Community tackles issues of race

FAIRMONT — There was a community discussion on race Wednesday morning at Fairmont Elementary School.

“It’s Time to Talk: Forums on Race” was sponsored by Region Nine Development Commission, YWCA-Mankato, Greater Mankato Diversity Council and Fairmont Community Education and Recreation.

About 45 people came to the forum. Region Nine community engagement manager Jessica O’Brien reported there was actually a waiting list, and they had to cap the number at 45 to ensure there were enough small table facilitators. The trained facilitators volunteered their time and came from YWCA-Mankato.

Of the 45 people present, many different community stakeholders were among them. Principals from area schools, as well as several police officers, a pastor from the area, several county commissioners, school social workers and a group of students from Martin Luther High School, among a good number of other people, were at the discussion.

Fairmont Area Chamber of Commerce President Margaret Dillard said she was glad to see community members finally coming together to have a conversation about race, because, “It was time to talk a long time ago.”

Region Nine has shed light on the fact that the region is changing demographically and that this is affecting rural communities. Dillard said, “We need to think about how we welcome people not just as employees at businesses, but how do we integrate them into our community.”

Tiffnie Jackson, director of Racial Justice at YWCA-Mankato, reminded those present that everyone has their own story when it comes to race.

Small groups of about eight people, along with a facilitator, shared experiences in confidence. Questions such as: “What does it mean to be white in this community?” “When did you become aware of race?” and “What does it mean to be a community that is welcoming?” were asked.

O’Brien said the discussion is designed for self-reflection as well as community-reflection.

“We can learn so much from each other as community members,” O’Brien said. “This is a great opportunity for different people to come together, share experiences and grow awareness.”

Both O’Brien and CER director Roni Dauer commented on how unique the opportunity to have a forum on race is.

“I think people have seen the need and also understand the need to start having conversations about race,” Dauer said, adding, “Collaborations like this is how things happen.”

This forum was the first of its kind to be held in Fairmont. Region Nine had contacted the CER advisory committee with the idea of bringing the forum to Fairmont and committee members quickly agreed the forum was needed, and that community members could benefit.

O’Brien said that in addition to the forum in Fairmont, a similar conversation is taking place in six other communities around the area.

“People come to this forum for many different reasons,” O’Brien said. “Some come for professional development opportunities or for a learning opportunity. It’s great to see so many different stakeholders here. People show up to something like this because they care. They care about the future of the community and its growth.”

When asked if more conversations about race should be had in Fairmont, Dillard said, “There has to be more discussions. This is not only important to businesses, but to the whole community. People need to feel free to talk about it.”