives Matter movement, the Twin Cities Coalition for Justice 4 Jamar and other groups to protest racial injustices.

She also worked with Fight for $15 as an outreach coordinator, rallying for the minimum wage to be increased to $15 an hour.

Kip Hedges, a longtime airport employee, met Worlobah after he was fired for unionizing. They ended up working together to advocate for minimum wage increases, and Hedges now works on her campaign.

“I always come out of our cabinet meetings feeling very hopeful,” Hedges said. ”She’s an extremely multidimensional leader.”

When the police killing George Floyd turned all eyes to Minneapolis, Worlobah led protest efforts throughout the summer of 2020. She also continued to champion grassroots movements, such as the People’s Budget, and helped provide protesters and homeless people with needed supplies.

“She was out on the front lines at the protests daily,” Jones said. “She said that this was what she was put on this earth to do: to fight against injustice.”