BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN A week after Latanza Douglas and her family returned to their Delano home to find it burglarized and vandalized with racist words and symbols, members of the community gathered outside of Delano City Hall with a common goal.
“We need to stand in solidarity to fight against this,” Delano Mayor Dale Graunke said during the March 19 candlelight vigil. “There is no space for this here or anywhere else.”
After a moment of silence, Graunke added, “This is not reflective of the community we are, and that’s why we’ve come together tonight.”
Delano Public Schools Superintendent Matt Schoen, who lives about eight houses down from the Douglases, took the situation personally after visiting their home.
“Words can’t express the absolute shame I felt from watching and listening to her and to watch and look at that house and the condition it was in,” Schoen said.
He said the school district has a responsibility to partner with the community when adversity strikes. For that reason, Schoen has spoken to Minnesota Commissioner of Education Brenda Cassellius about resources available to combat racism. He has since met with the district’s leadership team about how to move forward as an educational community to address such issues.
Schoen shared two quotes in closing.
“One is from Martin Luther King Jr., and I quote, ‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.’ I believe this issue matters to all of us,’” Schoen said. “The second quote is an African proverb. ‘If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.’ I believe this issue needs us all to go together.”
Rep. Joe McDonald (R-Delano) said the community has a long history of coming together to rally for people no matter what they are facing.
What the Douglases faced was “so tragic, so sad, so deplorable, so sickening,” McDonald said.
He responded with a quote from Garth Brooks’ song “We Shall Be Free.”
“When the last thing we notice is the color of skin and the first thing we look for is the beauty within, when the skies and the oceans are clean again, then we shall be free,” McDonald quoted.
McDonald said when the community helped others in the past, a person’s nationality or race was never considered.
“No, it’s the beauty within, that’s what this community has been able to do for the short 30 years I’ve been here, to come together to help out,” McDonald said.
Though the Douglases did not attend the vigil, McDonald had a message for them.
“Douglas family, we want you to know that we see the beauty within,” McDonald said.
He commended the Douglases for serving as foster parents.
“For Miss Douglas and her family, you are doing great work,” McDonald said. “We encourage you. We love you. We send our compassion, our tenderness, our support, financially and otherwise. We encourage you to keep doing what you’re doing and take in the kids who have been dealt a hard life.”
McDonald called the community beautiful, but not perfect.
“We’re human; we all make mistakes, but we will prevail,” McDonald said. “We will live free. We will see the beauty within each and every one of us.”
Delano United Methodist Pastor Matt Sipe represented the Delano Area Clergy Ministerium, which began assembling a task force to address racial justice within the last four months.
He began with a word of prayer.
“God, in moments like these, we cry out to you, seeking Your comfort, seeking Your guidance, and seeking the presence of Your spirit in our lives and in this community,” Sipe said.
He prayed for the Douglas family and those who targeted them.
“We cry out for the shameful acts that have been committed against them,” Sipe said. “We pray for those who committed those acts. We ask that they would be moved with compassion to come forward and turn themselves in.”
He prayed for the community to be a welcoming place.
“You created us so different and unique, in every color of the rainbow, and You have called us to follow you all the days of our lives,” Sipe said. “Guide our community and let Your spirit move in and through each and every one of us as we stand united against hate, but more for the passion and spirit of this community.”
He concluded his prayer and asked everyone to raise their candles.
“In the Gospel of John, the Gospel writer said, ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness cannot overcome it,’” Sipe said. “Here we stand united. The darkness will not overcome this community.”
The event concluded with a rendition of “This Little Light of Mine.”
Crowd estimates ranged from more than 200 to more than 1,000. Review of aerial photos shows between 500 and 600 attended.