With a working title of the Alliance of Alliances, the effort will be led by local Black leaders. It will be housed at the African American Leadership Forum (AALF), which will be the backbone for coordinating existing racial equity work and for instigating new work shaped and driven by the Black community.
Early partnerships with the Minnesota Business Partnership and the Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity helped pave the way to developing new pathways to fund efforts such as this initiative.
“The Minnesota Business Coalition for Racial Equity (MBCRE) represents leaders from more than 80 organizations who have come together to build an equitable, inclusive and prosperous state with and for black residents,” said Acooa Ellis, steering committee member and senior vice president of Community Impact for Greater Twin Cities United Way.
The Alliance, AALF, and MBCRE will work together to generate and implement solutions to advance equitable outcomes for Black Minnesotans. Currently, nearly $4 million of the $4 million required to jumpstart this effort has been raised through a coordinated fundraising effort with MBCRE members’ companies.
The approach that the Alliance of Alliances will take to solving the region’s persistent disparities is different, according to Lynn Casey, chair of the Itasca Project. “Our region’s business and philanthropic organizations have invested heavily over many years in reducing the disparities between white residents and people of color — particularly Black residents,” she said. “We can point to many success stories, yet Black Minnesotans remain at or near the bottom in income, graduation rates and other socioeconomic measures when those quality-of-life measures are broken out by race. It is time to add some new thinking. It’s time to invest in Black leadership.”
In addition to Black leadership, the Alliance of Alliances will use an approach called Black-Centered Design to ensure that solutions for the Black community are created by the Black community. “This is not how things have typically been done in the past,” Marcus Owens, AALF’s executive director, said. “Previous efforts have failed largely because they did not center Black perspectives and experiences.”
The Alliance of Alliances’ approach also is different in its comprehensiveness, Owens said. AALF will recruit leaders for each of eight areas essential to achieving racial justice and equity: public safety, shared responsibility, infrastructure investments, employment, education, healthcare, housing and advocacy. “These leaders will not only convene those organizations and individuals who currently work in and support those areas; they also will look for ways to leverage work across those areas,” Owens said.
“Take education and employment as one example. They are linked. Could we be more successful in how we educate and train our young people for careers if we thought through and addressed the barriers more holistically?”
The idea for the Alliance of Alliances began last July when members of Omicron Boule’, the local chapter of the Black professional fraternity Sigma Pi Phi, met with leaders of the Itasca Project and GREATER MSP to co-create a vision for what a more equitable region would look like in 2030. Out of those discussions emerged a two-page document outlining a 10-year vision and the eight work areas essential to achieving that vision. The document was shared with more than two dozen business, philanthropy and nonprofit organizations, including many that are Black led.
“We asked what it would take to build a different kind of movement for change,” said Omicron Boule’ member and U.S. Bank Chief Diversity Officer Greg Cunningham. “As conversations continued, the question of whether to form a separate organization or leverage an existing one came up repeatedly. AALF became the logical home because of its reach into the Black community, its way of partnering with others to get things done, and its commitment to centering Black voices in its efforts to drive change.”
Initial funders of the Alliance of Alliances include the U.S. Bank Foundation, 3M, Best Buy, General Mills, GHR Foundation, Securian Financial, Target Foundation, Thrivent, The Toro Company, and Wells Fargo. “This effort is about shifting our region from a focus on managing disparities to investing in equity as a strategy to drive growth and innovation,” said GREATER MSP President & CEO Peter Frosch. “And we are inviting other leaders and organizations to join in shaping a new consensus on how to advance racial equity.”
Funders also will be tapped for expertise related to governance, operating plans and accountability measures. “The Alliance of Alliances is ‘Black led’ but it is not ‘Black only’,” Owens said. He also emphasized that the work would require millions of additional dollars and engagement from the business, nonprofit and philanthropic sectors over time. “Many organizations doing great work in this region are under-funded. We can get there faster if we think bigger. Some of that will be new money, and some funds will likely be redirected as we uncover better ways to work together.”