Just over a year ago, the now retired superintendent of schools, Linda Madsen, invited a group of principals, community leaders, and faith leaders together for a conversation.
The schools were seeing and hearing a lot of complaints from students that they were targets of racial slurs and intimidating threats.
Linda wanted to get us together to see what we could do.
“We bring people together across race, class, culture, and other means of self-identity to find common ground on important public policy issues. We create spaces for the unheard to find voice and foster connections across systems to better respond to inequities across health care, education, and social justice by providing the tools and environment for people to connect and collaborate more effectively across differences. Importantly, this means that we seek to ensure that ALL stakeholders are included in the conversations that affect them. There’s always room for another seat at the table.”
Have you walked by someone in our community and thought, what’s your story? Maybe you’ve been afraid to ask. Marnita’s Table brings people together that might not naturally come together, even though we’re all neighbors and live in this community together.
As fate would have it, the Forest Lake YMCA was also hearing about upcoming training sessions for their leaders to be taught the Intentional Social Interaction model of Marnita’s Table and the ability to host future tables.
Our local YMCA offered to provide the facilitators and Faith Lutheran offered to provide the site. We have a large fellowship area and a gym adjacent to our kitchen which allowed for a smooth set-up and friendly environment to convene this first conversation.
The second week of January, this conversation happened.
Despite a blizzard-like morning, there was a great turn-out. Many of the attendees were invited through their participation in school to work towards inclusivity and equality. These were some very powerful voices for me to meet. At the end of the night, I left inspired and hopeful that Forest Lake is leading the way for deep and honest conversations to occur.
We need to be vulnerable and listen. Here’s what I heard:
One of the first individuals I talked to shared his story about being called a racial slur just because of the color of his skin.
Later in the evening, I would hear the same thing from students who said that if they spoke up in response, they would get further taunted or dismissed as overreacting.
Let that sink in for a moment. This goes beyond bullying—this is a gross injustice that needs to stop.
This column was originally published in the Forest Lake Times on January 26, 2018.