Upon arriving in Bemidji at the Northwest Minnesota Foundation, there were already a few people in the room. A variety of food was laid out for attendees and Equity Blueprint Springboard printouts placed at every seat. After 10 or so minutes of light conversations, most of the seats were filled, everyone sitting at tables in a circle and anxious to start a deeper collective conversation about what it takes to “thrive by design”.
In total, about 15 community members were in the room who ranged from teachers to city administrators to business owners and everything in between. Everyone brought their own identity and role to the table, sharing their investment in work towards a better community and state. There were code-switchers, pot-stirrers, mentors, connectors, parents, and educators. After introductions, the group seemed to have a more calming and relaxed feel, it was as if we all knew each other on a different level and felt the common bond for being present.
Community members were then instructed to take a look at the Equity Blueprint Springboard and choose their top three issues of importance for the Bemidji area. There was some confusion about the policies below and the task at hand. After some discussion, community members made a collective decision to start with choosing issues across the board, and then visiting the specific policies. Attendees were given a ranking of 1st- green, 2nd-orange, 3rd- pink.
Through conversation and some deliberation, community members visited the board, stopping along the way to make new connections and continue discussing with others. After 15 minutes or so everyone was back in their spots and the ranking displayed:
1st– Education, Healthcare, and Housing
2nd– Employment/jobs and poverty/income mobility
3rd– Natural resources/climate change/renewable energy
While the springboard was just that, a “springboard for discussion”, most of the remaining conversation was centered around missing ideas from the Blueprint that were directly impacting the Bemidji community.
The main takeaway from the meeting was that addressing education should be supported by foundational policies that address basic needs such as housing, employment, healthcare, and food access. These aspects are the bedrock of ability to thrive in the Bemidji Community, which some feel has been overtaken with new shiny economic priorities. Community members expressed that when basic needs are addressed and policies “lift those up that need it first, the water will rise.”
- Minnesota loses 15,000 kids early each year. Need to create policies that maintain enrollment.
- Community involvement and investment in education – graduating from high school should be a social norm.
- Career Academy and skills-based education as an alternative education to college
- Computer programming courses that teach 21st-century skills in school
*Note: most that have early childhood support typically do finish high school*
Housing & Homelessness
“When you don’t have a home, education is difficult”
- Children are couch hopping in early development
- Missing education due to moving around
- Need to solve out of home placement
- Failure to graduate > failure to thrive> poverty
“Without a healthy baby, we have nothing”
- Need to address behavioral health in the Blueprint such as the opioid crisis
- Add a specific section to the Blueprint about the opioid crisis
- Recognized the impact of Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) and what has happened to people instead of asking what they did wrong
“Life is a lot easier to navigate when you have a living wage”
- Support labor unions
- Create policies that help employers address barriers to employment – lack of housing, addiction, and education
- *40% unemployment in Mahnomen, but yet have to hire outside the community for housekeepers at casino*
- *Job section filling page and a half in Baudette newspaper, everything from janitor to chemist*
- *Thief River Falls – the Median wage of $18 (2/3 of jobs require a high school diploma or less)*
NEW POLICY IDEA: Tax incentives for businesses that provide a living wage, housing, or reduce barriers to employment in the community.
Example: Association of MN Cities- Program in ND where employers received tax rebates for building housing for employees. (https://www.minneapolisfed.org/publications/community-dividend/state-incentive-fund-helps-ease-north-dakotas-affordable-housing-shortage)
- Need more community leadership, always the same individuals involved in running for community council, volunteering, and stepping up to the civic engagement plate.
- Get rid of the cultural divide- indigenous vs non-indigenous, wealth vs non-wealth, etc.
Design in Systems
- Create more common sense systems that are easier to navigate
- Changing design and structure of state agencies cabinet to “teams of teams”. *Red Lake change in the cabinet structure led to 1 opioid case or less per month*
- Create a condition where families can thrive
*Add a specific section to springboard about disparities*