Instances of Discovery

Since August 2007 I have been a monthly columnist for the St. Cloud Times. My theme, taken from the mission statement of the Collegeville Institute for Ecumenical and Cultural Research, is “the renewal of human community.” The columns are republished here with permission of the St. Cloud Times.

Column #147. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Oct. 4, 2019; in print Oct. 6

Who are we, Central Minnesotans? How would we know?

Here’s how these questions posed themselves to me and gave their answers in September – a busy month.

We are our chapter of a long story

On Sept. 16, thousands gathered to celebrate the grand opening of Tech High School, 102 years after a similar event on the shore of Lake George. Everything about the occasion demonstrated continuity.

The torch was carried in by Phil Rogosheske, Class of 1962, a 1972 Olympian. Minnesota Department of Education Commissioner Mary Cathryn Ricker spoke warmly of her first teaching job at North Junior High in the 1990s. Salutes were given to all involved in planning the new high school – and everyone who had voted for the levy was asked to stand.

Katie Poetz, co-president of the student council, stole the show with her spirited affirmation of one of the school’s core values, “Tiger Pride.” She expressed gratitude for teachers and staff and “for our community – you guys.” The pride, she said, is "palpable.”

Tech’s story – our story – is entering its second century. The story of Anna Marie’s Alliance – our story – is beginning its fifth decade.

The 40th anniversary celebration on Sept. 19 gave occasion to recount Anna Marie’s beginning, when there was resistance to the very idea that there was battering of women in the St. Cloud area. Such violence is part of our story, as of every American story, but thanks to the efforts of many, preeminently the founder, Maxine Barnett, we are a model of both response and prevention.

We are loaded with talent

The Great River Educational and Arts Theatre (GREAT) brought the Paramount to explosive life with a production of “Chicago” that would have done credit to Broadway. And every person on the stage (there were 17) was a Central Minnesota volunteer.

Now, GREAT does make use of some professionals, but of a sort that work collaboratively, not the caricature of self-important egotists.

At a preview on Sept. 6, the director, choreographer and set designer spoke. The way they interacted was electrifying.

They all value cooperation. Their presentation was itself an example – they were an improvisation ensemble, riffing off each other, creating something fresh and compelling in real time. In other words, GREAT hires people whose way of being and doing is the exact opposite of the dysfunction that so bedevils our public life these days.

We are here for each other

The annual meeting of United Way of Central Minnesota on Sept. 5 highlighted its joining forces with Partner for Student Success, which brings seven years of experience in collective impact, to carry forward the education initiative.

Partner for Student Success' goals – every child is prepared to be a lifelong learner; every student succeeds in school; every student is ready for career training or post-secondary education (the latter being precisely what the new Tech High School is designed for) – are now United Way’s.

The Sept. 5 program featured the first goal, early childhood education. One of the speakers was Abdi Daisane, owner of Blooming Kids Child Care Center. And just as Katie Poetz stole the Tech grand opening show, so did Ruweyda, one of the “blooming kids,” who read in English from a book and got a standing ovation. This was the true demonstration of how we welcome Somali-Americans!

We are better than our reputation

In recent months, the St. Cloud area has not fared well in the popular imagination.

Our bad press is not exactly fake news. There are hate-mongers among us (including outside agitators) who make a lot of noise. But the bad press is far from all the news.

Two events in September told me about how to know who we really are.

The St. Cloud Community Pride and Peace Walk on Sept. 18 was evidence that the majority – that is, those who actually welcome our newcomers – are not silent. There were 250 of us – every age, gender, color – who sang from the library to Lake George the message that love is stronger than fear and hate.

It was at the Central Minnesota Community Foundation Philanthropy Awards Celebration on Sept. 10 that I heard the most compelling evidence of who we are – compelling because it came from visitors.

Dennis Whipple, GREAT Theatre executive director, told this story in accepting the Foundation’s Community Builder Award to GREAT.

In mid-July, the Iraqi and American Reconciliation Project’s “Birds Sing Differently Here” was presented at the Helgeson Learning Lab Theatre. 

“A week later they performed in the Twin Cities. At the after-show talk-back a person asked, ‘I read an article in the New York Times telling what a hateful place St. Cloud is.  What was it like performing in this place of hateful people?’ The Iraqi-Minnesotan performers responded, ‘Not true,’ with stories like ‘St. Cloud was the most warm and loving audience of our entire tour,’ and spoke of how St. Cloud ‘leaned in to listen,’ and how they ‘felt heard.’”

How can we know who we are? Look around. Listen. Pay attention.