Jeffrey Hassan of the African American
Leadership Forum (AALF)
African Americans face large gaps in
income, education, beliefs
A Civic Caucus
Review of Minnesota’s Public
Interview November 11, 2016
As a group, African Americans in
Minnesota are doing poorly, says Jeffrey Hassan of the African
American Leadership Forum (AALF). Some national surveys show
that Minnesota African Americans rank either last or next to
last in the entire country when the factors of income, poverty,
homeownership and education are combined.
Hassan references a January 2016
report by the State Demographic Center that describes the
economic status of Minnesotans, broken down by 17 cultural
groups. The report uses a number of measures, among them,
education levels, median household income and percent living in
poverty. Somalis, Native Americans and African Americans rank
among the lowest groups in education level and household incomes
and among the highest groups in percent living in poverty.
In its own 2011 report, AALF
identified five gaps in education that must be addressed to have
an effect on the achievement gap: preparation, time, teaching,
leadership and belief gap. Hassan discusses the belief gap and
says a recent survey about parent engagement in education shows
that 60 percent of parents surveyed felt they were somewhat or
mostly confident in making educational decisions for their
child. But only 20 percent of teachers surveyed were confident
in parents' ability to make those decisions.
Hassan examines some of the structural
and institutional reasons--including slavery, Jim Crow laws,
redlining and incarceration rates--why the education gap and
income gap persist between whites and African Americans.
Formed in 2008-2009, AALF is a
Minneapolis-based nonprofit that brings together more than 1,200
African American leaders in the Twin Cities from all different
sectors. The organization tries to address gross disparities and
inequalities affecting Minnesota's African American community.
Its current priorities include health and wellness, economic
development, and education.
Jeffrey Hassan has been
executive director of the African American Leadership Forum (AALF)
since November 2014. AALF is a nonprofit Minnesota corporation
whose mission is to address racial disparities in education,
health and wellness, economic development and community safety.
Hassan began his legal practice in
1976. As a private attorney to the State of Minnesota Department
of Human Rights, he litigated the landmark Minnesota employment
discrimination case of State of Minnesota v. Continental Can.
The case established employer liability for sexual
harassment between coworkers. Since that time, he has served as
legal counsel to numerous corporate and government entities in
cases involving tort, employment, employment discrimination and
From 1991 to 1998, he practiced law in
Washington, D.C., with the law firm of Jordan & Keys, LLP, where
he represented clients on automobile liability claims, medical
malpractice claims, director and officer liability claims, and
multi-district product liability claims.
In 1998, Hassan returned to Minnesota
to the law firm of Hassan & Reed, Ltd. He has represented
plaintiffs in personal injury, medical malpractice and police
misconduct litigation in state and federal court. In 2002,
Hassan formed Jeffrey A. Hassan, PLC. Until November 2014, he
served as outside legal counsel to Minneapolis Public Schools in
the areas of employment, employment discrimination and
investigation of workplace claims of employee misconduct. He has
also performed workplace investigations for the University of
Minnesota and the Metropolitan Council.
Hassan is a 1973 graduate of
Macalester College in St. Paul, where he was a member of Pi
Sigma Alpha, the National Political Science Honor Society. He is
a 1976 graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School.
September 2015, the Civic Caucus has been undertaking a review
of the quality of Minnesota's
past, present and future public-policy process for anticipating,
defining and resolving major community problems. On Nov. 10,
2016, the Caucus issued its report based on that review,
Minnesota's Public-Policy Process.The
Civic Caucus interviewed Jeffrey Hassan of the African American
Leadership Forum to probe his experience and that of his
organization in addressing public-policy issues.
Information about the African American
The African American Leadership Forum
(AALF), a nonprofit organization based in Minneapolis, was
formed in 2008-2009 to bring together the brainpower of African
Americans in the community to try to address gross disparities
and inequalities affecting the African American community in
According to the AALF website,
the organization is
a movement of more
than 1,200 African American leaders in the Twin Cities,
representing business, nonprofits, government, education,
health, religion, politics, philanthropy, the arts and
grassroots organizing. AALF believes that members can do more
together than apart.
work of AALF is done
through convening, work groups and action teams. AALF's network
creates the space for African Americans to create a shared
agenda for solving the community's critical issues. The group's
mission is to establish a just and healthy society that works
equally well for everyone. Its work encompasses the following
priorities for 2015 to 2017: health and wellness, economic
development and education.
