Director Tyeastia Green is the Executive Director for Racial Equity in the City of Minneapolis. The city employs 4,500 people locally. In this episode, Director Green lays out the scope and scale of Minneapolis’s racial equity initiatives.
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#IncludingYouPodcast Interview with Director Tyeastia Green
[00:00:47] Amy: Welcome back to including you. I’m your host, Amy Waninger. My guest today is Taisha Green, Director Green is the executive director for the city of Minneapolis, which employs about 4,500 people locally Director Green, welcome to the show.
[00:01:00] Director Green: Thank you. Thank you for having me.
[00:01:01] Amy: I am really excited to talk to you for so many reasons.
[00:01:05] Amy: A lot of times my guests are in corporate spaces, sometimes they’re in non-for-profits or higher education. I think you’re the first executive director of a municipality that I’ve had on the show, and as we were talking before I hit record I usually start with why is inclusion such an important topic where you work.
[00:01:20] Amy: I don’t think it’s hard for our listeners to imagine why the city of Minneapolis would be focused on this right now. But talk to us a little bit about, what is the climate like there right now? What’s the local conversation that’s happening?
[00:01:33] Director Green: Yeah, so the climate is rough. I think that the entire world saw a very public lynching of George Floyd in May of 2020.
[00:01:41] Director Green: The climate is rough and people are still feeling the effects or after effects of watching that video and everything that transpired afterwards. Then we have the MDHR findings that came out most recently with how the police deal with the black community. So, the climate is rough right now.
[00:01:59] Director Green: But it’s also ripe with opportunity, and so I hope it is my hope that we can build something together, the community, the enterprise is what we call the city of Minneapolis and in how we relate to one of one another how we relate internally, how we relate externally and making sure that racial justice is the focus, the core focus of what we’re doing as a city.
[00:02:22] Amy: You took this job at a particularly difficult time and I would imagine that you have a lot of work to do not just in pursuing the work that was already in place probably before you came, but I would imagine that there’s a lot of resetting and recalibrating that needs to happen, can you talk a little bit about where do you begin when you step into a role like this?
[00:02:42] Director Green: Yeah, definitely. So, one of the things about the city of Minneapolis is this department that I’m in called race inequity most of the team left, and so me coming into to this role, I had to first focus on rebuilding that capacity. Right now, we’re up to 10 employees.
[00:03:01] Director Green: And when I got here, we only had one employee, and it’s been I take that as a win and figuring out the work that’s ahead of us and how we’re going to tackle it, but those 10 employees are very new to the city again, except for one, and we are figuring all this out together, but one thing that we have in common is that we all want to make sure that we are part of this racial reckoning of sorts that’s happening in the city of Minneapolis, that we are part of rebuilding the city and also initiating racial justice in all of the work that we do.
[00:03:33] Director Green: Everybody who was on my team is very excited to do that work, and so I’m excited to get it done as well.
[00:03:40] Amy: Now I would imagine that in a role like yours, you have a lot of different tentacles into the community, you’re not just dealing with community groups, you’re dealing with business interests.
[00:03:48] Amy: You’re dealing with schools and education, probably a lot of social services nonprofits you’re dealing with public policy. That’s a lot with just 10 people for a city of the size of Minneapolis with this much attention, worldwide attention. Can you talk a little bit about, kind of what is the scope of what you’re trying to accomplish and how are you building coalitions to help get that work done?
[00:04:12] Director Green: Absolutely, so the scope, how I explained it to the city council most recently is that I am focused on systems change that will encourage behavioral changes, and then you’ll get the mindset changed. I think one of the things we do sometimes in racial justice space, as we try to focus on shifting mindsets first so that we can get to that systems change.
[00:04:36] Director Green: I think that is a, I don’t think, I don’t believe that is a good way to do it, and here’s why. I think about water fountains, so about 70 years ago, we all couldn’t you and I could not stand at the same water fountain together. They had white water fountains and colored only water fountains. Now, today, you and I can drink from the same water fountain and no one bats an eye.
[00:05:03] Director Green: Why is that? Because that system changed, then the behaviors changed, then the mindset’s changed. So regardless if a person is racist or not, we’re still gonna drink out of the same water fountain and that racist person, isn’t going to say you can’t drink out of this water fountain because it’s for white people only because that behavior and that system enforced it.
[00:05:26] Director Green: And so, for me, the work of our department is to focus on systems change, that changes behaviors. So, then it doesn’t matter if a person is racist or not, what matters is their behavior is not going to respond to that racism.
[00:05:41] Amy: I think that’s so important, a lot of times when I’m working with corporate clients, they’ll talk about, changing heart and minds.
[00:05:48] Amy: And I think that work is important. I do, but I all, and I also think it’s important to say, go look at your employee handbook, go look at your HR policies, go look at how those are enforced and who they applied to and who they don’t and look at where you’re giving bad actors a place to hide, where are you getting bad actors refuge in your policies and in the implementation and enforcement of your policies.
[00:06:16] Amy: Because until you have that locked down you can’t possibly cultivate the kind of culture or the kind of work experience, or even the kind of client experience or market experience that you want to create because people will find a way to dig into those policies and find protection that should not.
[00:06:35] Amy: And so, it seems like to me, your job is that writ large and across so many social implications. Is that fair to say?
[00:06:42] Director Green: Absolutely. Absolutely. Across all of the social determinants of health, like education, housing, economy making sure that those policies that are in place that do not work for black and brown people.
[00:06:56] Director Green: I’m not gonna say that they don’t work for everyone because we know that they’re clearly working for someone, a particular group of people, so those policies and systems and structures that are in place that do not work for black and brown people to remove those policies and change those systems so that it does work for
[00:07:12] Director Green: Black brown, white whoever, and so that’s why the water fountain is so as a system is so important to the work that I’m doing, and for me, if we could change minds, then slavery wouldn’t have blasted as long as it did, if we could change minds, Jim Crow south wouldn’t have blasted as long as we, as it did.
[00:07:31] Director Green: Everything, every right, that a black person has in this country came from a decision from an executive or from the Supreme court. It did not come from the minds changing of the general population. So, I don’t really subscribe to the changing minds thing, I think that some people should do that job, but it is not the job of race equity in the city of Minneapolis.
[00:07:57] Amy: You know I think that’s absolutely fair to say, and when we talk about systems in the United States, everything, every single system we have is rooted in white supremacy, and every policy that we’ve ever had was either an extension of that or a response to it, and there’s no industry, there’s no part of our collective social contract.
[00:08:24] Amy: That’s untouched by that, and so before we, for recording, you said, look, 400 years of undoing is not going to happen in quarterly milestones or annual reports, and I think that’s so important to remember, but my God, we can’t wait 400 years for this.
[00:08:40] Director Green: I would say that we can’t wait 400 years.
[00:08:42] Director Green: I know I don’t want us to wait 400 years for it, but I think the reality of it is that, we have an entire system that is built on why supremacy culture, as you said, and it’s so ingrained in everything that we do is so invisible, it’s like breathing air, and it takes a really trained mind to, to notice those little things that happen on a daily basis.
[00:09:03] Director Green: Like when you’re watching TV, like how many people of color do you see on a screen? What is that set standard? What is that? and for all intensive purposes, whiteness is the norm. It is the standard and that’s what everything else is going to be measured by, and my job is to remove that standard because what is normal for me is not normal for the next person, not normal for that person.
[00:09:25] Director Green: Remove that, that standard of normalcy, so that everybody can show up as their authentic self with all of the gifts that they bring. That’s going to take some time because you have a whole bunch of people who believe there is no problem. Slavery ended 1865. That’s the end of the story. But it’s not the end of the story, because what happened after reconstruction and what happened thereafter?
[00:09:47] Director Green: Why did we have a civil rights era? Why did we have the black power movement era? Why did we have Reaganomics? like all of these things compounded upon each other, so we’re trying to undo them, but when you have resistance of policy makers and people who are, who hold like real power in this country it’s going to be a lot harder for one corporation, one organization, one city to make those changes large.
[00:10:16] Director Green: So, I do think it’s gonna take a long time. it’s gonna take a long time.
[00:10:22] Amy: I know, and I just, when you think about something, that’s this big, right? The metaphor that I typically use and not to make light of it, but just as a visual is it’s like standing at the bottom of an avalanche with a snow cone cup.
[00:10:34] Amy: And trying to organize from there, where do you begin with something this big? In, I realize your scope is one city or, one, one enterprise but with all those tentacles, what do you have your team focused on right now?
[00:10:48] Director Green: Right now, my team are focused on the Minneapolis equity report.
[00:10:53] Director Green: So basically, we’re going to the city of Minneapolis has never done a report on itself about racial disparities. Now there have been studies done about the city of Minneapolis, but there hasn’t been one that has been ordained by the city. This one will be, and this is it’s going to show people what they already know.
[00:11:12] Director Green: For the most part, but it also is going to have policy ideas and recommendations to undo those things. So it will be up to the city council, it’ll be up to the mayor’s office to adapt those policy changes, to make that system change, to encourage that behavioral change, so that’s one thing we’re working on.
[00:11:29] Director Green: The other thing we’re working on is the truth and reconciliation that was started by council member, Jenkins council, president of Jenkins and basically it’s moving us towards telling the truth about the history of racism in the city of Minneapolis, and then how do we reconcile from that? What will it take to have some kind of reconciliation process so that people can heal?
[00:11:52] Director Green: The other thing that we’re working on is the racism as a public health emergency. We just, we’re still in COVID I was gonna say we just came out of COVID. No, we’re not out of COVID we’re still in COVID, and how the country, how the world treated COVID as an emergency is the same way that I would like cities and municipalities in the federal government to treat racism.
[00:12:11] Director Green: Because we know that racism has impacts on people’s health, mental, and physical. It has impacts on your ability to be able to earn wages, your ability to generate wealth, your ability to live the same life as a white person and also it can have detrimental effects with the UN injustice in policing and how black people are being killed by police at alarming rates.
