Project Description


“Dr. Lewis has gone a step further and brought the University in the community.  She takes what she has learned through research and reports it back to the community by engaging in conversation with community and by being accessible.  Her approach validates communities lived experiences and her communication style translates from academia speak to everyday speak so that those hearing what she is saying understands it and can actively engage in the dialogue. I cannot put a true value on the work that Dr. Lewis has presented to the community. It often feels like a fresh breath of air, that for the first time in a long time someone representing a research institution is affirming a lived experience by black women, that is usually dismissed.  I would liken it to someone misdiagnosing you having cancer and saying that the lump you have is because you keep bumping your head. Then someone else comes in and says actually you have brain cancer and we have some things we can do to heal the problem.  We have been experiencing centuries of misdiagnosis. Now we can get to real solutions.”

Shannon Smith Jones, Executive Director of Hope Community, Inc.,


The MN Trust Black Women and Girls Town Hall was established in 2018, after Dr. Brittany Lewis, The Women’s Foundation of Minnesota, the African American Leadership Forum, and Hope Community, Inc., partnered with the national African American Policy Forum (AAPF) to bring the Breaking the Silence Town Hall Series to Minneapolis and St. Paul. Held at the Walker Art Center on Saturday, April 13th this first of its kind congressional style event served over 200 community participants featuring four issue-focused panels that amplified the voices of Black women and girls in the areas of housing, education, criminal justice, and health and wellness for the purpose of highlighting policy solutions on behalf of Black women and girls. 

The structure of the town hall was set up to give local decision makers a chance to listen to women and girls directly as they shared the challenges they experience on a daily basis –in their homes, schools, and communities—for the purpose of identifying opportunities for intervention. The day also consisted of  Black women vendors, performing artists, and wellness services to ensure a dynamic and safe space. The MN Trust Black Women and Girl Town Hall Committee worked with over 25 Black women leaders from across the Twin Cities to plan and execute this innovative one day summit, which aimed to move from public testimony to policy change for Black women and girls. 

Key Findings

From start to finish, the MN Trust Black Women Town Hall amplified the triumphant and daunting realities that Black women renters, homeowners, mothers and caregivers, educators, and healers experience in Minnesota. These realities were raised through issue-focused panels that centered (1) Housing, (2) Criminal Justice, (3) Health and Wellness, and (4) Education.  Attendees were also gifted with performances from local artists Solo Star, Ashli Henderson, Thandisizwe Jackson, and Helen Mohammad. Every panel, every presentation, every testimony, and every performance given helped to uplift, celebrate, and actualize the power, wisdom, talent, and beauty that exist within Black women.

Furthermore, the panels were among the most powerful aspects of the town hall, yielding both tears and laughter throughout the day. Most importantly, it provided Black women with the space to not only share their personal stories but to also proclaim solutions to the many issues affecting Black women and girls.

Housing: The Fight for Equitable Housing & Access to Homeownership

Testifier & Contextualizer Solutions:

  •     Eliminate “pay-to-stay” policy in local shelters.
  •     Establish protocols in Emergency Assistance program to ensure those in need are met with timely assistance that is culturally responsive and human-centered.
  •     Eliminate credit score as an approval mechanism for renting.
  • Create financing products and city programs that support Black developers’ reinvestment in their communities.

Criminal Justice: The Long-Term Impact & Trauma of Criminal Records

Testifier & Contextualizer Solutions:

  •     City and statewide elected officials should fully fund education, housing, health care and mental health instead of directing resources towards expanding the criminal justice system. 
  •     Elected officials, and municipal and statewide government departments should support, advance, and enact legislation and policies that will prevent the arbitrary removal of Black children from their families. 
  •     Increase representation of Black therapists and mental health providers and healers.
  •     Combat the stigmatization of mental health issues within the Black community.

Abolish the prison system.


Health & Wellness: The Impact of Mental Health on Black Women & Girls 

Testifier & Contextualizer Solutions:

  •     Increase representation of Black therapists, mental health providers, and community healers.
  •     Combat the stigmatization of mental health issues within the Black community.
  •     Support and advance investment in housing, mental health, education, and other socioeconomic institutions. 

Education: Beyond the Books: Creating Spaces of Belonging for Black Girls

Testifier & Contextualizer Solutions:

  •     Support policies and initiatives that increase the number of teachers of color.
  •     Mandate cultural training for all teachers and school staff.
  •     Reinstate ethnic studies as a core requirement.
  •     Increase the number of counselors within schools.

Eliminate racialized barriers that prevent Black students from accessing advanced classes and academic enrichment opportunities.


Chaired by Dr. Brittany Lewis, the MN Trust Black Women and Girls Town Hall Committee, unlike any other national city that has co-sponsored a town hall event with the African American Policy Forum (AAPF) did the following:

  • Partnered with the Hope Community Inc., Youth Action Research Team, a group of high school age Black girls that led the social media and community education campaign and presented their own research findings on colorism at the town hall event.
  • Required the 16 commissioners (elected/appointed officials) that attended the town hall to develop thoughtful plans of action and to present those plans to the community 60 days after the town hall event. On June 17, 2019 the MN Trust Black Women and Girls Town Hall committee and its community partners convened the policy action roundtable to hear the commissioners intended plans of action and to establish a continued partnership for the purpose of supporting policy change on behalf of Black women and girls in Minneapolis/St. Paul. 
Full Report