Opinion: A Family Values Solution for Minneapolis' Racial Strife
WHY YOU SHOULD CARE
Kendall Qualls is on a mission to restore faith to the Black community in Minneapolis.
By Ryan Hiraki
Ryan Hiraki is the senior content editor at Center of the American Experiment, a public policy think tank that promotes free market principles.
Tension permeates the Twin Cities. Jury selection is underway in the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin, who faces second-degree murder and manslaughter charges for the death of George Floyd, a painful incident that sparked burning and looting throughout this Midwestern metro hub last year.
Among the ruins, reflection and (slow) recovery of America’s most heated racial collision since the Rodney King riots, a local activist insists he has answers. He’s Black. He’s compassionate. He’s conservative. And he’s starting a movement that has some much-needed traction. It’s a nonprofit called TakeCharge Minnesota.
Kendall Qualls, 58, fidgets and gestures while making the case for his throwback mission — teaming up with mothers and grandmothers to restore the core values of faith, education and, most of all, two-parent families to the African American community.
The latter transcends political polarization. While the national child poverty rate is 18 percent, only 8 percent of American children live in poverty when raised by both parents, including 12 percent of Blacks and 5 percent of whites, according to federal data. And youths from the poorest fifth of the population are nearly twice as likely to never enroll in colleges or trade schools compared to kids from the middle socioeconomic class, and six times more likely to pass on postsecondary opportunities than the upper class.
You don’t have to believe in God to understand that data, although praying on Sundays doesn’t hurt. Qualls does. He’s a regular at Plymouth Covenant Church. And while people argue about everything from Chauvin’s use of force to the fentanyl in Floyd’s bloodstream, Qualls is preaching personal responsibility. He knows from experience that life is unfair. “But it doesn’t mean you have to be a victim,” he says.
Qualls’ parents divorced when he was 5, and he still recalls their move from Kentucky to New York. His mother was mugged after they got off the bus, the Quallses’ welcome-to-Harlem initiation. With the streets stealing their older siblings away, he and his younger brother moved two years later to Oklahoma to live with their dad in an old trailer. It was a prudent decision.
Like his Vietnam War vet father, Qualls joined the Army. He later earned an MBA from the University of Michigan and excelled as a marketing executive in the pharmaceutical industry until he ended up in Minnesota, where he rode all that education and experience to a Republican congressional nomination — one of more than five dozen African American Republicans to run for Congress last year.
It doesn’t matter that he lost the general election. This husband and father of five, who claims he’s no politician, is still a leader. And he’s encouraged by the exit polls. Trump’s share of African American votes (12 percent) matched the highest number for any Republican since 1980. More Blacks are realizing their Democratic leaders have failed them, that big-government policies and defunding the police will not solve America’s problems.
Just ask members of Qualls’ nonprofit team, which spans generations and experiences. There’s Jaslyne King, 30, whose father wasn’t around to help raise her and who wants more women to get married before having children, just as she did. There’s the Rev. Paula Haywood, 59, who had her first child at 16 and has watched her daughters become single mothers, so she created what she called “Rites of Passage” — a requirement that her grandchildren value faith, family and education during their adult lives. And then there’s Alfrieda Baldwin, a retired finance attorney who remembers when schoolbooks, the Bible and both parents were a fixture in almost every household.
Baldwin, 65, laments the out-of-wedlock births that surged in the Black community following the enactment of 1960s welfare policies. “The culture I grew up with has disappeared without a whimper,” says Baldwin, a grandmother who just celebrated her 40th wedding anniversary.
Qualls and the three women admit they face a challenge in making significant change during the woke revolution, in which victimhood is creeping into politics and public school curricula across the country. But they believe their grassroots efforts will eventually resonate. Qualls is using his network to find “ambassadors” such as King, Haywood and Baldwin. Then they’ll use their networks to find more. And eventually, there will be a growing coalition strengthening all demographics by serving as proof that there’s a higher likelihood of success through good decisions, and that you can still find redemption after regrettable ones.
Their solution is a much better option than depending on government officials like Jacob Frey. The 39-year-old mayor, who failed to respond as rioters torched his city, recently announced that the south Minneapolis intersection where Floyd died and memorials stand will remain closed until after the Chauvin trial. Compared to Qualls, that’s not doing much to help with the healing process.