Community Conversation on Race

Around 80 community members gathered at Harriet Bishop Elementary in Savage on Feb. 12 for the Community Conversation on Race event hosted by the Savage Police Department.

Locals shared personal experiences of racism and messages of hope this week during Savage's second community conversation on race.

Residents gathered at Harriet Bishop Elementary School on Wednesday for the conversation, which lasted over two hours and served as a follow-up to the first forum last year. 

Among the speakers were several local students, who said school leaders haven't effectively responded to the racism students experience daily in school. 

Burnsville High School senior Ryan Mokandu said students of color hear slurs in the classroom, are discouraged from taking advanced courses and get stopped in the hallway by administrators more often than white students. These are only a few examples of racism in school, he said.

"When something happens and we voice our opinions, we are told that it will be handled, but we do not see the effects," Mokandu said, stating the Burnsville-Eagan-Savage District has failed students of color. 

Around 80 people attended the conversation, including local elected officials from the city of Savage and the Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools Board. No Burnsville-Eagan-Savage School District board members or district administrators attended. 

Savage and its Police Department organized the event. Savage Police Chief Rodney Seurer said a third conversation focused on developing action plans will come next at some point. 

In small groups, older and younger residents exchanged their personal experiences and thoughts through facilitator-guided conversations. 

Savage resident Kent Karnatz said he notices similarities between racism directed at Somali-Americans and the racist sentiments directed at Vietnamese people during and after the Vietnam War.

Karnatz interacts with people of all backgrounds at his job at Mystic Lake Casino and said he wondered how to promote diversity and inclusion elsewhere in the city, such as at churches. 

Savage resident Ray Hawes said one of the systemic contributors to racism in the community is a lack of diversity in civic organizations. 

Hawes, who is black, said his experiences as a substitute teacher show the importance of having diverse leaders to lift up the next generation.

"It's amazing when I enter these schools," he said about his connection with students. "I'm like a rock star."

Rep. Hunter Cantrell, DFL-Savage, said the student achievement gap and limited access to health care are some ways racism is reflected in the community and across the state.

"It's essential that those of us the system was built for work to deconstruct that system," he said. 

Several city leaders and others said they hope Savage can set an example for other communities in dismantling racism, creating safe environments to speak openly about the issue is part of the process. 

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