AALF lists its objectives as the
Maximize the potential of African American children and
Reclaim and amplify the vital role of family, culture and
spirituality in the African American community;
Alter the socioeconomic trajectory of the African American
Strengthen African-American-centered institutions; and
Challenge and change systems that disproportionately harm
AALF runs the Dr. Josie Johnson
now in its second
year, one of the group's
flagship programs. A year-long, leadership-training program, it
focuses on young people aged 22 to 40 to help develop the next
generation of leaders for the African American community. Forty
people have come through the program. AALF also has developed a
program called "Unconscious Bias Training" and has run one pilot
As a group, African Americans in Minnesota are doing poorly.
According to Jeffrey Hassan of the African American Leadership
Forum (AALF), some national surveys show that African Americans
in Minnesota rank either last or next to last in the entire
country when the factors of income, poverty, homeownership and
education are combined.
Hassan said that compared to the rest
of Minnesota's population, the state has the greatest inequality
in incomes for African Americans and Native Americans in the
country. Data highlighted by AALF shows that African Americans
are the only racial or ethnic group in Minnesota to have
experienced a decline in income between 2013 and 2014. Median
income for black Minnesotans declined by almost 13 percent
during that time period, dropping to $27,000, compared to a 2.6
percent increase to $64,000 for white Minnesotans.
Nationally, Minnesota is known for its
high standards of education, employment and business. But,
Hassan said, when we disaggregate and look at what that's doing
for our least, we have a hidden problem.
AALF publishes reports. In 2011,
the group published Crisis in Our Community, which Hassan
called a "seminal work" that identified five gaps in education:
preparation, time, teaching, leadership and the belief gap. And
he said the group is about to produce a report on economic
inequality in Minnesota.
Operating by consensus allows us to
see what we have in common. Hassan said AALF operates by
consensus, rather than majority vote. "That allows us to agree
on those principles or issues we all have in common," he said.
"In the same way, as we look at ethnicity and race and how we
govern, if we operated by consensus, we'd find we have a whole
lot more in common than we have in differences."
He noted that there are more white
people in Minnesota living in poverty than people of color, but
the percentage of poverty among people of color is much higher.
"If we focus on issues that are common
to all of us-education, health care, employment, economic
development-the communities we're trying to raise up are
suffering in common, no matter what their color, background or
makeup," he said.
Hassan asserted that point of view
reflects President Barack Obama's approach to addressing issues,
which assumes that a rising tide lifts all boats. Obama has said
improving conditions in education, health care and employment
would have a disproportionate positive impact on African
Americans and other people of color.
A January 2016 report by the State
Demographic Center described the economic status of Minnesotans,
broken down by 17 cultural groups. Hassan referenced the
. According to the report,
Asian Indian (85 percent) and Chinese (70 percent) Minnesotans
have the highest percentages of bachelor's degrees or higher.
The Ojibwe (eight percent) and Dakota (nine percent)
populations in Minnesota have the lowest percentages of
bachelor's degrees or higher, followed by the Lao (11
percent), Somali (11 percent) and Mexican (12 percent)
populations in the state. Seventeen percent of Minnesota
African Americans, 21 percent of the Hmong population and 37
percent of whites have bachelor's degrees or higher.
Median household income in 2014.
Indians have the highest median household income ($89,300),
followed by the state's Filipino ($74,900), Chinese ($71,900),
Vietnamese ($67,800) and white ($64,100) populations. The
lowest median household incomes were among the state's Somali
($18,400), Ojibwe ($28,100) and African American ($28,800)
Percent living in poverty in 2014.
The groups with the
highest percentages of people living in poverty were Somalis
(57 percent), followed by the state's Ojibwe (38 percent),
African American (35 percent), Ethiopian (35 percent) and
Hmong (27 percent) populations. The lowest percentages of
people living in poverty were Asian Indians (six percent),
followed by the state's Filipino (seven percent), white (eight
percent), Chinese (nine percent) and Korean (nine percent)
Hassan commented that because we have
limited resources, we need to focus on communities where the
greatest need exists. He noted that when the first wave of the
Hmong population came to Minnesota, their children were among
the best students. The same was true of the children of the
first wave of Somalis to arrive in Minnesota. "But in subsequent
generations, they've fallen back," he said.
A terrible game has been played to
separate people in the United States. Hassan said we'd see
many more commonalities and could follow the progression of
healing divisions if we had conversations among different parts
of the population. "We need to break down this mythology of
separation between people and get to the root of the problem,"
But we must keep identifying people of
different cultures when we're gathering data. In response to
an interviewer's comment that the Bureau of the Census wants to
eliminate questions about race and ethnicity, Hassan said if we
want to address issues of underserved communities, we must
identify who those communities are, whether Hmong, Somali,
African American or Native American.
As another reason for identifying race
and ethnicity, Hassan offered an example of a public sector
entity that last year spent $800 million purchasing goods and
services and doing construction. Only 1.2 percent went to
African-American-owned businesses, he said.
