Roundtable discussions re-invigorate Pelican’s strong history of community-building and cross-cultural understanding

By Anne Marie Spidahl
Guest contributor

“Engrave this upon your heart: there isn’t anyone you couldn’t love once you heard the story.”

With this quote from Benedictine nun Mary Lou Kownacki, facilitator Barbara Horner began the most recent meeting of “Inclusive Pelican Rapids.”

The seventeen community members—and two kids—who attended took this message as the meeting’s central theme, brainstorming strategies for strengthening the Pelican Rapids community across differences social, economic, racial, ethnic, and national.

Inclusive Pelican Rapids, launched by recent transplant Polly Korbel, began as a discussion group in the wake of the clashes between white supremacists and anti-racist activists in Charlottesville, Virginia. Since its first meeting, the group has quickly gained momentum. Along with discussions on racism, xenophobia, systemic racism, white privilege, and related topics, members plan to support— and, when relevant, re-invigorate— Pelican’s strong history of projects emphasizing community-building and cross-cultural understanding: The Welcome Place, The Multicultural Committee, the Friendship Festival, the Multicultural Prom, post-election Diversity meetings, and more.

As Gerry Langseth pointed out when describing The Welcome Place’s “ongoing, holistic project,” a strong Pelican Rapids community that truly represents all our residents will reinforce the city’s business expansion and retention programs. It will also help support the city’s unique culture and important regional role as a representative model for multiculturalism in our increasingly global society.

Two things in particular impressed me about this most recent meeting of Inclusive Pelican Rapids.

First was the admirable atmosphere of mutual respect that participants maintained throughout the meeting; all voices present were honored. Second was this mostly-white group’s deep desire to effectively combat racism in the Pelican Rapids area and beyond. This includes a commitment to acknowledging the importance of collaboration between the city’s Native American, Latino, Somali, East Asian, Bosnian Herzegovinian, Scandinavian, Germanic, Anglophone, and other distinct populations.

As some participants pointed out it is a challenge, and a must, for nativeborn Americans, especially white Americans, to go the extra mile in welcoming people of immigrant or under-served and underrepresented communities in official and unofficial situations, especially when there are language and cultural barriers.

Ongoing ‘segregation,’ whether in the lunchroom, at local churches, or elsewhere, is often the result of someone not knowing whether or not they are welcome to cross those pernicious social borders, especially given today’s divisive national rhetoric.

When discussing this topic, participants also noted the unique challenges facing immigrant families today, given President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals—or DACA—program. While the vast majority of the immigrant communities in Pelican Rapids arrived legally, sometimes as part of the United States Refugee Admissions Program, we recognize that some local families may be impacted by this legislation. Speaking in support of our friends and neighbors, “Inclusive Pelican Rapids” stands with dreamers and opposes the decision to end the DACA program.

The next meeting will take place Thursday, September 14, 5:30-7:00 p.m. at the Pelican Rapids Public Library. Participants will discuss the 22-minute documentary Charlottesville: Race and Terror as well as several short articles including “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” The film and article are both available online.

The public is welcome.