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The kids, and their courage, stand between us and darkness

I posted a couple of photos on media feeds Saturday of some young people holding signs on Broadway.

The young people, recent graduates of local schools, are now college students home for the summer.

The signs protested excessive force and systematic flaws in society. The signs called for justice and solidarity.

If you do not believe in an ongoing reality of unconscious or systematic racism, these are not your causes.

But my post expressed my admiration of the youth standing up for their convictions.

The youth were polite, restrained and unafraid, as young people should be.

They took care with the phrasing of their signs. They stood carefully masked and socially distanced themselves several feet apart, on four different street corners.

They were careful not to break rules.

I took my photos off the media feeds after someone alerted me that the kids were already being savaged.

They were already receiving threats.

They were being reported to the police.

In New Ulm.

Being old and not unafraid, I removed my photos. I decided not to jeopardize the young people.

But let me tell you not who these children are, but what they are, and by extension, what they are not.

I know three of them relatively well. Not perhaps as well as their parents, friends, or long-term teachers, but well enough to place my confidence in them.

All three were at the very top of their classes; if the high school still selected valedictorians, these would be them.

Two of them are very quiet, introverted, uncommonly thoughtful kids. They do not leap before they think, they gather and assess information carefully and critically before making up their mind and making a statement. They normally shun the limelight.

The third is not like that. A bright star, he is what they call a born leader, an extroverted charmer whose sharp, restless mind buzzes with possibilities and ideas.

I’d guess him to be the mastermind of the protest.

Thoughtless these children aren’t. Thugs they aren’t. They, and others like them, are our city’s best and brightest. “A different world cannot be built by indifferent people.”

And if you wonder about identity politics, let me add something that should be inconsequential in an ideal world, but of course isn’t in ours. They are as white, as middle-class, and as unlikely to be treated with the suspicion that black Americans keep telling us about (whether you believe them or not), as they come. Even for relatively insular New Ulm.

I applaud these young people for practicing their right to free expression with dignity and respect.

A group of older people had planned a similar event. They scrapped it because they did not want to inflame already frayed tempers.

The old see complexities and detail; the young paint in broad strokes.

The old will be old.

The young will be young.

It is as it should be.

I spent the first part of my sadly old life in a totalitarian country and the second part here. That probably made me overly sensitive to specific freedoms you might take for granted.

Had I stood with a sign on the distant Broadway of my early college years, I would have simply disappeared.

These kids, doing what they were doing, dignified and unafraid, is what stands between us and darkness.

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