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Toni Carter, Minnesota’s First Black County Commissioner, Speaks Out

Ramsey County’s commissioner has fought for change in the state for the past three decades through vigorous community engagement. She has marked history with her achievements and now watches her son do the same as mayor of St. Paul.

Toni Carter In the Arena

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Toni Carter has constantly aspired for more. Born in rural Alabama, Carter moved with her parents to Cleveland to escape the Jim Crow treatment they had received in the South. Eventually she left Cleveland to go to school in Northfield, Minn., where she found a vibrancy in life and an education that she had been yearning for. After college Toni Carter moved to St. Paul, married, had a good job, had the “picket fence with a dog and kids” lifestyle that she thought would be the perfect life, but still something was missing.

“I know that it was my ability to have more of a direct impact on what I felt was a community yearning to blossom,” she says. “I found that there were people here in this land of milk and honey who looked like me, who weren’t doing so well.”

Toni Carter has public service in her blood. She began fulfilling her desire to help the community first by running for the local school board. Then she realized that there were more underlying concerns than just student achievement, so she ran for, and won, a position on the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners, where she has served four terms across 15 years. When she was first elected in 2005, she was the first Black American to serve on a county board in the state. 

She has created a legacy of community development, not only through her own achievements and actions but also through her children. Her son, Melvin Carter III, has been mayor of St. Paul, Minn., since 2018, the city’s first African-American mayor.

While proud of the achievements that her community has achieved, Carter continues to push for progressive change, especially in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

“There are so many things that we have been able to change, but there are also so many things that we still need to do, as is observed from the George Floyd killing here in the Twin Cities area,” she explains. Carter sees there are reforms that need to be made within the system of law enforcement, but also through larger social systems that allow everyone to not just survive, but to thrive.

“I felt compelled in working with my community, on behalf of my community, to help those voices be heard and to help those changes that are required to be made. And I still do,” she says.

Listen to the episode as Toni Carter discusses the future of Ramsey County, the community support that has blossomed in the wake of George Floyd’s death and her new adventures with the upright bass. 

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