The following is the document submitted to the Star Tribune newspaper as a part of their editorial pages questionnaire:
Full Name: Nekima Levy-Pounds
Office seeking: Mayor of Minneapolis
Web site: www.minneapolisfornekima.com
Date of Birth: 06/27/1976
Previous elective offices held: President, Minneapolis NAACP
Party affiliation, if any: DFL
Highest educational diploma or degree attained, from which institution: Juris Doctor, University of Illinois College of Law
Current and Past Occupations: Civil Rights Attorney (since 2001) Professor of Law, University of St. Thomas (2003-2016); Visiting Clinical Law Professor, University of Illinois College of Law; Civil Rights Legal Fellow, Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Washington, D.C.
What in your background prepares you for the office you are seeking?
The position of Mayor of Minneapolis now requires a unique, heightened set of skills. Due to the rapidly shifting demographics within the city, significant concerns regarding the culture of policing, and the growing disparities between white residents and residents of color, the new Mayor must be a visionary. The new Mayor must be a problem-solver, a strong communicator and courageous. The new Mayor must be adept at understanding how systems function and how to transform them to work for the benefit of all people within our city. The new Mayor must also understand how to effectively address racial inequities and ensure that each of the thirteen city agencies are operating under a comprehensive equity plan with metrics of accountability.
I have spent my entire life preparing to take on this role. While growing up in inner city Los Angeles in a poor black and Latino neighborhood, I came to understand the struggles associated with poverty, chronic unemployment, criminal justice impacts, gang involvement amongst youths, and deteriorating police/community relations. Those early adverse experiences in my community led to my decision to become a lawyer at nine years old with the hopes of using my voice as a catalyst for change. When I was fourteen years old, I received a full scholarship to attend an elite boarding school in North Andover, Massachusetts. The environment was mostly comprised of wealthy white students who were born with many advantages, including access to social, political, and cultural capital. Being a young African American woman in a boarding school environment gave me a crash course on intersecting issues of race and socio-economic status and peaked my interest in learning more about history, racial and economic justice, and the ways in which systems function. After graduating from boarding school, I went on to attend the University of Southern California and then law school at the University of Illinois College of Law, where I further honed my organizational, analytical, communication, and legal skills.
Within two years of graduating from law school, I was offered a full-time position teaching law at the University of St. Thomas Law School. I was in my mid-twenties at the time, and most of my students were around my age or older, while most of my colleagues were much older white men. I had to work very hard to compete in that environment as a young woman, while also being a wife and mother of small children. I started a Family Law Clinic during that time, teaching law students how to effectively represent victims of domestic violence and child victims of domestic abuse in high conflict divorce and custody cases. I routinely collaborated with domestic abuse agencies, homeless shelters, schools, social workers, and social service agencies to meet the needs of my clients. I witnessed the gaps and holes in the system that made it difficult for poor women to become upwardly mobile and to provide a decent quality of life for their children. About two years into running the Family Law Clinic, I began reading about racial and economic disparities in the Twin Cities, and decided that I needed to do more to address those issues. That realization led to me launching the Community Justice Project (CJP), which is an award-winning civil rights legal clinic focused on addressing issues at the intersections of race, poverty, public policy, and various systems and laws. My work in CJP led me to the state legislature where I helped to draft legislation, learned to work with legislators, and testified on a variety of key pieces of legislation surrounding data practices, education, policing, criminal justice, and body cameras, to name a few. Additionally, I formed connections with a variety of civic and community-based organizations that helped to inform my work and expose me to issues that impacted the Twin Cities’ most vulnerable residents. Through those experiences, I became a strong advocate for justice and equity, listening to community, working to shape public policy, educating government stakeholders, and using my influence to help change hearts and minds across a variety of key issues.
Over the years, I have taken on a variety of leadership positions, that have given me a well-rounded perspective of the issues that impact our city, region, and state. For example, from 2010-2016 I served on the Board of Directors of The Minneapolis Foundation, having been appointed to vice chair in 2015. I stepped down to run for Mayor. I have also served on the boards of Catholic Charities and Growth & Justice. I was a founding board member of Brotherhood, Inc., a nonprofit that my law students and I started in collaboration with the community to create jobs and opportunities for young African American men who had been in the criminal justice system or gangs. My law students and I also founded an Education Justice Project as a branch of the Community Justice Project, as a mechanism for providing free legal services to parents and children within the public school system. For four years, I served as Chair of the State Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights (UCCR). Under my leadership, we held a public hearing on disparities in unemployment between communities of color and white residents and produced a thoroughly researched 108 page report on Unemployment Disparity in Minnesota that was submitted to the UCCR. My law students and I drafted the report and the recommendations which are relevant to the current unemployment and economic disparities in Minneapolis. I also served as co-chair of Everybody In, a regional collaboration of government, business, and nonprofit stakeholders working to close the gaps in unemployment in the region by 20/20. Through my work with Everybody In, I traveled to Seattle, Washington to learn about the city’s ground-breaking equity plan which helped to align city agencies towards an equity agenda to address racial disparities, identify metrics for measuring results, and tie city employee performance reviews to meeting those metrics. My knowledge of that initiative has made me excited about what is possible for the city of Minneapolis and how to strategically, methodically, and systematically close the gaps across key indicators of quality of life. That experience also helped me to understand why we have not closed any of the disparity gaps in our city—we do not have a concrete plan for doing so, nor do our city leaders have the depth of knowledge, expertise, and political will necessary to get us there. I have the drive, the passion, the intelligence, and the ability to help transform our systems and to use the bully pulpit to awaken us from complacency and into a new, better reality. The Mayor sets the tone for the city as far as priorities and casting a vision for what ought to be. This is a vision I’ve been casting for a long time. In September of 2014, a year prior to Jamar Clark being killed by two MPD officers, I penned “An Open Letter to Mayor Betsy Hodges,” which was signed by over 200 community members requesting police reform, body cameras, and policies that included community input, accountability, and a strong community policing model. This is just one example of how I’ve established a track record of calling out the systems and issues that are holding us back and calling for our current Mayor, government leaders, and business leaders to be accountable for economic disparities and the need for urgent police reform.
I have led public conversations and demonstrations to challenge our complacency on race relations, equity, education, policing, economic justice, environmental justice, and even inequities within the Park Board system. Through challenging Park Board leadership by attending over a dozen meetings and testifying, nearly the entire Park Board leadership will be uprooted, with new leaders being installed after this year’s election. I brought to their attention inequitable hiring practices, disciplinary practices, and an uneven allocation of Park Board resources; along with concerns about lighting being out at Northside Parks, creating a safety issue for women and children walking through the parks at night. My advocacy surrounding that issue forced the Park Board to acknowledge that they did not have a system in place for checking the lights routinely at any park in the city. (8 lights had been out at Farview Park and I was the first to bring it to their attention.).
Recently, the Twin Cities was named the third worst metro in the country for people of color and one of the worst places in the country for black people to live. It will be impossible for Minneapolis to continue to be known as an exceptional place to live and work when we have such tremendous disparities impacting our communities of color and placing pressure upon our system of policing and social services. The new Mayor must have the ability to collaborate with the city council, and help redirect the course of the future of our city. The new Mayor must also be innovative, willing to learn from other parts of the country and willing to cull information from the best and the brightest to provide input into how we can become pacesetters and trailblazers again. (The fact that Minneapolis did not make the first cut in the criteria set by the New York Times when seeking to identify Amazon’s new headquarters, speaks volumes about how far behind we have fallen.). I firmly believe that things do not have to remain this way. I have what it takes to be the new Mayor and to lead this city to greatness.