I am blessed with an active and healthy three-year- old daughter. Despite my efforts to broaden her interests, she’s very much enchanted with kittens, princesses, and unicorns, transitioning effortlessly from picking raspberries as a flying pony to planning tea parties in her couch-cushion castle.
Unfortunately, of late her fantasy world is increasingly interrupted with questions. Why are the adults in her life—parents, relatives, and family friends—erupting in emotion after checking their phones? Why is everyone so sad? So mad? Do grown-ups actually get scared?
Right now, my daughter is too young to hear about the tension in our country and the terror staining our globe. For her safety, however, we will need to talk soon.
My daughter has darker skin than I do, as her mother is African-American while I have white Scandinavian roots. As her parents, we’ll need to help guide her introduction to the realities we’re experiencing. How, I’ve been wondering, will we not completely extinguish her natural sunniness, imagination and confidence?
I’ve settled on hope—including the experiences that sustain my hope right here in Central Minnesota. I’ll tell her about the community building, both past and present, that I’m fortunate to witness.
Ten years ago I worked for The Salvation Army and directed a youth and community center in South Central Los Angeles where economic strife, failed institutions, and supercharged violence have endured for decades. In our center, however, I recognized that no matter what forces may divide us, the desire to improve our children’s live will unite.
We mobilized neighbors to lengthen our hours of operation and engaged tutors from USC, mentors from area churches, and basic-needs organizations to support our programming. We partnered with law enforcement for peer court, event support, and conflict resolution within families. With these forces working in concert, I watched children from housing projects riddled with bullet holes become a wave of first-generation college students. Our center became the only public structure without gang tags in many square miles. In one single building, an island in a neighborhood of perpetual violence, community was built on the united efforts of caring and committed individuals.
My family now lives in Central Minnesota, and I’m excited to show my daughter this community’s caring spirit. While not in South Central-level crisis, we have significant need in our region, and I witness a network of agencies, organizations, and dedicated individuals combining resources to improve people’s lives.
I’m privileged to watch the superintendents of our three largest school districts serve together on the board of Partner For Student Success, a collective impact initiative that unites schools, early learning centers, after school programs, mentoring agencies, higher education, businesses, and foundations. Everyone involved knows that our region’s future workforce is in our schools right now, and they need the very best educations possible.
I’m fortunate to participate in Better Together: Central Minnesota Communities Coalition. Better Together is a growing effort to provide opportunities for the people of our region—neighbors new and old—to work together for common causes like Feeding Our Communities, a food packaging event last week that attracted 700 volunteers who packaged 227,500 meals for over 25 food shelves and distribution centers in our region. Better Together includes Kids Fighting Hunger, Central Minnesota Community Foundation, #unitecloud, faith-based organizations, businesses and more. Everyone involved believes and understands that unity, not division, will build a prosperous and caring community that we can proud of.
I work at United Way. Our theme this year is The Power of We. Just as I saw in the most challenging circumstances in Los Angeles, and just as I see in the combined efforts of caring Minnesotans, I know that together, as a community, we can create positive change. I’m thankful I can tell my daughter so. I’m thankful she can believe in a bright future. With recent events in the adult world rushing at her, I’m thankful I can give her hope.