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Activist Spotlight: Denise Pike and Lucchini Butcher

Denise Pike & Kacie Lucchini Butcher are determined to provoke Minneapolitans into reckoning with their history. This is the only path, in their opinion, toward real change. It is this conviction that led them to put together the “Owning Up” exhibit, which has just finished a four-month run at the Hennepin History Museum.

BY: Marguerite Mills

January 24, 2019

The exhibit has garnered praise and attention. And this fall, Pike and Lucchini Butcher were honored with the 2018 Josie Johnson Human Rights and Social Justice Award for their work.

Thousands of people have visited “Owning Up,” an exhibit that uses the stories of three black families to illuminate the persistent consequences of redlining, racial covenants and white violence. It shows the roots of our contemporary racial disparities in these historic policies. And it asks visitors to “own up” and think about our collective obligation to seek remedies of these historic injustices.

This week the exhibit moves from the Hennepin History Museum--where it has been since August--to the community room at the Sabathani Community Center.

The duo spearheaded this impressive endeavor as part of their capstone project in the Heritage Studies and Public History Program at the University of Minnesota. As Mapping Prejudice co-founder, Kirsten Delegard, puts it: “There are easier, and certainly more conventional, ways to get through graduate school. Lucchini Butcher and Pike could have chosen to pour their energy and talents into more traditional scholarly products. But they are determined to provoke Minneapolitans into reckoning with their history.”

A more traditional approach to graduate school would not have satisfied Pike or Lucchini Butcher. These women are committed to the project of social change. And they are determined to involve the communities most affected by these historic policies.

Denise Pike explains how they came to the project:

“We were approached by HHM to create an exhibit in relation to Mapping Prejudice’s research and we felt like this was a critical moment to bring this conversation to the community - tying it into the current conversations about city planning like the 2040 plan. Kacie and I decided we wanted to highlight and explain the different forms of structural racism [ie redlining, and white violence in addition to racial covenants] to show how we got into the situation that we are in today.”

Lucchini Butcher and Pike identified one of the most pernicious problems in the effort to address racial inequality and injustice: the failure of the community to recognize and understand the problem. According to Pike: “people don’t realize how structural structural racism is - until they are confronted with concrete evidence.” This is the area which “Owning Up” really shines as a community education tool; using the research of Mapping Prejudice in conjunction with the human stories of those affected by these policies within a physically immersive space, Lucchini Butcher and Pike have successfully created a place for community members to understand the devastating effect of these policies on a multiple levels.

One visitor to the exhibit said “I just spent 30 minutes in the gallery, alone, and took in this exhibit word by word, photo by photo, data point by data point. It not only is the most eye-opening exhibit I’ve experienced at the Hennepin History Museum, but I would also rate it one of the top 10 exhibits I’ve experienced anywhere in the world.”

State legislators take in the "Owning Up" exhibit.

To mark the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday, representatives from the Minnesota State Legislature visited the exhibit. This was the last day for the exhibit at the Hennepin History Museum. This week it will move to its permanent home at the Sabathani Community Center.

The reception was a prologue to a hearing on a bill authored by Representative Jim Davnie and Senator Jeff Hayden that would allow the owners of covenanted property to renounced the racial restrictions on their deeds. The bill will be up for floor debate during this session of the Minnesota Legislature.

Representative Jim Davnie speaks on his bill and the importance of "Owning Up".

Senator Jeff Hayden spoke about his own family's experiences in the old Central neighborhood.

Minnesota Attorney General, Keith Ellison, remarking on the exhibit.

“I hope that visitors will leave the exhibit and begin to think differently about the city of Minneapolis,” Lucchini Butcher says. “Minneapolis is often lauded as a “liberal paradise” and a “model metropolis” but in reality, we have the highest racial disparities in the United States. This city is not a paradise for all of our residents. I also hope that residents will begin to think differently about their neighborhoods. Who lives in your neighborhood and why?”