Story for The UpTake by Kathryn G. Nelson
Bridging the achievement gap between whites and people of color has been a central issue to this year’s mayoral race, particularly in hard-hit North Minneapolis, where citizens are quick to point out that issues of safety, police misconduct, home foreclosure, inadequate housing, unemployment and education reform are significant barriers to their success.
Yet, despite all the nice-sounding talk and good intentions of the leading candidates, many residents of the North Side say they are weary of the rhetoric and skeptical of candidates offering the same-old, same-old — solutions from years past. They say they’re frustrated by the failure of the best-known candidates to address the underlying issues in their community and complain that they have been excluded from opportunities to help develop solutions which are later implemented in their own backyard.
But as the campaign approaches its finish and next Tuesday’s election, one candidate has begun to gain an audience on the North Side: Community activist and North Side native James Everett, one of the many “minor” candidates in the race.
North Side dissatisfaction with the “major” candidates for mayor (they include long-time North Side City Council member Don Samuels, a Jamaican immigrant) was apparent at an Oct. 8 mayoral debate at Folwell Park where upset residents asked point-blank questions to the panel of “leading” candidates.
“We’ve been playing the same game for generations and people are getting tired of the same questions and answers at every forum,” said Roxanne O’Brien, a community activist who attended the debate. “What do you know about classism (the unfair treatment of people due to their lower social or economic standing)? And what are you going to do about it?”
By the end of that debate, O’Brien and many other attendees had walked out, angry and frustrated by the lack of clear action plans on how to improve their community.
“I rarely expect for politicians to speak about oppression or oppressive systems such as classism or racism because it’s not always in their interest or the people the corporations that they serve,” O’Brien said afterwards. “I keep challenging politicians to think outside the box. Drop this political persona even though that may not be politically correct, and to invest in the people. I think that people want to know what people are going to do. Not what they have done in the past – what difference they’re going to make with the power of the mayor.”
When asked what candidate would best be able to address the issues of North Minneapolis, O’Brien said she would place her trust in one person –- Everett, a low-profile candidate who has spent only a few hundred dollars running his very modest campaign.
“He honestly cares,” O’Brien said. “He understands the issues and I know that he understands the people he is serving.”
After that debate, The UpTake sat down with Everett to discuss history, his run for mayor and his unique plans to solve the racial, economic and social disparities within North Minneapolis.
KEEP READING TO FIND OUT WHAT JAMES EVERETT WOULD DO IF HE IS ELECTED
Everett, 36, wears many hats. A Green Party candidate, youth worker, founder of Sub-Zero Collective and contractor with the Youth Coordinating Board, Everett has distinguished from many of the other 34-candidates for his ability to ask and answer difficult questions facing North Minneapolis.
Spending less than $200, Everett has tried to mold his low-budget campaign into a personal outreach initiative aimed at helping North Minneapolis leverage its assets and build relationships with politicians based on integrity and intimacy.
Wearing a Vikings sweatshirt and long, thick dreadlocks, Everett said many policy-makers think him as “just the guy with the dreads who thinks he is smart.” But to anyone who has followed this year’s race, it’s obvious that Everett has made a ripple in his own community.
Everett made one of his first public entrances into this year’s race during that Oct. 8 debate in North Minneapolis. Throughout the night, Everett debated against the other candidates, showing off his passion, knowledge and deep roots within the neighborhood.
Quick to point out that the other mayoral candidates were mostly outsiders trying to make change in his neighborhood, Everett declared at that debate that he knew almost every person’s name who was in the room, including the 100 or so attendees. The audience applauded in response.
“I live this everyday,” Everett said. “There’s a difference between people who live this work. We’re in the middle of all of it.”
“I really love this city,” he told The UpTake. “I really stay up all night thinking about how to make this city better.”
Everett, who has worked with well-known movers and shakers including current Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, said his connection to North Minneapolis is not just a ploy to win over votes.
Everett’s is a former President of the Minneapolis NAACP, an outreach worker for several social service projects and a board member at several organizations, including the Peace Foundation and Intermedia Arts. His work has also targeted issues of children’s rights, domestic abuse issues, housing and group homes and rehabilitation of ex-felons.
Everett says he’s “entrenched on a whole other level” within his community, adding that he was even “shot at” by an unknown gunman earlier this fall.
Calling himself “the ghostwriter” behind some of the most progressive programs and campaigns in the city (such as coordinating the Minneapolis Youth Congress “Youth Bus”), Everett says he may not look the part of Minneapolis mayor, but his legacy of grassroots activism has helped improve his community. He added, “(Voters) just want someone who looks the part,” he said, adding, “How’s that working for you?”
Everett says it’s no longer acceptable for the residents of North Minneapolis to be held on the periphery of important policy conversations while outside leaders make the decisions for them. Instead, he said, the residents of North Minneapolis need to be given an active role in their own neighborhood.
“I’m not happy just to be at the table,” he says.
Everett’s main message: He wants to launch a “North Minneapolis movement to bring back North Minneapolis.” It hits the core of many residents’ hopes for the area.
O’Brien plans to rank Everett as her first choice for Mayor of Minneapolis.
“We need someone who is willing to take this on with all their hearts because there’s an urgency going on,” she says. “If they don’t see that urgency, then (North Minneapolis residents) will ignore you like you’ve ignored us,” she said. “The people are looking for a champion.”
Does Everett realistically think his grassroots campaign will help him win the Minneapolis mayoral election?
No. He’s not divorced from the political realities. But he says he doesn’t care if he wins. That’s not what it’s about.
“It doesn’t really matter,” he says. “I’m woven into this city.”