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Black History Month: Women We Love feat. Robin Wonsley

In honor of Black History Month, we are bringing back our series, “Women We Love!” Every week in February we will be sharing an inspirational black woman who is doing the good work in the community!

This week we asked, Robin Wonsley, the Minneapolis Ward 2 City Councilwoman, some questions. Read more below.

About Robin:

Robin grew up in the Southside of Chicago and attended Carleton College; she then completed a Thomas J. Watson Fellowship where she researched effective reintegration and reentry programs and policies for recently released women. Robin moved to Minneapolis in 2014. She earned a Mini MBA in Nonprofit Management from St. Thomas University in 2015. In 2018 Robin began her Ph.D. program in Gender, Women, and Sexuality Studies at the University of Minnesota. She currently serves as the Minneapolis Ward 2 City Councilwoman. 

What does Black History Month mean to you? 

While commitments to anti-racism, justice, and equity should be year-round pursuits, Black History Month provides our communities and nation with the opportunity to do a few things. This month offers our country the space to honor both past and current Black freedom fighters. Additionally, and most importantly, this month encourages us to reflect and assess just how far we have come, as a society, when it comes to racial justice and equity. It’s a chance to look at our material conditions and honestly evaluate whether we’re removing the civil, political, social, and economic barriers to hinder Black lives from flourishing in the U.S. and across the diaspora. 

Socio-economic indicators related to housing, income, wealth, healthcare, and education affirm that our nation has made minimal progress in uplifting Black lives. In fact, our nation has taken a regressive turn regarding racial justice. This month, our nation usually highlights the Civil Rights Movement. However, at this current moment, we’re watching elected leaders and public officials overturn the hard-fought victories of that very movement. Last year, the Supreme Court overturned Affirmative Action. Southern states like Florida and Texas, have placed indefinite bans on books and educational curricula that articulate the full and horrific history of racism in our country to not make White people sad and/or mad. In 2020, our nation experienced a racial reckoning in the wake of George Floyd’s murder by Minneapolis police, and political and economic leaders pledged to radically change policing in our country. And yet, police shootings of Black individuals have only increased since 2020. 

In understanding these realities, this month reminds me of my commitment to keep fighting for the just, equitable, and anti-racist world that Black lives deserve and need. 

How does your intersectionality affect your work?

As an elected official, I have the responsibility of finding solutions to various issues and crises that exist because of our governing system of racial capitalism; a system that just refuses to let us live our best lives. Many of the systemic issues my office responds to do not just impact one single community. Take climate change, for instance, specifically air pollution. Recent years have shown air quality levels steadily and dangerously decreasing. This means all working-class people are breathing in air that’s inclusive of more pollutants. However, data has also shown that corporate polluters are typically located in poor communities of color. Meaning, these communities' compromised air quality levels are further worsened, leading to a host of harmful public health impacts like increased asthma rates, other severe respiratory issues, and even death. 

That said, as a policy-maker, I cannot simply approach climate change from a singular perspective. Both data and people’s lived realities have shown that a person’s race, economic status, and zip code will determine whether they will live in a community that has clean air or not. Or whether they or their children will develop a respiratory illness. This is clearly unacceptable. This is exactly why I was a champion of the city’s Climate Equity Plan, which outlines the city's plan to make Minneapolis a climate-resilient city and to address the impacts of environmental racism suffered by largely, Black, Brown, Indigenous, immigrant, and low-income residents. 

Recognizing the intersections of issues and how those issues impact various communities is crucial to being an equitable and effective change-maker. When those intersections are ignored, then we see horrible decisions made by governmental agencies, and other powerful figures and entities.

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