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In 2009, the following letter (as re-posted on Business Finance News) was sent to the General Mills Foundation’s executive director Ellen Luger in regards to the Martin Luther King Birthday and GMF’s Breakfast Celebration. The GMF refused to let minority-ethnic media have a table at the breakfast event to distribute current information about minority-ethnic media in Minnesota. This is my letter to the foundation that in my thoughts has forgotten the “Least of thee.”
Dear Ms. Luger,
After reading your letter dated January 6, 2009 which was sent to the Independent Business News Network (IBNN), it is apparent that the General Mills Foundation doesn’t really understand, nor truly comprehend the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s writings or mission, which includes one of his last goals for the African-American community, a goal that he outlined in a book published before he was shot and killed, which highlighted the key to success in poor communities was economic development.
Actually, few people have heard of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last book titled, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community?” released in 1967, but applicable in 2009 as a way to examine the grant giving practices of the General Mills Foundation. Dr. King Jr. writes the following:
“In the treatment of poverty nationally, one fact stands out: there are twice as many white poor as Negro poor in the United States. Therefore I will not dwell on the experiences of poverty that derive from racial discrimination, but will discuss the poverty that affects White and Negro alike.
Up to recently we have proceeded from a premise that poverty is a consequence of multiple evils: lack of education restricting job opportunities; poor housing which stultified home life and suppressed initiative; fragile family relationships which distorted personality development. The logic of this approach suggested that each of these causes be attacked one by one. Hence a housing program to transform living conditions, improved educational facilities to furnish tools for better job opportunities, and family counseling to create better personal adjustments were designed. In combination these measures were intended to remove the causes of poverty.
While none of these remedies in itself is unsound, all have a fatal disadvantage. The programs have never proceeded on a coordinated basis or at a similar rate of development. Housing measures have fluctuated at the whims of legislative bodies. They have been piecemeal and pygmy. Educational reforms have been even more sluggish and entangled in bureaucratic stalling and economy-dominated decisions. Family assistance stagnated in neglect and then suddenly was discovered to be the central issue on the basis of hasty and superficial studies. At no time has a total, coordinated and fully adequate program been conceived. As a consequence, fragmentary and spasmodic reforms have failed to reach down to the profoundest needs of the poor.
In addition to the absence of coordination and sufficiency, the programs of the past all have another common failing — they are indirect. Each seeks to solve poverty by first solving something else.”
We are likely to find that the problems of housing and education, instead of preceding the elimination of poverty, will themselves be affected if poverty is first abolished. The poor transformed into purchasers will do a great deal on their own to alter housing decay. Negroes, who have a double disability, will have a greater effect on discrimination when they have the additional weapon of cash to use in their struggle.”
To celebrate the legacy and life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr is to focus on the last piece of his legacy — economic development. Black people are not happy just sit at the lunch counter; today, we want to own the lunch counter!
The General Mills Foundation’s practice of “perpetual” grant giving is a feeble attempt to solve problems from the top down in north Minneapolis (rather than applying sound business practices from the bottom up). For 14 years, communities in north Minneapolis have seen virtually no change in the socio-economic status of the people, a majority who are of African-American descent, living day-to-day within in this underserved region of Minneapolis. The fact that no significant and recognizable social or economic advancement has occurred in the north Minneapolis communities is most evident in the Minneapolis Public School System where the failure rate for Black youth exceeds the combined totals for Mississippi, Kentucky and Alabama.
If giving grants to organizations that focus on education and the success of the youth of Minneapolis, how could this academic failure occur? A wise man once said: “You can’t just water the tree; you also must take care of the roots.” The General Mills Foundation has been simply watering the tree, without tending to the roots. In other words, the Foundation has been comfortable granting dollars to the same individuals and the same organizations year after year, rather than taking the time to speak with the true stakeholders in north Minneapolis. As a result, nothing identifiable with change has taken place in 14 years. And if the process doesn’t change, this lack of change will perpetuate.
The current trend in north Minneapolis reveals a community in demise — social, economic and educational demise. Examples of the community’s demise: in 2007, five elementary schools in north Minneapolis were closed; more than 1700 home foreclosures occurred in 2007 and 2008. In 2009, the City of Minneapolis will close additional parks besides Bethune and Willard, the two parks scheduled to close in 2009. If the Foundation was more strategically focused on how its “grant dollars” were disseminated, these types of devastating occurrences, which ultimately reduce the social worth and economic value of a community, could be avoided. By working to prevent such demise, the General Mills Foundation would be able to pinpoint tangible examples of what the Foundation has done to rehabilitate blighted communities in north Minneapolis. The headline could have read, “General Mills Foundation Saves Inner-City Park from Closure!” Instead, there is another headline, “More Silence in North Minneapolis with the Closing of Inner City Parks.”
On Thursday, January 8, 2009 at the Hawthorn Huddle, you presented three very effective examples of community engagement organizations that partner with several other entities to achieve their missions. My advice to you and the General Mills Foundation is to meet with north Minneapolis stakeholders and work from the bottom up with those who are truly interested in solving the challenges that face north Minneapolis. (Dog and pony shows are only exciting at the state fair).
Regarding your statement that the General Mills Foundation contributed nearly $15 million to programs focusing on communities of color in 2008, I am unsure if you meant in Minneapolis
or the United States. What I do know is that the General Mills Foundation gives to the Susan G. Koman Foundation’s Walk for the Cure, which in turn grants money to Planned Parenthood, a group that is helping inadvertently to kill many black children. Secondly, I know the General Foundation’s media spending for diverse audiences is lacking in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market. You respond to the Foundation’s media spending by saying: “…for competitive reasons, I cannot disclose the amounts.” I reply to your comment by saying the following: “If there is no level playing field, there can never be any competition.”
The fact that the General Mills Foundation refuses to consider local radio, print and TV that are minority-ethnic owned, or a radio station that is White-owned but plays music targeted to an African-American audience is evidence that General Mills, Inc. and the General Mills Foundation have opted to ignore solid reach and frequency solely because of the “color” of a format.
In closing, this is the time of the year we celebrate the birthday of one of the world’s great leaders — the Revered Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. In keeping with his sprit and goals, I like to refresh your memory of Dr. King’s objective in Memphis, Tennessee at the time he was assassinated. His objective was to secure better wages and working conditions for garbage workers. I emphasize the words GARBAGE WORKERS to highlight the fact that he was fighting for and died for the “Least of Thee”.
Dr. King states in his “I Have A Dream” speech that “…America has given the (Blacks) people a bad check, a check which has come back marked “insufficient funds.”
I refuse to believe that General Mills, Inc. or the General Mills Foundation is providing our community a check marked “insufficient funds.” My parents were happy sitting at the lunch counter; today, my generation wants to own the lunch counter.
Very best regards,
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