Minneapolis School Board
KerryJo Felder: Advocating for northside schools and racial equity
October 23, 2020
By Steve Share, Minneapolis Labor Review editor
MINNEAPOLIS — “I came with a vision,” says KerryJo Felder, who is running for re-election to the District 2 seat representing north Minneapolis on the Minneapolis School Board. She hastens to add: “I’m not done.”
Felder is running for re-election to a second term with the endorsement of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and the DFL Party. Her other labor endorsements include: the Laborers District Council, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, Teamsters Local 120, and SEIU Minnesota State Council.
Felder has been a strong advocate as a school board member for the northside schools, for full-service community schools, and for racial equity — continuing her years-long advocacy for these priorities before she won election to the board.
“I went to school board meetings for six years before I ran, almost every one,” Felder recalls.
“One of the first things I did on the board was crunch the numbers to see the inequities,” she reports.
Felder led in bringing $100 million in capital investments to northside schools over the past four years.
Felder has been an advocate for full-service community schools — which support students and their families with wrap-around services — and as a school board member she helped two northside schools, Bethune Elementary and Cityview Elementary, move to this model three years ago.
“They’re working very well,” she reports. “Everyone in the school really likes that plan, from the parents to the teachers to the principal.”
Felder has been a forceful advocate on the school board for racial equity. “I’ve been very vocal in calling out institutional racism, white fragility, classism and white supremacy,” Felder says. That advocacy sometimes has meant a one-on-one conversation, sometimes “stopping things in their tracks” in the business of the school board, but being outspoken means “being able to make change,” she says.
As a school board member, Felder worked with the school district to initiate the Teacher of Color Retention and Retainment Plan and also has worked with MFT Local 59’s Teachers of Color Committee.
Felder’s involvement with the Minneapolis Public Schools and her advocacy for education issues began long before she won election to the school board four years ago.
Felder grew up in South Minneapolis and is a 1991 graduate of Minneapolis North High School.
Her late father, Frederick Douglas Felder, II, was a math teacher at the old Minneapolis Central High School. “He was a strong union member,” she recalls.
In 2010, Felder helped organize a coalition to stop the superintendent’s plan to close cherished North High School.
She worked next as an education organizer for Neighborhoods Organizing for Change.
After working as a field organizer for Minnesotans for a Fair Economy, Felder in 2013 joined the staff of the Minneapolis Regional Labor Federation, AFL-CIO as education and community organizer.
In her work with the MRLF, Felder became a member of Teamsters Local 120.
Her education organizing work at the MRLF has included working with teacher unions and parent groups across the region to help pass school funding ballot questions.
Felder’s work at the MRLF also has included helping to organize the dynamic People of Color Union Members caucus (POCUM), which has won recognition nationwide as a model for bringing union members of color together to support each other and to engage as a group within both the labor movement and the community.
POCUM and Felder have organized career fairs for high school students to highlight the job opportunities, wages and benefits that union jobs provide.
Felder also has pushed for — and won — technical programs in the Minneapolis Public Schools to lead students to careers such as the building trades or nursing.
“We need to start our children young in learning about the union movement and what we stand for,” Felder says. “We need to have programs in the schools that are pipelines to good union jobs. And I’m down to make sure that happens.”
Felder lives in Victory neighborhood and has one child who attends Franklin Middle School and another child who attends Olson Middle School. She is an active volunteer with her church and in the community.