And we know there is unconscious bias
in the hiring process, he noted. Fifty percent of African
American applicants do not make it through the employment
screening process because they have African-American-sounding
names. He recommended removing people's names during the early
AALF has identified five gaps in
education that must be addressed in order to have an effect on
the achievement gap. Hassan listed them as follows:
Preparation for school;
in school or other programs;
He said with the best teachers, as in any field, kids would do
better. But in urban schools in poor areas, we have younger
teachers with the highest turnover.
Leadership: He asserted that these schools do not have the
best leaders, either.
Gap: He noted that Minneapolis chartered school founder and
executive Eric Mahmoud says this is the main reason for the
"How to address those gaps is the
$64,000 question," Hassan said.
In discussing the belief gap, Hassan
offered the example of a recent survey of teachers and parents
about how they identify engagement. A question on the parent
survey asked how confident they are in making educational
decisions on behalf of their children. Sixty percent of parents
said they were somewhat or mostly confident.
But when teachers were asked whether
they were confident that parents were able to make good
educational decisions on behalf of their child, only 20 percent
responded that they were. "If you're a teacher and you believe
parents can't make good educational decisions on behalf of their
child, it's a problem," Hassan said.
In response to an interviewer's
question of how to get kids to have higher aspirations for their
futures, Hassan said that's also part of the belief gap. "How do
we get out of this mindset we're in that the AFDC mother or
person on welfare is part of the African American community?" he
asked. "The reality is that the largest public health dollars
are going to white people in nursing home care. Historically,
African Americans have kept their elders at home. We don't talk
about those things. We just talk about the AFDC dollars going to
the African American community."
There are structural and institutional
reasons why the education gap and income gap persist between
whites and African Americans. Hassan stressed the impact on
African Americans of 242 years of slavery in the United States,
followed by 100 years of Jim Crow laws enforcing segregation in
the southern states. Redlining in northern cities also supported
segregation of neighborhoods. He noted that prisons are housing
predominantly people of color.
An interviewer agreed with Hassan's
point. "We often forget the impact that history has had on
people," the interviewer said. "We started out with a group of
people who were enslaved. They were below human, not the equal
of white people. When that happens, I've already reduced you to
something less than myself. So almost anything I do to you is
"People are doing the same thing
today," the interviewer continued. "They identify by their
source of information, thinking 'Everybody I listen to thinks
the same way I do.' The view that blacks are not equal to other
people gets reinforced over time."
The interviewer said he always
encounters white people in positions of power, but it's easy for
white people to go without seeing a person of color in a
powerful position. "Your world view becomes what is around you,
where you live and where you worship."
We've studied problems to death, but
solutions aren't easy. Hassan made that comment is response
to an interviewer who asked how we can make something good come
out of studies that have been done. "We have enough research; we
need to focus," Hassan said. "We're deluged with so much
information. It's hard to focus our attention on dealing with
these issues." He noted that there are over 400 gap-closing
initiatives in Minnesota right now.
Help young parents complete their
Hassan said AALF has applied for a grant
dealing with parent engagement in education. The initiative
would work with young parents 18 to 35 who didn't finish their
education and help return them to education themselves. "Our
theory," he said, "is that if parents can complete their
education or go to tech education or take advantage of an
employment opportunity, it will have a positive effect on their
We should be focusing on the family.
An interviewer asked how we can intervene on the household
level, which is the source of the problem. "Many households are
unable to deliver the support a child needs to flourish," the
interviewer said. He also wonders if we've defined the job of
schoolteachers wrong, so that it's school-focused, rather than
"In Minneapolis, we're spending
$20,000 per kid, per year to try to solve the problem, but we
should be focusing on the family," the interviewer said. Another
interviewer said the current Legislature is not sympathetic to
the problems of inner-city schools.
Criminal justice reform. An
interviewer said that there would be a lot of support for
focusing on criminal justice reform. Hassan said that when AALF
started, the organization decided to focus on education, health
and employment. When a question was raised about the criminal
justice system, Minnesota Judge Pamela Alexander said if we
focus on those three things, criminal justice will take care of
Unemployment. Hassan noted that
the level of unemployment in African American communities is at
least three times that of the state as a whole.
Teaching and learning. Hassan said
kids are in school for five hours a day for 176 days per school
year. But he said the actual learning time each day is probably
two or three hours. Teacher surveys show, he said, that when a
student has a behavior problem, teachers inform the parents 90
percent of the time. But teachers only contact parents 20
percent of the time when their students are doing well.
He noted that the Minneapolis
Northside Achievement Zone (NAZ), whose president and CEO is
Sondra Samuels, is focused on a holistic view of the student and
the importance of working with families.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Dwight Johnson, Randy Johnson, Sallie
Kemper, Ted Kolderie,
Dan Loritz (chair), Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmermany,