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Breaking the Ice: Community activist to third-term legislator

Correction: The first version of this article incorrectly reported Rena Moran is the first African-American to represent St. Paul at the Capitol. She is the first African-American woman to represent her district in the Minnesota House of Representatives.   

Name: Rena Moran

Title: Representative, District 65A

Education: B.S., early childhood education, Southern Illinois University

DFL Rep. Rena Moran’s 2010 election victory capped a decade-long journey from homelessness to the corporate world and increasing community activism on her way to the Minnesota Legislature. Now serving in her third term, Moran is the first African-American woman to represent St. Paul at the Capitol.

Moran’s district, which runs along Interstate 94 from Snelling Avenue to just west of the Capitol, will be the home of Minnesota United FC’s planned 20,000-seat Major League Soccer stadium, anchoring a 35-acre redevelopment site envisioned as a multi-use urban village. Moran said she has heard mostly support for the stadium and excitement about the jobs the project is expected to create locally. Moran said she shares concerns of those worried about potential gentrification and rising taxes in the wake of the project.

Q. What’s the best way to start a conversation with you?

A. The best way to start a conversation is to really value what’s going on in my community. One thing I liked to do when I first got elected was to bring my community into the Capitol. I was really intentional in the diversity of the visits and captured those in pictures. People began to see the array of individuals who have come into this space. … The diversity that is a part of my district is a part of our strength.

Q. Who was the first presidential candidate you voted for and why?

A. The very first president that came to my awareness, where I could say I thought he may do something different for our community or I can see me, my family, my community in him, was Bill Clinton.

Q. What books are on your bedside table or e-reader?

A. I read a book called “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings” by Maya Angelou. That was a fascinating book, a reflection of her experience growing up in the ’30s and ’40s around racial prejudice, growing up in the South and often enough as a black girl believing you’re not good enough, you’re not smart enough, you’re not pretty enough. It was different for me because I grew up on the south side of Chicago, where my community was all African-American. I grew up in a household where we were meant to feel that we were great as who we were.

Q. What is a pet peeve of yours?

A. Probably my biggest pet peeve is people who think that they have a solution for other people. I am a strong believer that those who’ve been impacted by a system can bring solutions to that system so it can work better for all people, that they have experiences and expectations that can create different and better outcomes.

Q. What’s a favorite activity outside your job?

A. I like quiet time. I love listening to music. I like gospel music; I like Yolanda Adams a lot. I like jazz. I just love music.

Q. If someone visits you in your hometown, what do you always take them to see or do?

A. I like to go to the Penumbra [Theatre in St. Paul]. I like to take hold of my culture or of who I am, so I go up to Arnellia’s [a jazz club in St. Paul] and listen to a live band there, sit and chat with people and get into what’s going on in the community.

Q. What’s one way to end partisan polarization?

A. My hope is we can get to a place where we can learn to compromise more and legislate and do what’s best for all of the people in the state of Minnesota. I am hopeful that with the governor’s commitment to work on racial and economic disparities, this session will see some policies that address some of those issues that come from legislators who have been working in partnership with their communities.

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