Group aims for inclusion

FAIRMONT — Last October, several dozen people participated in a community discussion on race at Fairmont Elementary School.

Two weeks ago, a follow-up discussion occurred, and on Thursday a third meeting took place to continue the conversation.

The discussion was led by Bukata Hayes, executive director of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, who was working in conjunction with Region Nine Development Commission and Fairmont Community Education and Recreation.

Last meeting, those present thought two ideas would most help continue the conversation about race in the community. Those ideas were: creating opportunities to have casual conversations with each other and finding a way to showcase different people’s stories through the newspaper or some other form.

“How do we begin to tell these stories and re-shape the narrative about how our community looks, who’s moving here and why?” Hayes asked. “And how can we begin to show the full breadth of who’s calling Fairmont home.”

Hayes suggested that those present create a plan, including what kind of event should be held, who should be present and what will be discussed.

Most people agreed they would like to have a casual gathering at a public place, such as a restaurant or a coffee shop so others could come up and join in. There, people would have the opportunity to share their stories and ask others questions, and just get to better know fellow community members.

“We have a lot more in common than we have differences,” said Lillian Peterson.

As far as who the target audience will be, many agreed it would be good to start with school administrators, in order to help get conversations about race started with children and in the schools. Other groups seen as beneficial to reach are employers, the police department and city government.

The hope is that a meet-up will help build bridges and aid with community growth and inclusion. It was discussed that there are many benefits of a diverse community, because not only would it draw in more people, but it would also make more people want to stay.

Based on stories shared, Hayes suggested that encouragement for personal learning should be embedded in any discussion in the community.

“We’ve got some serious work to do and I don’t want to leave all the hard work to people who have more melanin in their skin than I do,” said Jean Burkhardt. “This is my work.”

Those present shared different experiences and observations, describing how Fairmont is a closed-minded community, which is why they believe it is important to keep these conversations going, reach out to different organizations to get more people involved in the discussion and move toward understanding and inclusion.

“Are we going to grow toward the way the world will be or are we going to try to hold it at bay?” Burkhardt asked.

“This community needs a lot of work in a lot of ways in order to open up,” said Margaret Dillard, director of the local Chamber of Commerce.

At the end of the discussion, plans were put in place to organize a casual public meet-up.

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