2021 RACE Exhibition Grantees
In 2020, the Science Museum of Minnesota applied for and was awarded a Building Community Capacity Grant from the Saint Paul Foundation, with which the museum’s Access & Equity department launched a small partnership grant program based on the recently updated RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition.
The goal of this new initiative was no small task: Expanding our community’s understanding and conversations around race and racism in healthcare, education, housing, incarceration, wealth, and STEM. To that end, the aim for the granting initiative was to center people who are disproportionately affected by white supremacy and support them to use the RACE: Are We So Different? exhibition as a resource for racial equity work.
Out of the 60 grant proposals the group of staff and advisors received, they selected nine proposals to fund and distributed a total of $37,000 in grant funds. Here are some of their stories!
Koinonia Leadership Academy: Empowered to Be Me!
Black students often do not live up to their highest potential because of systemic forces. The Koinonia Leadership Academy is trying to change that. With the support of a RACE mini-grant, their 2021 leadership program for Black girls, Empowered to Be Me!, helped Black girls feel empowered to lead and use their skills and intelligence for their communities and world.
The program last summer focused specifically on mental health — a necessary element for anyone to succeed, and an area where racism still holds back many people. Mental health has been a critical issue during the COVID pandemic and a national reckoning with systemic racism and police violence.
In 2021, the participants not only learned about leadership and shared mental health barriers, but facilitated a community event and conversation about the issues. They also built priceless relationships with each other and their mentors.
“The girls expressed how important it is for them to have safe affinity spaces where they can be their authentic selves and they can share and learn with people that share their same lived experiences,” says coordinator Marika Pfefferkorn.
As part of the program, the group read The Little Book of Race and Restorative Justice by Dr. Fania Davis. Restorative justice was a key concept for the group. This practice means repairing the harm caused by racism and white supremacy. Empowering girls and breaking down barriers to mental wellness can go a long way to righting longstanding wrongs. The girls were so affected by Dr. Davis’s work, they decided to invite her to facilitate an affinity circle for Black girls and their Black caregivers.
These young people have now acquired new skills and connections to care for themselves and their community. The benefits will be seen for years to come.
Theater Mu: Mu Tang Clan
One Friday night in January, six Southeast Asian-American playwrights from the Twin Cities shared excerpts from their dramatic works. It was a lively event with “vigilante Hmong vampires, Nazi huntin', a taxi demon, snake sex, and more.” But the event was only the culmination of an intensive six-month program to support these emerging and experienced writers.
Theater Mu’s “Mu-Tang Clan” was supported by a Science Museum of Minnesota RACE mini-grant. It included six months of regular meetings to push, support, and make space for these important and innovative voices. It was all led by Saymoukda Duangphouxay Vongsay, an accomplished playwright and Theater Mu’s Andrew W. Mellon Playwright in Residence.
“Many expressed their need for empowering programs like Mu Tang Clan that offer intentionally safer spaces for Asian American writers—spaces where you don’t have to include asterisks or italicize anything about yourself,” Vongsay said. “You won’t always find that in ‘traditional’ American theatre spaces.”
Serving as an incubator for these creative voices, the program offered not only collaboration and workshopping, but also a stipend for the playwrights to cover costs like childcare and reading materials. This was important for ensuring everyone could participate fully, no matter their means.
People and the press took notice. The program got attention from American Theatre magazine and several other publications. Plays were written. Playwrights were pushed to succeed. And this year, Theater Mu is planning to do it again.
Alfred Sanders & Prakshi Malik: Embers discussion guide
Black students in Minnesota’s schools are six times more likely to be placed in restrictive special education than their white peers. They are eight times more likely to be expelled or suspended. Black students make up 10 percent of Minnesota’s student population and, yet, they make up 42 percent of disciplinary incidents.
Those numbers give an outline of the problem, but it’s still abstract and faceless. The 2017 short film Embers brings the obstacles faced by Black students and parents to life. It focuses on two Black mothers who are called to their sons’ school over a disciplinary incident — boys who were chased, handcuffed, maced, and threatened with criminal charges over a tenuous case of rule-breaking. In the vice principal’s office, confronted by a school police officer, the two moms wrestle with the complex challenges of raising children of color in Minnesota today, with a system that is designed to punish them.
A new discussion guide for Embers is intended to help parents, students, schools, and others better understand this type of injustice. The Embers curriculum, developed by filmmaker Prakshi Malik and composer Alfred Sanders, was supported by a Science Museum RACE mini-grant in 2021. It offers background information, discussion questions, and more, intended to guide a well-informed conversation.
The over-policing of students of color in Minnesota schools is part of a pipeline that results in Black adults being more likely to be incarcerated than their white peers. Embers and its new discussion guide is trying to plug this pipeline and stop Black students from being subjected to such systemic racism and biased school discipline and law enforcement.
Sydney Latimer: The Uses of Anger: A Community's Response to Heartache
Racism makes people angry. That emotion can be destructive or constructive, and a new documentary from Sydney Latimer explores anger as an agent of positive change in St. Paul. The Uses of Anger recognizes and validates the extreme emotions felt by those affected by racism and uses them to imagine new possibilities.
The film shares how members of the historic Rondo neighborhood are angry about street violence and crime, economic oppression and gentrification, and state and police abuse following the George Floyd murder and civil unrest and the COVID-19 pandemic. The challenges are many, but anger is fueling efforts to change these dynamics.
“The documentary highlights the resilience of these neighborhoods as they transmute their anger through artistic expression and enterprise,” Latimer says.
Inspired by Audrey Lorde’s 1970 essay, “The Uses of Anger,” the documentary deals with the difficulties women of color in particular face in modern Minnesota. Latimer, a native of Rondo, worked with several youth partners and interviewed 20 neighborhood residents to understand their lives and challenges, and their anger. The project, supported by a Science Museum RACE mini-grant in 2021, also provided participants with artistic means to voice their anger and imagine better possibilities.
While the effects of racism on the Rondo community are manifold, one of the biggest problems is a feeling of voicelessness. As the region wrestles with systemic racism, the people most affected are not heard often enough.
“The overarching theme I saw in all of the interviews was a lack of a voice regarding what has happened in the Twin Cities and what will happen in the future,” Latimer says. “The effects of gentrification and political silencing of these areas were apparent.”
The Uses of Anger seeks to break down those boundaries, empower the community, and help people channel their anger toward a better future.
Gita Ghei, Melvin Giles, Aki Shibata: Policing Postcards Project
The problems with policing in Minnesota’s community have swirled around both local citizens and the state capitol. But there remains a disconnect between the people most affected by policing and the people in charge of putting policies in place. The Police Postcard Project provided a chance to change that.
Three community artists dedicated to peace led the program, organizing three events when individuals could write artistic postcards to elected officials with their experiences and ideas about policing in the Twin Cities. The project was supported by a Science Museum RACE mini-grant in 2021.
“It is our hope with this project that people who themselves, or whose extended family or friends have experienced violence and brutality in policing, feel heard and recognized for their intrinsic worth, and that they know that there is potential for change.”
All told, the group mailed nearly 150 postcards to politicians, distributed more to people who wanted to mail them themselves, and had conversations about policing with at least 250 people.
Not only did they make it easy to speak up, but they gave questions to make participants think. They started simply, asking “what is your experience with police? And “what do you feel needs to change about police?” Then they progressed to asking people to imagine what a world without police could look like, and what new jobs like peacekeeping and social services could be needed.
“Our project is to bring power to individuals to find their voice and, beyond voting, to give politicians specific ideas and thoughts,” says artist Gita Ghei.