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Looking back to move forward

How examining history and our role in the community can help envision a better future

Securian Financial’s headquarters have been in downtown St. Paul since our founding in 1880, and we’ve prioritized supporting our immediate neighborhood and surrounding communities for decades.

Being a good neighbor requires learning continuously about our communities and the issues that affect them, including looking back at history. Often, understanding the past helps us understand how to move forward.

Our Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Office recently led a two-part educational series to understand how discriminatory real estate practices that began in Minnesota in the early 1900s contributed to racial inequities that exist today. We then explored how we as a business can help revitalize St. Paul for a better future.

Part I: Understanding history with “Jim Crow of the North”

The “Jim Crow of the North” documentary, produced by Twin Cities PBS, was the basis for our first discussion. The film examines the use of racially restrictive covenants in real estate and their impact on communities.

The covenants excluded people of color from certain neighborhoods by restricting to whom an owner could sell or lease their property. As a result, Black families were prevented from having opportunities to buy homes and build wealth.1

Kimber Sullivan, program management consultant at Securian Financial, participated in the series and said she gained valuable insights. “Because of racial covenants, neighborhoods turned away the very people who would have invested in and enriched them,” she said.

Part II: An opportunity for real change

Fast-forward to 2021, and progress is being made to revitalize the St. Paul neighborhood of Rondo, a predominantly African American community that was once a vibrant, working-class neighborhood until it was devastated by the construction of Interstate 94 in the 1960s.

The freeway project demolished 700 homes and 300 businesses in Rondo and split the neighborhood in half. Displaced families received less than market value as compensation for their homes, and due to discriminatory housing practices, they didn’t have many options for where they could move.2, 3

The nonprofit organization ReConnect Rondo is leading an effort to build a land bridge over I-94 to repair, restore and revitalize the neighborhood.

Marvin Anderson, ReConnect Rondo board chair, and Keith Baker, ReConnect Rondo executive director, shared their vision for the land bridge with us and how it can benefit not only Rondo, but also surrounding neighborhoods, including downtown St. Paul.

“The goal for this project is to build back what was lost for African Americans, celebrate the diversity that exists in Rondo today, and be forward thinking about future benefits to all residents of St. Paul, the region and state of Minnesota,” Baker said.

A true community effort

The ReConnect Rondo land bridge project also is an opportunity for diverse stakeholders to collaborate for the betterment of the broader community — an effort that resonates with Securian Financial’s involvement in revitalizing our downtown community after the pandemic.

The Saint Paul Downtown Alliance — which our CEO Chris Hilger co-chairs with St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter — is leading efforts to prepare for workers and visitors to return to downtown.

“Securian Financial has been part of the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance since its inception,” said Hilger. “The Alliance shows what is possible when business, government and community leaders come together with a common goal.”

Joe Spencer, president of the Saint Paul Downtown Alliance, added, “Downtowns are where all different kinds of people come together. The density that’s required for a vibrant downtown requires density in the surrounding neighborhoods, and ReConnect Rondo will help.”

More than ever, we understand that a thriving downtown requires thriving surrounding neighborhoods like Rondo.

“Many people, community agencies, government agencies and other stakeholders are part of the ReConnect Rondo project,” Baker said. “We have shown a way that a community can drive an infrastructure project and have it operate for the benefit of the community.”

Anderson concluded by saying, “There are things we can’t be proud of in our history. But the beauty is, the more we study them the more we realize we are one people, we are one society. It won’t always be pleasant, but the truth will set us free. I think Securian has done a marvelous job in bringing hard topics to light. Keep learning.”

A bridge with a vision

ReConnect Rondo has a vision to repair, restore and revitalize the Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul – and address racial disparity gaps in the process. A proposed land bridge would reconnect the divided neighborhood and create an African American cultural enterprise district. Visit ReConnect Rondo to learn more.

Helping downtown thrive

The Saint Paul Downtown Alliance brings together multiple stakeholders to create a thriving downtown for the entire city and region.

Learn more

1. “What are covenants?”, June 2021.

2. The Associated Press. “MN lawmakers hear plan to reconnect historic Black neighborhood.”, February 3, 2021.

3. “Could a land bridge project help minority communities recover from displacement?” PBS News Hour, May 26, 2021.

DOFU 6-2021