“Sometimes you have to shake, rattle and roll until you get the results you want. You have to challenge people who are not used to being challenged.”
So said law professor and president of the Minneapolis chapter of the NAACP Nekima Levy-Pounds Friday afternoon, in her opening remarks at “The Future Of Civic Engagement” panel at the Minneapolis Foundation’s Futurist Conference at the Minneapolis Convention Center.
Along with fellow panelists Peggy Flanagan, Vina Kay and Anthony Newby, Levy-Pounds painted an exciting and inspiring picture of growth and consciousness-raising via activism and questioning authority towards a more inclusive city and state.
“Knocking on doors and knocking down the doors of power is what we need to do,” Levy-Pounds told the packed conference room. “We know that things are not going to be okay without affirmative action. We need to use our voices to change the status quo, and to challenge those who created these systems.
“There’s not one system in this country that I can think of that’s been built by people of color. And yet those are the folks who suffer within those particular systems. That means we have to think outside the box and get creative about civic engagement.”
Time and again over the course of the 85–minute session, the panelists talked about the proverbial table that people of color have historically been excluded from. The group spoke about their experiences, without mincing words or making Minnesota Nice.
“We need [white allies] to give up their seat and give it to someone else,” said Levy-Pounds. “I don’t know how many rooms I find myself in where I am the only African-American, and there’s nobody there who has had that experience. We need to create alternative tables, where we’re transferring wealth and power to some of these communities. How much would change?”
“Our state and our community is rapidly changing, and unless we have leadership that reflects that, democracy will not reach its full potential,” said Flanagan. “In 20 years, I hope we’re at the table asking who’s missing, who’s not here, and who can I get to take my place?”
Another hot topic was education and the school-to-prison pipeline that plagues minority communities, with Newby predicting that in the coming years “the sphere of influence will come from the non-traditional, like the incarcerated and powerless.”
To challenge the traditional powers-that-be, all four panelists agreed that community organizing, investing in people of color by the business community, and social activism via door knocking and social media can create substantive change.
“Can we create a paradigm shift?” asked Levy-Pounds. “Sometimes you have to dismantle the system and start fresh. We have to shake things up. Sometimes we have to get more radical. We have a lot of work to do. If we’re willing to use our voices, we can change things. If we’re willing to get out of our comfort zones, if we’re willing to hold our elected officials accountable, we can change things. Let’s move to a paradigm shift and put the power in the hands of the people.”
At that, Levy-Pounds received a standing ovation from the roomful of organizers, activists and civic leaders, and for the moment the future of civic engagement in Minneapolis and beyond looked very bright indeed.