September 24, 2020
As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the seventh in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.
George Floyd’s murder in my hometown of Minneapolis once again shined the spotlight on the problems of race in our community. In the weeks that followed, calls for social justice have reverberated around the world. In my time at the Y, I have come to understand and recognize — on a far deeper level — my many privileges as a white man. But my self-reflection and education is constant, and I feel compelled to utilize this medium to interview equity leaders. These leaders have served as mentors, teammates and dear friends. Each has allowed me to see a different perspective on systemic racism through their lived experience. As I seek to understand, my hope is that these talks will help humanize the issues and, in some small way, help lead us toward efforts to make a better way for all.
My fifth guest is Chanda Smith Baker, the senior vice president of impact at the Minneapolis Foundation. With over two decades of experience working in, for and with underestimated communities, Chanda is a proud North Minneapolis native and resident.
Before coming to the Minneapolis Foundation, she worked 17 years at the Pillsbury United Communities in various leadership roles, including President and CEO from 2011 to 2017. Among her many endeavors, she relaunched North News and the opening of North Market, a full-service grocery store in North Minneapolis. She’s earned numerous awards, including Minnesota Business Magazines’ Real Power 50 (2018) and Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal Women in Business Honoree (2017).
A mother of five, Chanda is widely respected in our community and beyond, and I think you’ll quickly realize why in Part 1 of our conversation.
Glen: Tell me about your background?
Chanda: Where I came from is where I am right now, which is the North side of Minneapolis. We've made a commitment to stay here. I recently lost my mother, and one of the most important lessons I learned from her is: The community is a place that you grow in and you contribute to, not that you try to move from. And she talked a lot about her very deep experience living in North Minneapolis, where there are families that have been connected for generations. And so, it stuck with me, anytime I thought about moving.
I'm not only black and female — so I have gender and race — but I am also from North Minneapolis, which brings neighborhood stereotyping. ‘What does it mean to be from North Minneapolis?’ To be from a place that has given me so much, but it's described as a place that is a challenge… Being from North Minneapolis is a driver of how I think about and how I do my work. How do I bring forth the rich narratives? How do I honor the complexity of place? How do I amplify the assets? How do I showcase the richness of this place? If someone says, ‘I’m a (North High) Polar.’ Instant love because I went there, and my mom and grandma went there. My son is at North (High) right now. Or if they’re a (North Henry High) Patriot. Well, ‘My husband is a Patriot.’
There are few institutions in communities that live through generations. There are a lot that come and go, but being a part of that story, where you can story-tell, it’s deeply enriching for me.
As I’ve gotten into the work, professionally, I've developed my own number of young people who are now young adults. I want to be the house that they drive by and say, ‘That's Ms. Baker's house. I remember when she helped me with such and such.’ Because that's what was given to me.
Glen: How did you feel when George Floyd was murdered and you saw Minneapolis go front-and-center in this call for racial justice?
Chanda: The day that the video came out, I like strongly recall my husband and two of my sons sitting at the kitchen table, and they were looking at the video and they said, ‘Come watch the video.’ I'm like, ‘I can't watch another video. I just cannot do it.’ Then later in the day, I realized that it happened here, and I did watch the video.
Just two days before, my mom had come home for hospice, so what really grabbed me was not just what happened to George Floyd but that he was calling for his mom. That hit me emotionally so hard. There’s nothing like a mother's love and comfort, which is kind of the place and stage that I was in, at that particular moment.
I wasn't surprised by the unrest. I was not surprised by the officer's behavior. I was appalled, I wasn't surprised. And I feel like we've been at a tipping point of race riots, a tipping point of just dramatic unrest, from my vantage point, for quite some time. So it wasn't surprising at all.
Glen: What is your sense for where we are now? Is this a different place? Is there something different this time around?
Chanda: I think that there's a difference, in terms of how communities responded to the murder of George Floyd. I think that there has been a convergence of so many things and a recognition that the way that we have been asking for change has not been working. People in community are recognizing differently the power they have to raise their voice against issues of injustice, that they can be part of a movement for change. And we're watching people from diverse communities be engaged on this issue.
There is a part of me that is very hopeful that that energy will be sustained and that we will actually be able to make real movement towards equity and justice. But there's a piece of me that simply doesn't believe that it will change. I think it’s bending towards justice — probably as slow as it has been — but I'm not super convinced that we're going to see sweeping change.
Glen: Thank you so much for sharing that, Chanda. There are a lot of assumptions and perceptions about North Minneapolis. What is something that bothers you?
Chanda: There’s so many things! One that bothers me is how we talk about violence on the North Side. There are parts of the North Side that are violent and there's a whole lot that are not. I don't feel threatened going in and out of my home everyday. I don't feel that.
The idea that all our Black men are felons and aren’t taking care of their kids. It… bothers… me. If you drive through the neighborhoods, especially in a regular school year, you’ll see more dads at bus stops than moms. If you go to a North High basketball or football game, those are dads there. Black men on the sidelines coaching Park & Rec Board games. If you go to these places, you see all of these Black men that are not just taking care of their kids, they're taking care of our kids.
Yet we have other narratives that say that they're not engaged. They're not productive. They're not doing what they need to do. And it bothers me greatly.
I think the role of Black men is under-appreciated, ill-informed and it bothers me because it’s shaped how younger Black men see themselves by this narrative that’s been created.
We will publish Part 2 of our conversation with Chanda Smith Baker next week, and we will highlight her professional experiences, her insights into serving the community, and what the Y and I can do. To learn more about Chanda Smith Baker, visit her bio by clicking here.