The events of this past week are nothing short of shattering – mind, soul and heart. 

The current crisis has long been in the making. Historic and systematic discrimination and disinvestment have created the conditions for the desperately disparate impacts of COVID-19 on communities of color. America’s deep-rooted, institutionalized racism has made the blatant disregard and outright contempt for Black and Brown lives common and legitimized.

Jeremiah Bey Ellison, Minneapolis City Council Member, reminded everyone at the beginning of the pandemic lockdown that the “carefully designed circumstances that have placed Black people, by and large, in a position of low wealth in America (is) not a force of nature, it’s not even a puzzle – the how we got here is known and the path out is knowable.

In the wake of a crippling pandemic and the abiding trauma of state-sanctioned murder and police brutality – now is the time for all of us to chart that knowable path, to radically re-think the neighborhoods, the city, the nation that we want to live in. That work starts and ends with the people most impacted by both the acute and everyday violence of disinvestment, disparity and oppression – low-income communities and communities of color.

As community planners, we know what the City seems to have forgotten – that those in power ignore the people at their own peril. Too many times in the past 7 years has the City opened the door for community input, only to disregard it. It’s time to put an end to town hall meetings and planning workshops that result in broken promises. Community engagement is not a show, not a photo op, not a box to check – it is a shifting and a sharing of power. It is a partnership, it is consensus building. It is honoring local knowledge and building on existing neighborhood abundance. It is delivering tangible results. It is the explicit inclusion and prioritization of Black, Brown and immigrant communities long excluded from power.

Now is our time to re-imagine democracy and re-shape government – to nurture just, equitable, and resilient communities through deep and lasting participation, community control, and the radical re-creation of the systems that shape our lives. 

It’s going to take all of us to tackle the monumental challenges we face. We at Hester Street are committed to be in the fight with you.