When former Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin knelt on the neck of George Floyd, killing the 46-year-old Black man one year ago today, the shock of his death reverberated from coast to coast and sparked protests nationwide.
But nowhere was the pain of last year's civil unrest felt quite as profoundly as in the heart of Minneapolis. A year later, this city is very much still grappling with finding its way forward.
Cesia Baires was one of the many small business owners who watched her neighborhood burn during the 2020 riots.
"Last year, it was tough, because you’re seeing everything you work for basically crash," Baires said while standing outside her family-owned restaurant on Lake Street
Over the course of the last 365 days, residents of the Twin Cities have learned they cannot change history. However, understanding history may help all of us as a nation shape the next few chapters.
Screenwriter and long-time Minneapolis resident David Grant recently penned an opinion piece for the New York Times titled, "What ‘Minnesota Nice’ Sweeps Under the Rug: The beloved stereotype about our state’s cult of politeness would have you believe that there’s no toehold for white supremacy here."
"The whole world is watching us, [leaving us to wonder] how did this happen?" Grant questioned during a recent interview near his home in South Minneapolis.
Grant, 69, says the problems of racial inequality in Minnesota started during the Civil War.
"There’s just a disconnect. People feel like those kinds of problems are elsewhere," Grant said, referring to the battle between the North and South over slavery.
Stephen Gross, a professor at the University of Minnesota, looks at a lot of the recent civil unrest through the lens of regional identity. Minnesotans pride themselves on the term "Minnesota nice,” a term that stems back to the days of Prairie Home Companion, a radio show on NPR hosted by Garrison Keilor. The program helped establish a regional identity that Minnesotans have embraced wholeheartedly over the last few decades.
But Gross says that might have been problematic.
"It does disguise a kind of passive-aggressiveness, ‘we will tolerate but we are not going to be tolerant.’ Maybe it will remind us that we should be doing a better job," Gross said.
Recognizing those shortcomings, no matter where we live in the country, is a useful place for change to start. And the numbers in Minnesota back up many of the racial disparities that activists are trying to change.
A Black family in the Twin Cities area earns about $38,000 a year, which is less than half the median income of a white family, which stands around $84,000. The state of Minnesota has the second largest income inequality gap between Blacks and whites.
Even after having to start over, business owners like Cesia Baires are determined to repair the city they love.
"Many people will say, ‘Why don’t you get out of Minneapolis? Why don’t you get out?’ Because this is where I have my seed growing and I want to stay here,” she said.