Meanwhile, complaints continue to surface
By Charles Hallman
Minneapolis Park and Recreation Board (MPRB) officials and the Minneapolis NAACP now are meeting to address concerns raisedby Black employees and customers. “I think they are receptive, and I look forward to working with them,” said NAACP President Booker Hodges after his recent meetings with MPRB Superintendent Jayne Miller and Board Chairman John Erwin.
The NAACP, who previously investigated “over 60 complaints…and over 100 customers’ complaints,” have recently received an additional 15 complaints from Park Board workers since the MSR January 5 story on employment conditions among MPRB Black employees, said Hodges.
“We have been contacted by White employees, too,” he reported. “They say they have the same issues but Blacks have it worse.”
The MSR also received several phone calls and emails from present and former Park Board employees. “Racial discrimination and ageism is active” at the MPRB, wrote a current employee (name withheld by request).
“We’ve seen it with our own eyes,” said two former Black employees who last week contacted the MSR after reading the article. Both individuals spoke on the condition that their true identities would not be revealed.
“Martha” cited examples of mistreatment of Black employees and customers alike by “unprofessional” Park Board management during her nearly three years on the job, such as the time a Black female employee was called “a ghetto girl” by her White supervisor in front of other employees. “She was looking for reasons to fire her,” Martha believes.
“I worked with them for two and a half years and was fortunate enough to resign,” says Martha who was hired in May 2007 and left in December 2010. She was often advised by her Black supervisor, “You can’t let [White upper management] think this or that about you.” It was a “stressful work situation…and that was a large reason why I resigned. You get these crazy consequences come down on you, or taken off a project because of how ‘they’ thought about you. You could see it all the time.”
“People in middle management positions did things with impunity,” said “Arthur,” another former employee. “I was fired [in August 2010] because I didn’t ‘fit in’” after being hired in April of that year, he recalled. “I was about to leave the probation period and be hired on full time. I performed and measured up to their expectations, but there was one incident when I didn’t.
“There was no structural accountability that they are being checked when they are doing these blatant acts of White-mindedness,” said Arthur. “Nothing was done to them because they have been there for 19 or 20-some years. There is that invisible line of protection that certain people within the Park Board have when they can do anything and not get fired for it.”
He was often told by both Black and White supervisors that “the system” was paramount: “The system is usually a couple of White officials in high positions.”
Arthur recalled attending a staff meeting where he spoke out and asked questions about a possible reorganization plan. “Before this particular meeting, in a few conversations with my supervisor before this particular meeting, I was advised that ‘the system’ is watching me. Three days after [the meeting], I lose my job.
“They brought me in a room and told me, ‘We talked to you on a couple of different occasions and we thought that you aren’t applying yourself, blending into the system of the Park Board. We felt that your mannerisms at the meeting were not appropriate.’”
Both Martha and Arthur concurred that they would not work with the MPRB again unless significant changes were made. “You couldn’t get me to go back to an infrastructure built on fear and uncertainty like that,” Arthur said, suggesting that among other things White Park Board management be required to get cultural competency training.
Unnamed sources of the MSR story “Black employees call Mpls Park Board a ‘toxic’ workplace” (January 5) told the newspaper last week that they have since noticed “people being fake” at their respective workplaces. White employees who “haven’t spoken to me in five years” have now begun to do so, said one Black employee. Another expressed skepticism, however: “You don’t know what their next move will be.”
The Black MPRB employees said they are encouraged that Park Board officials are now meeting with the NAACP. Hodges emphasized that the NAACP will work with the Park Board to help improve conditions for all its employees.
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to [email protected]