HISTORY OF THE LEAGUE OF MINNESOTA HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSIONS
THE DECADE OF CREATION
The League of Minnesota Human Rights Commissions (LMHRC) was formed in 1971. The first annual meeting was held on October 14, 1972.
The founders of LMHRC were Phyllis Janey (St. Cloud HRC), Vicki Wilson (Columbia Heights HRD), Jim Samples (attorney/advocate), and David Therkelsen (Brooklyn Park HRC) who became its first Executive Director (volunteer). Phyllis Janey was the first president. The other early leaders included Norman Nitzkowski, David Cowan, Maria Larson, Carl McDaniels, Mari Haddox, Dr. William Dudley, and Bill Henschel.
LMHRC was created to provide support and technical assistance to local human rights commissions, and to advocate on behalf of human rights issues, especially at the legislature.
It had significant impact on the content of Minnesota’s early anti-discrimination statutes. In particular, LMHRC’s influence helped the Minnesota statute encompass a “right of private action,” so that victims of discrimination could have recourse directly through the courts, rather than proceeding through the Minnesota Department of Human Rights (“MDHR”). This was controversial at the time, is still the law, and is still not part of the Federal Civil Rights Acts.
Other issues of interest to LMRHC included state and municipal policies for Section 8 housing, and corrections. Its leaders worked not only with various local and state Human Rights Commissioners, but also the Commissioner of Corrections.
One of the ideas behind the formation of LMHRC was the realization that most other municipal functions had some centralized expertise and advocacy through what is now the League of Minnesota Cities (e.g., subgroups for engineers, attorneys, planning commissions, mayors, etc.), but not for human rights. Yet in the civil rights climate of the late 60’s and early 70’s, many thought this was important. As noted by David Therkelsen, LMHRC’s first Executive Director, “I don’t recall great difficulties in organizing LMHRC, but there were certainly tensions at that time around the whole issue of human and civil rights, and a tendency in the suburbs to believe they had no problems because, after all, they did not have any of ‘those folks.’”
LMHRC Collaborative Groups: Minnesota Department of Human Rights (MDHR); Commissioner of Corrections
*Information taken from a history of LMHRC provided by its first Executive Director, David J. Therkelson (2009)
THE DECADE OF ESTABLISHING AN IDENTITY
In 1982, LMHRC awarded its first Human Rights awards to the City of St. Paul, and also to the Minneapolis Jaycees for their efforts to enroll women as full and equal members.
LMHRC was instrumental in lobbying for and implementing a No-Fault Grievance Resolution Process and providing training to local Human Rights Commissioners.
LMHRC was reorganized in 1986, so it could become an exempt organization under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. The 1986 Articles of Incorporation provide that the purpose of LMHRC was to “assist local human rights/relations commissions in Minnesota to carry out the purposes inscripted pursuant to the enabling legislation for which they were established; interact with all divisions of the State and other agencies, involved in the area of human rights/relations; provide educational enlightenment, data gathering, statistical analyses, and research for interested parties.”
LMHRC had an active “Adopt a Commission” program to support and encourage inactive Commissions.
LMHRC distributed brochures and materials at the Minnesota State Fair at a booth sponsored by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.
Keynote speakers at LMHRC Annual Conferences in this decade included:
Suzan Shown Harjo, Executive Director National Congress of American Indians
Minneapolis Police Chief Tony Bouza
Steven Cooper, Commissioner of MDHR
Matthew Stark, Minnesota Civil Liberties Union
Leslie R. Green, Professor of Criminal Justice, St. Cloud State University
LMHRC Collaborative Groups: MDHR
THE DECADE OF ACTIVE ACTIVITY
LMHRC obtained 501c(3) status in 1992.
In 1992, Mort Ryweck was hired as LMHRC part-time Project Coordinator and Grant Writer. Prior to working for LMHRC, Mort served as the Regional Director of the Jewish Community Relations Council/Anti-Defamation League of Minnesota for 16 years. Mort started with a statewide Hate Crimes Response and Prevention Pledge distribution, which lead to the establishment of about 10-12 new commissions, a Hate Crimes Response and Prevention Network, and about 15 Commissions writing Response and Prevention Plans.
By 1992, 43 of 856 municipalities in Minnesota had HRCs.
LMHRC held 12 regional bias response training workshops, including police chiefs and sheriffs. LMHRC responded to hate incidents around the state, even if there were no HRCs in the area.
LMHRC organized community response to a cross burning in Eden Prairie – hundreds gathered for the anti-racism rally.
LMHRC raised $50,000 - $60,000 from foundations to pay part-time income, mass mailings, and travel expenses for LMHRC activities.
LMHRC and local HRCs participated in Community Circle Design trainings at Augsburg College, under the leadership of Dick Little, for local implementation of topic, “Beyond Busing.”
Educational Packages were created and distributed by LMHRC, including:
- Children Who Care - Educating Your Child about Human Rights, booklet created by Shoreview HRC. LMHRC donated funds for more printing.
- This is My Home – Human Rights, K-12 Curriculum. LMHRC helped with writing and training.
- REHaB Project – Reducing and Eliminating Hate Behavior, providing curriculum and counseling for offenders and an Action Guide for dealing with hate crimes.
- American Indian Curriculum – LMHRC introduced to local HRCs and school districts.
LMHRC Collaborative Groups: MDHR; U of M Human Rights Center; Augsburg College; County Attorneys; MN Chiefs of Police; Sheriffs Association; Victim-Witness Program, Anoka; League of Women Voters; World of Difference; Dakota & Ojibwe Reservations; American Indian Section of MN Department of Education
2000 – 2009
THE DECADE OF MAINTENANCE
LMHRC sponsored its first conference open to all: “Understanding Somali Culture and Islamic Values.” There were hundreds in attendance and we had to turn people away at the door.
LMHRC conducted a statewide TV conference involving 20+ college campuses on countering and preventing bigotry and hate crimes on college campuses.
Student Panel involvement at Annual Conference: “The Lessons of Brown vs. the Board of Education, Topeka, Kansas” held Sept. 19, 2003 in the Chaska Community Center. Keynote Speaker: Superintendent Stan Mack, Robbinsdale Area Schools. Luncheon Speaker: Attorney General Mike Hatch. Study Guide created for use by student panelists.
“Human Rights, Civil Rights, Treaty Rights: Minnesota Challenges” -- Annual Conference September 29, 2007 at Mille Lacs Grand Casino Convention Center, Onamia. Keynote Speaker: Morris Dees, Chief Counsel, Southern Poverty Law Center.
LMHRC Bylaws renewed in 2008 and Standing Rules and Meeting Norms approved by Board.
LMHRC bi-yearly Strategic Plans established.
LMHRC participated in establishing HRCs in Montgomery and Mille Lacs Area.
LMHRC established the League Lending Library.
LMHRC retained a pro bono attorney to help protect its status.
LMHRC Collaborative Groups: MDHR; Islamic Center of Minnesota; Schools; Mille Lacs area (local government, law enforcement, businesses, clergy, elders, community members); MN Advocates for Human Rights; Center for Prevention of Torture.
2010 – 2019
THE DECADE OF ELECTRONIC COMMUNICATION TO SUPPORT LOCAL HRCS
LMHRC Public Policy Resolutions adopted in 2011-2012.
LMHRC Board of Directors e-mail established in 2011.
LMHRC new, independent website established in 2013.
More to come...