Coffee and Conversations

Community members sit in groups to discuss race and equity during the Community Coffee and Conversations event on Thursday, Dec. 16, at Club Prior.

Over a hundred community members came together on a cold Dec. 16, Thursday evening at Club Prior in Prior Lake to attend a Community Coffee and Conversations event hosted by Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools, along with the cities of Savage, Prior Lake and Credit River. The event was to discuss racial equity and racial healing after a racist video made by (now former) students was shared on social media last month.

The discussion was led by local educator, equity consultant and author, Seema Pothini.

Pothini said local elected officials and PLSAS superintendent Teri Staloch each provided a brief welcome at the beginning of the event.

“Throughout the evening, we invited participants to take the microphone and share what was discussed at their table or other sentiments they felt regarding the questions,” said Pothini.

The focus of the evening was to build community by having people get to know each other at their table and answer questions, such as what barriers get in the way of people responding to inequities, and what can be done individually and collectively to remove these barriers.

Pothini said there was a lot of interaction and insight amongst the attendees and said they learned from each other’s experiences and stories.

“While I provided general questions to the attendees, each small group had their own conversation, and these organically led to other topics based on who was in the group,” she said. “We centered students’ voices and provided opportunities for people to ask questions to the larger group as well. I also provided some insight on simple strategies to immediately and effectively recognize and respond to bias and hate language.”

Pothini also said the event was a success because it allowed people to share their thoughts in an open, non-judgmental and welcoming environment.

“I believe it allows for people to learn from each other and to get comfortable standing up to injustice. Too often, in moments of discomfort or blatant racism, homophobia, sexism, ableism, ageism, or other inequities, bystanders feel helpless or fear they will say or do something to make the issue worse,” said Pothini. “What they don’t realize is that their silence can be perceived as acceptance. Joining together as a diverse community and openly discussing these topics helps to empower people to be better allies and advocates.”

Cities respond Prior Lake City Manager Jason Wedel said the event was a great opportunity for the three cities to come together and set a good example for their respective communities.

“To see more than 150 community members come together on a cold Thursday evening in December, demonstrates a collective commitment to continuing the open dialogue about race and equity, here in Prior Lake and within all of our neighboring cities,” Wedel said.

Emily Gunderson, communications manager for Savage, said the event was a great start for all the communities involved to work together when it comes to race equity.

“It is not just a school problem or a city problem, but a community issue that needs us to work together to be successful and truly make changes,” said Gunderson. “ISD 719 has worked with Seema on some other things and we plan to hold these events monthly and move toward including educational components as well.”

Gunderson also said the communities plan to hold similar events monthly.