You Can’t Be What You Can’t See: The Minnesota Black Community Project

by | Jun 26, 2020 | Changemaker Of The Week

In some ways, the story of the Minnesota Black Community Project is a tale of two men named Walter Scott.

The first Walter Scott is someone you likely read about in the news. He was an unarmed Black motorist killed in 2015 by a white police officer in Charleston, South Carolina.

The second Walter Scott, who chronicled the African-American community in Minnesota before and after the civil rights era, is someone whose story hasn’t been told. And therein lies the problem.

“My father was light years ahead of his time,” says Dr. Chaunda Scott. “He wanted to record for history the other side of the narrative, the part that wasn’t being told publicly. If you see a news story about a Black person, it is in the context of something tragic or violent. Dad wanted to tell stories of excellence; he wanted to give us all points of reference that set our sights higher.”

Throughout the fifties, sixties, and seventies, Walter Scott tirelessly chronicled the achievements of Black Minnesotans. Although he wasn’t a trained historian or documentarian, he meticulously wrote, designed, published, and distributed three books and numerous magazines full of stories and photos that showed real-life stories of African-American prosperity, achievement, and happiness.

“He had a full-time job,” his son Anthony, now president of the Minnesota Black Community Project recalls. “This was something he did by hand, at night and on the weekends. He would be cutting and pasting photos and pieces of text on paper. He was making a pictorial resume of the Black community, its achievements, and its goals.”

These books were points of pride on many coffee tables across Minnesota, kept out for young Black children to flip through the pages and see stories of doctors, lawyers, and entrepreneurs who looked like them.

“You can’t be what you don’t see,” Anthony Scott explains in describing the importance of his father’s work.

The Scott family as a whole is a powerful testimony to what happens when children grow up “seeing” what they can be. Dr. Chaunda Scott is a graduate of Harvard and Columbia, as well as a Fulbright scholar. Anthony Scott built a career with the state of Minnesota as an expert in vocational rehabilitation and child protection. George Scott is an accomplished musician, and Walter Scott Jr. served as a beloved educator for decades.

Now the prominent Scott and Crutchfield families are continuing Walter Scott’s legacy through The Minnesota Black Community Project. The Pollination Project has partnered with them to help fund a series of events showcasing African-American contributions to art, medicine, and music, among other areas. They also recently celebrated the publishing of “Minnesota’s Black Community in the 21st Century,” which highlights the contributions of today’s African-American Minnesotans and is available for purchase here.

“This is an idea whose moment has arrived,” Dr. Chaunda Scott says from her office, just six blocks from where George Floyd was killed. “Philando Castile, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Michael Brown- these victims are household names. They should be. But so should the names of those who can uplift the other part of the narrative. The next generation needs to see reflections of success and positivity, too.”

Learn more about the Minnesota Black Community Project here.

Written by Carolyn Ashworth