This district is where I am grounded. I grew up in New Rondo. Growing up, I heard stories from neighborhood elders about Old Rondo, and how our community was before the freeway displaced people and destroyed businesses.
My Dad started working at the phone company when he was seventeen, straight out of Mechanic Arts. It was a good job, but opportunities went to others first. He was one of the few telephone men of color who actually got to drive a truck.
I was raised by my Grandma and Aunts. My Grandma was incredible – she was a single mom, and worked really hard to be able to afford a house and support a multi-generational family. I’ve always been surrounded by strong women taking care of business, and I try to live up to their example.
I went to Webster Magnet Elementary, Highland Junior, and Highland Senior High. I’m a proud graduate of Saint Paul Public Schools. After I graduated, I earned an Associate Arts Degree at Century College.
While I was in college, I had my first child. Being a single mom, getting a degree, and working was a lot. I only managed it all because I was able to rely on my family for childcare and housing, and that’s not an option or available for everyone. During that period, I was on public assistance. That was a hard time. The requirements for public assistance programs were confusing, degrading, and difficult to navigate, and were often administered as if recipients were bad people trying to cheat the system instead of members of our community just trying to access resources and meet their basic needs. We have to do better for our people.
Through it all, I worked part-time retail and service industry jobs across Saint Paul. Those jobs taught me a lot, about being in relationship with people and what it means to have safety in the workplace. I reflect often on my time as a union member in BCTGM at Cub and the protections I was offered there that I wasn’t in other workplaces.
I married my husband Greg in 2005. When I got pregnant with my youngest, I was forced out of my job because my workplace didn’t want to provide maternity leave. After I gave birth, I couldn’t re-enter the workforce – childcare was just too expensive, and assistance programs that I’d previously accessed were no longer available because of the ways in which household income is calculated. We quickly learned we wouldn’t have actually been any better off, because all the money from my job would have gone to pay for childcare. For years we struggled living off a single income. Once my youngest started school, I went back to college and earned a four year degree at Metropolitan State University, graduating in 2011 with a double major in Social Science and Ethnic Studies.
During my final semester at Metro State, I had an internship with the Saint Paul Federation of Educators. It was my first time doing community organizing work, and I focused on parent outreach and engagement. I was able to be involved in conversations and engaged with teachers on what was and wasn’t working in the classrooms and across the district. As part of my internship, I did community outreach for the Education Survey with NOC (Neighborhoods Organizing for Change) and began attending workshops with TakeAction MN. Afterwards, I became involved with the Parent-Teacher Home Visit Project, and became a trainer. I trained teachers, staff, administrators, and helped build the program in Saint Paul and the rest of Minnesota before becoming a Parent Trainer for National Parent Teacher Home Visit.
After my youngest was enrolled at JJ Hill Montessori, I joined the Parent Teacher Organization and served as Vice Chair and Chair for three years. After I began serving there, I started being asked to run for school board. It took several years for me to recognize that I was ready for the challenge, and that I had the opportunity to have an impact on all the schools in our district.
My work on the school board has been about serving the community that raised me. The job isn’t what people expect: we’re not in charge of every employee and the only person we directly employ is the superintendent. We create policies, approve a budget, and have 26 contracts for 26 different bargaining units.
Since I was first elected in 2015, I’ve served two years as Vice Chair and two years as Chair. There’s so much more that needs to be done, but we’ve accomplished things I am truly proud of. Under my leadership we passed a resolution reaffirming that SPPS schools are sanctuary schools for DACA students. We expanded programs to train, hire, and retain more teachers of color. We opened the River East Level 4 facility, passed the 2018 school funding referendum, and ensured every district employee earned at least $15 an hour. We’re working to strengthen SPPS’s Gender Inclusion policy, working on enforcement and amending it based on student & staff feedback, making sure that we did what we intended and making it more inclusive. We’ve supported a parent and student lead process for implementing ethnic studies and culturally responsive curriculum.
Our district is critically underfunded. I’ve met with legislators to press for increased per-pupil funding, for approval of the pension plan, for the state to meet its commitments to special education, and for fully funded public schools. I haven’t just talked with our metro delegation – I’ve worked to build a shared legislative agenda across districts. I’ve talked with Greater Minnesota board members & legislators about how what helps their districts helps everyone. We can’t get where we need to go with just the people who already understand our view. I’ve been purposeful about talking to those who don’t yet recognize where we share values around education, and what students need across the state.
I’ve served on the Minnesota School Board Association since 2017. In a state where our demographics are rapidly changing and becoming more diverse, I am the only black woman — and the only person of color — serving as a MSBA director. My role is to speak truth, to push our demographically diversifying districts to adequately address the needs of their student body.
Currently, I serve on the board of the Saint Paul Teacher Retirement Association Fund; as a representative to the Association of Metropolitan School Districts and on their legislative committee; I represent the School District on the Joint Property Tax Advisory committee in partnership with municipal & county government; and I am the current President of the Friends of Oxford Pool, an organization that provides scholarships for kids to learn how to swim.
During the last year, I’ve missed being in schools. Throughout my tenure on the school board I’ve been in every school in the district, repeatedly. If you want to understand what’s happening in the district, you have to get out to talk to people. I love visiting buildings. I love to see students, and to see their excitement because there’s someone on the board who looks like them. I want every child in our district to be able to see themselves in leadership and elected office. Being in schools is my chance to talk to staff and building engineers and nutrition service workers, and to stay in communication and in relationships. Staying in community helps me understand the challenges, successes, and opportunities we have, and to stay connected.
My experiences – through work, through life, through governance – have prepared me for this role and to be your next Senator. I’m ready for the fight and for the work ahead.
I know we can live in a state where everyone has access to the things that make their lives better.
This is the moment we must come together and to fight for it.