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Rosemount Race Matters holds final event

Sarah Oquist, a keynote speaker at the Race Matters Community Conversations held April 25 in Rosemount. Kara Hildreth / Contributor1 / 2
Jerad Morey served as a speaker at the Race Matters Community Conversations held April 25 in Rosemount. Kara Hildreth / Contributor2 / 2

ROSEMOUNT — Attorney Sarah Oquist needed to deploy restraint when she was asked to open her purse at a movie theater after being accused of stealing candy.

As an African American mother, she decided to restrain herself from saying harsh words and passing on the bitterness to her children.

"I wanted to scream at him and say I am a lawyer and my husband is a doctor, but I want to treat people as if they are coming from a place that needs assistance and some kind of care," she said.

Oquist served as a speaker at the third Race Matters Community Conversations on April 25 held at the Rosemount Community Center. The three-part community event was hosted by The Well, a United Methodist Church in Rosemount.

The third Race Matters conversation focused on listening and talking about how to successfully navigate privilege and bias in race relations.

"I explain to my kids how I struggle and how this is difficult, and how I want in the end for them to come home safe," Oquist said.

Sometimes she lets bias go if she experiences racial profiling like at the movie theater.

"I let these experiences with my children allow us to come closer together," Oquist added.

Actions affect others

As a child, Northfield United Methodist Church Rev. Jerad Morey played with children from a black family but he cannot remember their names. As an adult he chose to be involved in fighting for civil rights and he worked to promote equality.

Morey, who spoke at the community conversation, said he becomes nervous when he is the only white person in a room with people of color, and he feels his heart rate increase and his muscles become rigid on a subconscious level.

Morey shared a story in college where he did not help a black man with his oil at a gas station. When asked to help, Morey said "No."

The man's face filled with puzzlement and consternation, Morey said.

"I regret the wound I gave him that day when I could have easily gone over and said 'I can help you,'" Morey said.

Today Morey said he forces himself to consciously examine his own attitude so he does not hurt anyone.

"Regardless of how I voted or gave money to, or what marches I had fun marching in — it helped me realize how my voice and my actions affect those around me," Morey said.

Later on as a missionary traveling to South Africa, Morey said he learned about the manifestation of institutional racism witnessing the after affects of apartheid.

"I saw the real damage it can do," Morey said.

Describing racism as a spectrum, Morey said it is important to listen more than you speak to hear what others may be communicating.

Conversation outcomes

Some takeaways from the third Race Matters conversation included becoming friends with someone who has a different background and getting to know that person's heart.

Okokon Udo, executive director at The Well Methodist Church in Rosemount, served as the Race Matters facilitator.

"Sometimes you see in the news or read in the newspaper and you are removed from reality. But when you are in the room with people whom you have now met as speakers or as members of your community, and you hear how it happened to me, too, and you think this is real," Udo said. "It brings home the point that this is something that is real and it is something that we may have to deal with."

Rosemount City Council member Jeff Weisensel said the council can consider hiring a man or woman of color when they are looking at adding new officers to the police force.

"We do have a little say in who we hire and bring into the city for our police," Weisensel said.

During the three-part conversations, one school principal shared how he inherited an all-white staff and he needs to expand it and recruit educators of color. He also spoke of how segregated the schools are due to drawn boundary lines.

"The thing that really touched parents' hearts is when he said there are times when some kids are not invited to the birthday party and often it is around racial and ethnic lines," Udo said.

These and many comments may have made some do some soul searching, Udo added.

"That is why we are doing this, because if we had all the answers, we would not need the community conversations," Udo said.

Future community conversations may be offered in the fall on such topics as affordable housing, homelessness or immigration reform.

Udo has been a part of the church family in Rosemount for a year now and holds a background as an international consultant, executive coach who has worked with leadership and change, as well as management and organizational development.

To become involved, visit www.communityconverstionsMN or connect on Facebook or Twitter at #communityconversationsMN.

"We have to be creating the space and fostering the conversations because you do not know what or who is out there and what their needs are and what level of support in their own journey," Udo said.