BY GABE LICHT
DELANO, MN For months, the Delano Area Clergy Ministerium had been planning the coordination of a task force to address racial justice in Delano.
“And then there was the incident that happened to the Douglas family, and our work quickened,” the Rev. Matt Sipe told about 50 people at a Tuesday evening meeting to discuss the task force. “We had already experienced several other things that happened.”
After introducing the idea of the task force, Sipe asked individuals to introduce themselves to others sitting at their tables and encouraged anyone interested to share their experiences.
“Myself as a white male, I can go somewhere with a huge beard and they’ll call me ISIS. I can wear huge sunglasses . . . and someone will yell out a gay term toward me,” one person said. “Race is one thing, but it’s discrimination against anything different and not straight and not white.”
Sipe agreed that the conversation is much broader than one single issue.
“We said it’s a racial justice task force,” Sipe said. “Maybe there’s a better word for it.”
Suggestions included “antidiscrimination league” or a “task force of inclusiveness.”
Sipe asked the groups assembled to identify their hopes and dreams for the task force.
A common topic was the school district’s responsibility regarding discrimination and bullying.
“A few people at our table mentioned the bullying that happens at the middle school and high school, and how the consequences aren’t always dealt with properly,” one individual said.
Sipe said that has been a reoccurring theme that school administration is working to improve.
“We agreed that a lot of changes we can help bring about would be in the schools,” Sara Beamish said later. “ . . . I take a look at the faculty and I don’t see anyone who is at all different, so how do we teach to our children about understanding someone who’s different than us if there isn’t anyone different?”
Another common theme included getting to know each other and being able to converse respectfully despite differences.
“One of the things we hope happens through this group and task force is some of the conversations we’re afraid to have because we’re afraid of being honest, being open, being judged, we’re hoping those conversations can start to become normal,” said the Rev. Aaron Sorenson, who will serve as a clergy liaison to the task force along with the Rev. Bruce Kuenzel. “ . . . How do we not agree on everything and still be unified?”
Kelli Johnson agreed it is important to be open to uncomfortable conversations.
She also said the task force should have short-term and long-term goals in place no matter what may happen with the investigation into the racist vandalism and burglary that occurred March 12.
“I think we certainly want to make as much of an impact as we can now, but we also don’t want to be so reactionary and then, in a month, or a year, or two months, forget about what happened,” Johnson said. “ . . . Regardless of what happens with the investigation, we have all heard enough to know and believe there are more issues in our community. Regardless of what happens or who did this or what it looks like, we know there’s more here. What we’re not OK with is, ‘Hmm, sweep it under the rug. Everything’s fine. It’s over.’”
A couple people spoke up to say individuals should take responsibility to stand up against racism, prejudice, and discrimination.
“I just want to address the fact that this racial vandalism has been talked about as ‘the incident,’” one speaker said. “It’s time to label it and talk about it for what it is . . . I think we’re wasting our time if we don’t stand up and say, ‘We’re against racism. We’re against misogyny. We’re against homophobics. We’re against all those things that make us so we’re not inclusive. Stop watering it down and trying to be nice little white people.”
Many people applauded that sentiment.
One individual asked, “We’re concerned if you’re not a member of a faith community, where do you fit?”
“Everyone is welcome here, whether you’re a part of a faith community or not because we’re all in this together,” Sipe said.
Sorenson added later that “I don’t want to lead this group because I don’t want the fact that I’m a faith leader to be a hurdle to people who are not people of faith. However, I don’t want to not be involved. I want to be here to support, encourage, and participate as a faith leader. That’s going to require people in our community to step up.”
A number of people had already expressed interest in being a part of the task force, and some individuals met after the meeting to begin organizing.
Patti Loftus shared some things the task force could do.
“I think there are creative ways people in a task force could be doing book studies together, meeting in small groups, going to places in the cities, getting to know people, and branching out,” Loftus said. “It could be fun and it could grow us all.”
Another speaker suggested meeting with people of color and engaging in dialogue with other communities, organizations, churches, and civic groups trying to address the same issues as the task force.
At the conclusion of the meeting, City Administrator Phil Kern addressed a question regarding the status of Delano United.
He explained that Delano United was formed when representatives from the city, school district, clergy, chamber of commerce, and community groups “got together to do something to make a statement right away that ‘we don’t stand for this.’”
All those entities want to support the task force, he said.
“We want to see a grassroots effort,” Kern said. “We want to see a lot of people get involved in this and not just be six to eight people sitting in a conference room trying to determine what happens.”
The task force’s next event will feature the Rev. Billy Russell, of the Black Clergy Speakers Bureau, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 2, at Light of Christ Lutheran Church, 3976 County Line Rd. SE.