National

Aspen Institute Roundtable for Community Change chooses Create CommUNITY, St. Cloud, MN from 42 cities surveyed nationwide as one of four cities as a case study of a community that is “creating change initiatives to address racial inequities”.

Community Change Processes and Progress in Addressing Racial Inequities (2007):

A report by Maggie Potapchuk, in partnership with the Roundtable, examining emerging practices in racial equity with case studies of four “leadership sites”: Long Island, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; St. Cloud, Minnesota; and Seattle, Washington. The Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder’s December 12, 2007 article cited this report as well as the Roundtable’s structural racism framework.

Local

St. Cloud’s Create CommUNITY fights systemic racism

by Charles Hallman
Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder
Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Getting Whites to listen to communities of color is a small step forward

According to a published report this fall, St. Cloud, Minnesota, is making progress in improving racial harmony.

The Washington, D.C.-based Aspen Institute did a four-city case study on U.S. communities and their challenge of dealing with racial/ethnic diversity. Founded in 1950, the institute is an international nonprofit organization that fosters leadership and open-minded dialogue through seminars, policy programs, conferences and leadership development initiatives.

Four very different communities were selected to present a cross-sectional lesson on how to deal with race-related issues: the suburban Long Island, New York; a Southern metropolis, Charlotte, North Carolina; a Pacific Coast melting pot, Seattle, Washington; and St. Cloud, a town in the Northern plains.

Maggie Potapchuk of MP Associates analyzed the work of the four cities and complied her results in “Community Change Processes and Programs in Addressing Racial Inequities,” released in October 2007.

Minnesota ranks 12th among states with the highest proportion of White residents, the report said. Due to demographic shifts in migration, St. Cloud saw an influx of people of color during the 1980s. According to state population projections, the Central Minnesota city has had the state’s fastest population growth outside the Twin Cities, and the population is expected to grow another 35 percent by 2020.

St. Cloud’s well-documented problems include having one of Minnesota’s highest rates of hate crimes in 1998, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005. A 2000 survey of St. Cloud’s residents of color concluded that most found the city unwelcoming.

Then-St. Cloud mayor Larry Meyer formed the Racial Harmony Initiative in 1998 when he invited 37 community leaders to discuss how to address the city’s racial diversity issues. Five years later in 2003, Create CommUNITY was started as a broad-based collaborative of community organizations working together on reducing racism in St. Cloud and its surrounding areas.

The four-year-old collaborative focuses on several key areas: business, education, faith, government, health care and human services. Specific activities include:

  • Actively pursuing diversity among the customers and employees of local businesses.
  • Making schools more responsive to the needs of students of color and their families.
  • Building relationships between community racial groups and local government.
  • Identifying and eliminating barriers to health care faced by ethnic, religious and cultural groups in the St. Cloud area.
  • Initiating and supporting ethnic and cultural awareness through training and education.

Last year, Create CommUNITY held its first event, “Conversation on Race.” This year, said Hedy Tripp, the group’s coordinator, over 600 people attended “Continuing the Conversation on Race” October 22 at the St. Cloud Civic Center.

“All the sessions were packed,” she said of the daylong breakout sessions and luncheon. Racial disparities were among the items discussed during this year’s event:

  • 49 percent of St. Cloud's Black eight-grade students (reading) and 20 percent (math) met state standards as opposed to 67 percent White students (reading) and 58 percent White students (math).
  • 97 percent of St. Cloud homeowners are White; .38 percent (yes, that’s about one-third of one percent) are Black.
  • The proportion of uninsured residents statewide in 2004 is around 13 percent for Blacks but just under six percent for Whites.

Monthly meetings have been scheduled to continue discussing these topics, Tripp said, adding, “There is a lot of work to be done.” Tripp, an 18-year St. Cloud resident, is an Asian American born in Singapore. Married to Dr. Luke Tripp, a St. Cloud State University professor, she said, “St. Cloud has been a place for me where I can at least speak out. I came from a country where you can not speak out [because] of fear for your life. You don’t question authority.”

She and her husband “have been speaking out all our life,” continued Tripp, who added that she is now seeing some progress in St. Cloud regarding racial issues.

“Ten years ago, we couldn’t have had the conversations we had in October,” she noted, “to have people come together and talk about racism, let alone systemic racism. I’m seeing little steps [forward] being taken, but there always are steps taken backwards.”

More importantly, Tripp explained, “I think White folk are beginning to listen [to persons of color]. I think we have reached a critical mass, a tipping point where they are beginning to listen and respect what they hear from a range of people of color, and not just the folk that they are comfortable with.”

Listening “to the uncomfortable voice[s],” along with continued discussion, “is the building of social capital,” Tripp pointed out.

“It has taken a while for people of color to speak out and be listened to. The change that we want is not just individual racism, but what we really need to get to [is] systemic racism. We may not see a change in our lifetime, but we are going to talk about it. We are not going to let it go.” In recent months, Create CommUNITY has received several proposals, including one to establish an after-school program at the Boys and Girls Club for eighth-grade students of color, and another for a homeowner education program for Somalia-born residents, Tripp reported. Metro Transit has also asked her organization to provide training for bus drivers so they can better serve international persons of color.

Local businesses are now getting involved “to really talk about institutional racism, because it affects the economy,” said Tripp, adding that the St. Cloud Chamber of Commerce president sits on one of Create CommUNITY’s steering committees.

“We need to become a welcoming community,” declared Tripp.

Although the Aspen Institute report praised Create CommUNITY’s efforts, it warned that the group’s main challenge is to stay focused on how the major areas of concern intersect within a structural racism framework.

“We are accountable to the community,” Tripp said of her organization’s main purpose. “I am working hard in Create CommUNITY, hoping to make some change in the community so that my kids and our next generation of leaders don’t have to deal with all this.

“They will have new things to deal with.”

For more information about Create CommUNITY, go to www.communityview.org.

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or read his blog at www.wwwchallman.blogspot.com.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis honored Create CommUNITY with a 2008 Rock-On Award for promoting a welcoming, non-discriminatory environment with respect and opportunity for all.

St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis honored Create CommUNITY with a 2008 Rock-On Award for promoting a welcoming, non-discriminatory environment with respect and opportunity for all.