Outside of the Buckham Community Center, dozens of folks gathered around a table to see a nearly 6-foot boa constrictor named Larry as it slithered around the torso of a staff member from the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo.
The demonstration was a small part of Tuesday evening’s Night to Unite festivities in Faribault. The event is held in communities across the country aiming to promote police-community partnership and neighborhood camaraderie.
Other tables at Buckham Center’s event included the Chamber of Commerce, the Department of Corrections, the Department of Natural Resources and other private and governmental groups.
Free food selections ranged from the all-American hot dogs provided by the Faribault Chamber of Commerce to sambusas — a Somali pastry filled with beef and spices that was provided by Madina Cuisine and Market and paid for by the Faribault Diversity Coalition.
“Everything here is free,” said chamber staff member Kelly Nygaard. “It’s all about bringing the community together.”
Next to the Chamber’s table was the Reptile and Amphibian Discovery Zoo’s table, where multiple animals, including Larry the boa, were on display for children and adults alike. Jake, a staff member showing off the animals, also held Squirt, a young alligator with electrical tape around its mouth.
One more table down the line was Andy Wendt of the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. His table had many furs and some skulls of various animals native to Minnesota.
During his demonstration, he explained that the location of an animal’s eyes depend on whether they are a predator or prey. Animals of prey have eyes on the sides of their heads, allowing them to see all around them without turning their head.
About an hour after the event started at Buckham Center, another location for the Night to Unite events began at the Faribault Middle School. Originally, the event was going to be held in the parking lot but was moved inside because of the heat.
Before heading into the school, those who stopped by had the chance to stop at the Kona Ice truck for a free cup of shaved ice covered in a flavor of their choosing.
Alongside the various tables giving away free food, toys and school supplies, a falcon named Freddy stood at the doorway and offered kids high-fives as they came in. Freddy the Falcon is the Faribault Public Schools mascot.
Morristown residents also came together to celebrate Night to Unite in the parking lot of American Legion Post 149 in the center of town.
The soft orange beams of the sunset squeezed their way under the tin shade that sheltered the eating area as locals filled their plates with the hot dogs grilled by the Morristown Fire Department.
The overarching theme between each of the events was community involvement and togetherness. In other words, the events were about uniting the community and bridging the gap between residents and those who serve them.
Over half a dozen attendees of Tuesday’s Summer Community Circle gathered in Garfield Park among the backdrop of greenery and blooming flowers.
Following an ancient practice called circle, Faribault Area Learning Center retiree and Circle Keeper Delon Musselman hosts circle sessions throughout the summer as a way to give attendees a place to talk about “what really matters in life.”
“It’s amazing what happens when people have time to share,” Musselman said prior to the first summer circle session held in June. “The circle process is amazing to create a safe, social environment that allows people to authentically be themselves.”
Each session begins with a different theme built on basic social and life principles. The first theme focused on the impacts of COVID-19. The most recent theme was inspired by a lyric in The Beatles song “Got to Get You Into My Life.”
Musselman said the discussion that follows the introduction of the theme organically unfolds, and topics shared by attendees stays confidential among circle participants.
One attendee of Tuesday’s circle session, Caitlin Juvland, said everyone sits in a circle, which serves as a physical reminder of unity.
“The conversation is not planned out, and it flows wherever the conversation brings us,” Juvland said. “Attendees have the freedom to choose how much to share. Some days I break down crying and other days I am more lighthearted.”
Juvland met Musselman while working at her previous job as a bartender at Corks and Pints. He struck up a conversation that resonated with her, and drove her to tears. Musselman told her about circle, and she’s been attending ever since.
During the COVID-19 lockdown, Juvland said she found herself feeling secluded and not talking to too many other people outside of her family. Attending circle has helped her work through social fears, she said, while expressing herself and feeling supported.
“It was almost like re-educating me on how to interact with human beings, but with no pressure,” Juvland said. “It’s a nice opportunity to reconnect with people again.”
Circle attendees range from all walks of life, from those who just turned 26, like Juvland, to those who are retired.
“It is super healthy for me to build different connections with people,” Juvland said. “You get to know others and know yourself.”
For Juvland, circle is a place to “evolve through connections,” and share feelings so “effortlessly” with those who were once strangers.
“You have nothing to lose, but everything to gain,” Juvland said to encourage those in need of safe space to share their thoughts.
Musselman said the last circle session for the summer will take place on Aug. 9 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Many years ago, Musselman led a group of American government students to tend to a garden that now surrounds the Garfield Park sign, near where the summer circle sessions are held. Before and after the students would tend the soil and plant flowers, the group would sit together around a blanket for a circle session.
Circle was designed as a way for students to safely share ideas, with a hope to help “unite Faribault’s next generation and make them stronger citizens,” according to a Faribault Daily News article about circle written in August 2017.
Musselman said the idea has evolved to gather people of all ages together to talk about how they handle their lives among difficult times.
“Whether COVID, the political system, job or housing shortage, workplace, there are so many things going on,” Musselman said. “If you don’t talk about them you carry that with you. It takes a lot of energy to hold things in that aren’t emotionally charged.”