“Our ancestors didn’t lay down and give up…”

Despite disparities, African Americans are “the most optimistic demographic in the state” according to MPR News. North Minneapolis community members say this shouldn’t come as a surprise.

   
  
   
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    “Hope is faith in knowing who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going. I don’t see this world containing me because it couldn’t hold me. Because the world that’s inside of me is beyond what this world can contain for me, that’s what hope is for us,” community member Mary Whitney told MPR host Tom Weber, panelists, and the crowd at the Hawthorne Huddle on Dec. 4.  Photo by Kenzie O’Keefe

“Hope is faith in knowing who we are, where we came from, and where we’re going. I don’t see this world containing me because it couldn’t hold me. Because the world that’s inside of me is beyond what this world can contain for me, that’s what hope is for us,” community member Mary Whitney told MPR host Tom Weber, panelists, and the crowd at the Hawthorne Huddle on Dec. 4. Photo by Kenzie O’Keefe

By Kenzie O’Keefe | Editor

Black Minnesotans are more hopeful about our state’s future than their white counterparts, according to a recent survey commissioned by MPR News and APM Research Lab. They contrast white Trump voters, who appear to be the state’s most fearful population.

To explore what African American hope is made of in Minnesota, Tom Weber of MPR News hosted a conversation about it in North Minneapolis on Dec. 4. He and three panelists – Lissa Jones of KMOJ, April Graves from the Minneapolis Health Department and Brooklyn Center City Council, and Terrall Lewis of the Minneapolis Youth Coordinating Board – discussed hope in the black community with a crowd of Northsiders at this month's Hawthorne Huddle at Farview Park Rec Center.

Weber, who is white, said the data initially surprised him. “I was of the assumption that black Minnesotans, if we just look at the history of what life has been, that their numbers would be down. It was a learning moment for me,” he said.

Neither the three panelists nor the community members in the crowd who spoke up seemed to share his surprise. “We’re surprised by the fact that you’re still surprised,” said Lewis.

 Tom Weber (right), host of MPR News with Tom Weber, discusses hope in the black community with, from left, Lissa Jones, Terrall Lewis, and April Graves.  Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

Tom Weber (right), host of MPR News with Tom Weber, discusses hope in the black community with, from left, Lissa Jones, Terrall Lewis, and April Graves. Photo by Kenzie O'Keefe

Graves said hope has been essential to survival for African Americans who have endured hundreds of years of oppression in the United States. “What’s the alternative to hoping? That’s despair. …Hope expects that change is possible and that things can get better,” she said.

Jones agreed: “In the African American community, hope springs eternal in some ways. Born out of our struggle, we have found a place of resilience, a place where we have to believe in ourselves, a place where we have to exist separate from what the dominant narrative talks to us about and tells us about the value of ourselves and our people.”

Community member James Everett spoke up to say he sees hope in the African American community stemming in part from investments made by the philanthropic community in the area. “A full belly gives you hope. One thing you won’t do in Minnesota is starve,” he said.

Graves feels a responsibility to be optimistic. “Things aren’t really where we’d like them to be, but they still have improved. There are still a lot of things that have improved. Our ancestors didn’t lay down and give up in worse situations, so we damn sure shouldn’t do that now when we have a future to build for future generations,” she said.

Jones says hope creates energy for change: “Hope is something that provides us with the opportunity to get up and move.” 

Weber asked what lessons the fearful white Trump voter could learn from resilient black Minnesotans. Jones spoke up with a warning for them: “Your beliefs and your system of reality are keeping you from any kind of hopefulness. Anybody who believes in that kind of polarization, that kind of isolation, that kind of difficulty and yuck on a daily basis has got to be miserable.”

Graves sees universal benefit in finding opportunity within hardship: “We should all be hopeful. Obstacles shouldn’t be reasons to despair. They’re actually opportunities, not just for African Americans, but for everyone. I think that if we approached things that way, we would actually see all of us doing better."

The whole conversation is planned to air on MPR on Monday, Jan. 8.

Kenzie O'Keefe