According to Jessica O’Brien of the Region Nine Development Commission, the white population in Le Sueur County is projected to decrease in the years to come while other racial populations remain the same or increase.

O’Brien offered this information at a forum on race held Monday evening, April 16 in the Tri-City United High School cafeteria. Montgomery was the final stop for YWCA Mankato, an organization that promotes racial justice as well as women empowerment. Previously, the speakers and facilitators had previously visited Waseca, St. Peter, New Ulm and St. James.

“I talked to Jessica the end of last summer,” said Mike Preisler, TCU Community Education director who coordinated the race forum at TCU. “She wanted to know if this was something I thought would be welcome in the community, and I thought it would.”

Tiffnie Jackson, YWCM Mankato director of racial justice, also spoke at the forum. Jackson, a member of one of the few black families in her community growing up, recollected the time a classmate licked her on the first day of kindergarten. The boy’s mother had told her son, “Black people are awesome, like chocolate.” Jackson shared the story as an example of how well-meaning comments sometimes produce unwanted consequences.

During small group discussions, trained facilitators invited high school students and adults from the community to share their own experiences as well as listen to others with curiosity and openness. Each facilitator asked the questions and passed around a stress ball to keep the conversation organized and ongoing.

Some of the discussion questions included “What is the first time you became aware of race?”, “What do you think it means to be white/non-white in this community?”, “Have you become aware of white privilege?” “Can you challenge someone’s racist attitudes?”, “What stops us from talking candidly about racism?” and “What would the world around you look like without racism?”

Group members discussed the effects of racism, instances when they heard racist comments and ways to promote racial justice. High school students recognized ways they learn racism from older generations, and others offered insight on personal “blind spots” – areas where they may not recognize their own racial biases.

“I liked how [my facilitator] would say to us, ‘Dig a little deeper,’” said Elaine Ess, an English Learner teacher. “Then you can really see how you can change.”

Sam Miller, a TCU High School student said: “Hearing the different experiences people have [with race] was definitely my favorite part.”

Kyle Sladek, also a TCU High School student, said his biggest takeaway from the forum was “definitely the effect race has on the community.”

To conclude the event, Jackson invited the forum attendees to visit to check out podcasts, articles and other upcoming events to help eliminate racism. She also shared a quote by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for added reflection:

“If you can’t fly then run, if you can’t run then walk, if you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.”

Reporter Misty Schwab can be reached at 507-744-2551. Follow her on Twitter @APGmisty.

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