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 #078. First published in the St. Cloud Times online Jan. 27, 2014; in print Jan. 28

“Big enough to make a difference ... small enough to make it work.”

St. Cloud has been searching for a slogan. When I heard this phrase Jan. 20 at the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. breakfast event Reimagining the Future at St. Cloud State University, I instantly thought: “That’s it!”

The words were spoken by Rev. James Alberts II, pastor of Higher Ground Church of God in Christ. At the last minute, he subbed for CNN commentator Donna Brazile when the video connection from an event in Minneapolis failed. The pinch hitter hit a home run.

Alberts, who has lived here 19 years, and several other speakers marveled at the progress this area has made in recent years in dispelling the “White Cloud” image.

“Monumental change,” he called it. Rep. Zachary Dorholt said when other state legislators visit here they experience “shock and awe” (in a good sense), because reality is so different from the stereotype.

We’re headed in the right direction, but we have a way to go, and Alberts specified four themes that were developed and amplified throughout the morning: fair housing, education, jobs and transportation.

A panel — Dorholt; St. Cloud State professor Jarrod Hall; Metro Bus Executive Director Ryan Daniel; St. Cloud Police Chief Blair Anderson; United Way Chief Executive Officer Jon Ruis; and Casa Guadalupe Executive Director Mayuli Bales — wove the strands of Alberts’ analysis into a compelling tapestry.

Good work

The message delivered by everyone was cooperation.

We need each other, Ruis insisted, and the matter of who gets the credit is secondary. “We’re here to serve you — all demographics,” said Anderson.

Bales noted everyone can learn inclusiveness from the Latino community, where more chairs are often needed because so many people show up, and more time is allotted so everyone can have a say.

There is much good work going on, and it could be more effective if there were better communication and collaboration. Ruis gave special recognition to Partner for Student Success and its coordination of the efforts of the many youth-serving organizations in the area.

Hall, like Alberts, has witnessed two decades of extraordinary change in St. Cloud. He looked out across the several hundred people gathered in the Atwood Ballroom and said, “We can show that multiculturalism works.” He meant not just that it was working that morning in that place. He meant the St. Cloud area is where it’s working.

And the state of Minnesota is on the lookout for such examples.

Working together

As a supporter of Partner for Student Success, I attended a meeting Jan. 9 in St. Paul that demonstrated to an audience of 1,000 how our state is learning we all need each other.

The Children & Youth Issues Briefing is an annual gathering of youth-serving agencies — public, nonprofit and private — prior to the legislative session, at which speakers raise points for discussion at the Legislature and throughout the state.

Their presentations and proposals touched on everything from the encouraging (all-day kindergarten is now statewide) to shameful (the number of kids living in poverty in Minnesota has increased in the last year).

Speakers included the state director of the office of early learning and the commissioners of the state departments of education, health and human services. They represented the Minnesota “Children’s Cabinet,” which has as its mission that all Minnesota children are healthy, safe, supported and prepared to achieve their full potential.

Other presentations were made by community representatives who share in the cabinet’s mission, from Generation Next partnership, MinneMinds coalition, Ignite Afterschool, Minnesota Youth Council and the Minnesota Council of Nonprofits.

Every speaker underscored the same operating procedure: Cooperate, share information, adopt best practices wherever and by whomever discovered or invented.

Experience proves, they said, that the late Sen. Paul Wellstone was right: “We all do better when we all do better.”

“Big enough to make a difference ... small enough to make it work.” This is St. Cloud and the gift we offer Minnesota.