Forum about race focuses on building inclusive community

Staff photo by Fritz Busch Greater Mankato Diversity Council Executive Director Bukata Hayes leads “It’s Time to Talk: Forum on Race” at the New Ulm Middle School District Conference Room. Sponsored by the Region Nine Development Commission and New Ulm Area Community Education Life Long Learning, the forum continues 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. May 23 at the school.

NEW ULM — About a dozen people attended a forum on race at the New Ulm Middle School District Conference Room Wednesday.

The event was in response to last fall’s gathering of community members to discuss their personal experiences with race in “It’s Time to Talk: Forum on Race.”

Events are sponsored by New Ulm Area Community Education Life Long Learning, the Region Nine Development Commission and the Greater Mankato Diversity Council (GMDC).

The conversations were valuable and led to the question of what are the next steps for the New Ulm Community.

Milwaukee native and GMDC Executive Director Bukata Hayes led the discussion that included sharing ideas and creating plans to help the community become more inclusive.

Hayes said he has led similar brainstorming events in St. James, St. Peter and Fairmont that proved fruitful.

District 88 Superintendent Jeff Bertrang said he came to the event in an effort to help improve New Ulm now and in the future.

Hayes said New Ulm was rated the most homogenous (of similar nature and size) community in the United States at one time.

“We all care about New Ulm becoming a better place,” Hayes said. “What if we could decide what dreams we can follow? It’s ‘we,’ not ‘me.’ Where should be go?”

A number of people talked about creating a multi-cultural event in New Ulm.

New Ulm Police Cpl. “Chip” Rasche, a Fairmont native, said he felt good about being involved in Pro Kinship for Kids, a non-profit organization that promotes youth mentoring in New Ulm Mobile Village with regular volunteer visits.

Minnesota State House District 16B candidate Marinda “Mindy” Kimmel said she wants to learn about other cultures and how to combat racism.

Hayes said St. James held a multi-cultural event attended by more than 300 people including the Sons of Norway organization. Hayes said St. James received a $10,000 grant to continue to plan community inclusiveness events.

Hayes said St. Peter’s July Fourth Parade includes more diverse groups now.

Sue Kimmel said New Ulm has many generous people who help the needy and don’t want recognition for it.

“We have a fabulous art culture, but we’re all separated. We have no hub to gather together and talk about becoming inclusive,” Kimmel said.

Brown County Public Health Director Karen Moritz said New Ulm’s cultural climate has improved in recent years

“I grew up in a very racist environment in Nebraska. Then I went to a racially-diverse high school,” Moritz said. “I had to learn how not to feel guilty… We need to help people see the value of being diverse. My daughter-in-law is Chinese. It’s the best thing ever.”

Bertrang talked about the value of not challenging people’s opinions directly.

“Kids can send messages,” Bertrang said.

Rasche talked about the value of festivals and celebrations.

The next forum on race will be held in the New Ulm Middle School District Conference Room from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, May 23.

Fritz Busch can be emailed at fbusch@nujournal.com.

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