Minnesota must remember African immigrants as we craft COVID-19 recovery plans | Opinion

Hat with words Immigrant make America great

Photo by Susan J. Demas

The COVID-19 pandemic affected all of us, but communities of color have been disproportionately affected. From loss of lives to the economic impact, the toll has been heavy. 

After over a year of lockdown and physical distancing, the country is reopening. 

Unfortunately, our communities are not recovering at the same pace as the rest of the state. Immigrants of color carried Minnesota’s economy during the pandemic as frontline workers, and we are demanding our elected officials make policies that intentionally respond to our needs and our concerns. 

During the pandemic we at African Career, Education and Resources Inc., or ACER, have assisted 1,500 families in need of rent support who have been working on the frontlines to keep the economy running. According to a survey we conducted, a majority of low-income tenants in the northwest suburbs won’t be able to recover from the pandemic without an extension on the eviction moratorium and extra housing assistance. 

We have also assisted over 600 micro-entrepreneurs and Minnesotans in need of economic support. Our economic development programs are a life support for folks, but the program needs more support to be extended to more communities. We are working with community leaders and organizations to build a grassroots-led recovery for a stronger and more vibrant economy. 

“It is about being more creative in the policies, and getting to the root of the inequities of the wealth gap for communities,” said Denise Butler, our director of economic development, who is trying to help our businesses thrive. 

Vaccine hesitancy is real, but according to our community survey, people are getting vaccinated at far greater rates when it is convenient and accessible for them. We need new approaches on accessibility and messaging around vaccination. 

The African immigrant community makes up a huge part of the health care personnel in the state and should be part of decision making on how to vaccinate their communities 

To make the reopening and COVID-19 recovery inclusive and equitable, we must invest directly in the communities that have been most impacted. Immigrants are the backbone of our state and our country, and a strong and healthy immigrant community is a stronger Minnesota. 

We call on Gov. Tim Walz and leaders in the Legislature to deliver on promises made during the pandemic and to do more to provide adequate solutions. ACER joins voices with our community partners to demand concrete and targeted actions to make sure our community gets the support we need to recover from the pandemic fully and fairly. 

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Nelima Sitati Munene
Nelima Sitati Munene

Nelima Sitati Munene is the executive director of the African Career Education and Resources, Inc., an issue-based policy organization working in the Twin Cities to advance equity, especially within the African Immigrant community.