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Brag on, Minneapolis

In my State of the City address in April, I declared this week, starting today, the First Best Week of Bragging About Minneapolis Ever.

Mayor Betsy Hodges: "If we don’t brag about ourselves, who will?"
MinnPost file photo by Terry Gydesen

Minneapolis is an awesome place. The best thing about Minneapolis, far and away, is our people. We are a brilliant, kind, passionate, talented, dedicated people committed to our families, our neighbors, our city and our community. We are fun, we are funny, we are innovative, we are creative, we are active, we volunteer, and we are civically engaged. We have built amazing communities that make up an extraordinary city.

We are awesome.

We just don’t like to let people know it. We can barely tolerate hearing it, much less saying it about ourselves. Some of us are uncomfortable just reading the paragraphs above.

One of the greatest opportunities ahead of Minneapolis is the opportunity to grow. But if we don’t brag about ourselves, how are we going to grow and successfully invite more people to live here? If we don’t brag about ourselves, how are we going to become so grounded in our strengths that we will be willing to look at our challenges head on?

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If we don’t brag about ourselves, who will?

In my State of the City address in April, I declared this week, starting today, the First Best Week of Bragging About Minneapolis Ever. I did it because when we tell people how great we are, they come here — and when they come here, they stay here. But the problem is that right now, people don’t know how great we are until they get here. So to get them here first, we’ve got to brag.

Now, if I were a mayor who only focused on all the great things that we have going on in Minneapolis, people would not, and should not, tolerate it. I am not that mayor. I know we face challenges. I have been naming and addressing them for months and years now: the gaps between white people and people of color in education, employment, housing and health, for example. Violence. The intolerable number of our children who don’t graduate, who die young, who experience violence. Potholes. The demands of growth and the needs of neighborhoods. As mayor, I have focused already on addressing those challenges in the short term and building solutions for the long term. That is, and will be, the work of my mayoralty. 

On the other hand, if I were a mayor who only focused on our problems, people would not, and should not, tolerate that, either. Solutions to our problems – as well as our brightest future — lie in no small part in bringing creative, big-hearted people here to live, to work, and to play, and keeping all the creative, big-hearted people who live here already. To encourage people to do that, they need to know how great we are.  And for them to know how great we are, we need to brag. And we need to start now.

The choice between promoting our city and addressing our problems is a false one in any case. The things that we brag about are, in large measure, the strengths upon which we can draw to solve our problems. To paraphrase President Bill Clinton, there’s nothing wrong with Minneapolis that can’t be fixed by what’s right with Minneapolis. To cite just a few: Our world-class park system is also a place for kids to play and participate in out-of-school-time activities. Our incredible food and restaurant culture, and our entire hospitality sector, is a source of both entry-level jobs and entrepreneurial opportunities. Our creative economy includes free beautiful art on building walls and social entrepreneurship opportunities to give job skills to kids. Our high rates of volunteering and civic engagement are an opportunity to pool our thinking and our resources on behalf of the larger community.

The assumption that we can’t brag about our greatness because we should be ashamed of our problems misses the point. If we refuse to see how great we are, if we refuse to name it and claim it, then we are truncating our capacity to draw upon that greatness to solve our problems. There is no better way to act against our shame than to name our successes while tackling the challenges that mirror them. 

I could easily have written about why it is important to brag in spite of challenges. But it is deeper than that. It is because we have challenges that we should brag about our strengths.

Brag on, Minneapolis. Brag on.

Betsy Hodges is the mayor of Minneapolis.

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