[00:12:39] Director Green: Racism is definitely a public health emergency, and so it is my intention to treat it the same way that we treated COVID all hands-on deck. We need to figure this out. We need to figure out why people are catching COVID, we need to figure out why they’re dying. COVID is a pandemic that got here two years ago.
[00:12:59] Director Green: Racism is a pandemic that has been here for hundreds of years. So how do we address that? So that’s another project that we’re working on. We are very focused on, like I said earlier, systemic changes and creating policies. We have our hands in transportation, we have our hands in environmental justice.
[00:13:20] Director Green: We’re doing a lot with this small, but mighty team, and the team is just gonna grow bigger and bigger. It is my job to try to rebuild it and I’m doing that. I’ve been here about five months, and so within that five months, we’ve gone from one to 10. I think that’s fantastic and we’re just gonna keep growing so that we can do this work in a real way.
[00:13:41] Amy: I am just, I’m so grateful that there are people like you that get up every day and fight, fight for good in ways that have to be exhausting, and I just wanna honor you for just a moment in what you’ve agreed to undertake and the challenges that you’re facing, but the, just the will and the resolve and the resilience in doing that is phenomenal and so much more than most mortals are capable of.
[00:14:11] Amy: And I, I wanna recognize that in you in case nobody’s told you that this week, thank you for the work that you’re doing. It’s so important.
[00:14:19] Director Green: Thank you so much. Thank you so much. I was having a conversation earlier today with another gentleman who is involved in this work, and I said, it’s like pushing a Boulder up a massive mountain and your barefoot and the rocks are cutting into your feet, but you’re determined to get it to the top, knowing that you probably can.
[00:14:42] Director Green: And it’s up to people who come after you when you fall, to take that boulder and keep trying, it seems like a very impossible task, but inch by inch, it’s still going up the mountain. She’s taken a long time, and my job here is not to see it, get to the top of the mountain. My job here is to plant seeds.
[00:15:04] Director Green: And someday generations from now, there will be people who can sit under the shade of those trees from those seats. I might not even see them germinate, but me knowing that they will be magnificent trees someday is worth it. It makes all of this worth it. Now all of the pain that you have to go through to, to make some movement, make some changes.
[00:15:29] Director Green: All of it is worth it to me.
[00:15:33] Amy: For the people who are listening to this who live in Minneapolis or in the surrounding areas, what can they do to get involved with or support the work that you’re doing? What do you need from your community?
[00:15:45] Director Green: Love and to show up and to get involved in the civic process and start to understand what the civic process is all about.
[00:15:53] Director Green: And knowing what policies are coming up and how those policies affect them, knowing what policies are in play right now and how those policies are affecting their livelihoods at this moment I think is really important, and when we bring something to the floor of a city council, having the community show up and support that and have our backs in that would be incredibly helpful.
[00:16:16] Director Green: But I want to build a coalition of community leaders and organizers and not make this be the Tyeastia show, but make this be the community show. This is what the community wants, this is, has nothing to do with Tyeastia Green. This is what the community says that they need, and putting those things forward and building those resolutions together, building those ordinances together, building those charter changes together.
[00:16:40] Director Green: So that’s something that I really wanna do is to build a massive coalition of people. Doesn’t matter if you organized before, as long as you have the passion and you want to be involved, your voice matters, and I want to implement your thoughts and your voice into everything that I’m doing to make our lives better here in Minneapolis.
[00:17:02] Amy: I really hope that people heed that call, I think that sometimes people get very cynical about political involvement, community involvement, community activism. They think their local politics don’t matter when local politics is probably the most important thing for them to be paying attention to.
[00:17:18] Amy: For those of us outside of Minneapolis and the surrounding areas, how can we support the work you’re doing?
[00:17:25] Director Green: Wow, that’s a really good question. I haven’t thought about that, but I do think that it’s important that this work isn’t siloed. So, the work that I’m doing in Minneapolis, I hope they’re doing in Chicago.
[00:17:36] Director Green: I hope they’re doing it New York city, I hope they’re doing it in Los Angeles, I hope they’re doing it in small towns across the country, and I hope that we are learning from each other. There are some things that I could learn from people in other areas that we can implement here and vice versa.
[00:17:51] Director Green: So, the support can look very different and in a variety of ways, it doesn’t have to be literally supporting me in the office here in Minneapolis. It could be making sure you’re starting some racial justice forms in the area that you’re in.
[00:18:05] Amy: Director green, thank you so much for your time today for your candor and just for the work that you’re doing. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us and share with my audience, all of the amazing and big, important, impossible work that you’ve undertaken so that you can make it possible.
[00:18:22] Amy: Thank you.
[00:18:23] Director Green: Thank you so much. I appreciate it.
Amy: That’s it for this week’s episode of including you join me next week when my guest will be Wanda Lee Florestine from GRIDalternative.org.