We should all be thankful for the strong civic and moral leadership so apparent in the greater St. Cloud area – leaders who speak up with force and clarity against the dark undercurrents of prejudice and bigotry.
We mean leaders like St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis and Catholic Bishop Donald Kettler, to name just two. Recently, Kettler and Kleis didn’t hesitate to speak up on behalf of the Somali people living in our cities. Both extended sympathy to Somalis shaken by the horrible terrorist bombing in Mogadishu when they attended a Somali rally in solidarity with bombing victims in Somalia.
Besides offering solidarity, Mayor Kleis and others were also quick to take serious issue with a suggestion by St. Cloud City Council member Jeff Johnson to place a temporary moratorium on the resettlement of new refugees to St. Cloud. Johnson’s request brought a quick push-back reaction when the St. Cloud City Council voted 5-1 at a subsequent meeting to pass a resolution to support a “just and welcoming community.”
Many churches, businesses, educators and people of all kinds have also spoken loudly and clearly in support of our good newcomers/neighbors – Muslims and non-Muslims.
Anyone born and raised in St. Cloud, as I was, is well aware of how St. Cloud was – and is – sometimes pejoratively referred to as “White Cloud.” It’s an unfair put-down because the thoughtless or cruel words and actions of some should not be used to besmirch the welcoming kindness of most.
When I was a knee-high tot, my mother and I were at the post office in downtown St. Cloud. I suddenly saw a black man walking across the street. It’s the first time I ever saw a black man in person. I was scared and started crying. Mom, to her credit, shook my arm and scolded, “Don’t be silly. He’s like everyone else. He just happens to be black; we just happen to be white.”
Mom was a teacher. A good teacher.
In the schools of my day and age, virtually all students and teachers were Caucasians. At St. Cloud Tech High School, circa 1965, there was a Nigerian male exchange student and a Brazilian female exchange student, the first “colored” people most of us had ever known up to that point. It’s not surprising the nearly total predominance of white people in St. Cloud gave rise to the “White Cloud” moniker.
Yes, there were examples of racism and bigotry, here as everywhere. I recall vividly in the 1970s how my brother’s brother-in-law, James, partly of Mexican heritage, born in Grand Rapids, Minn., was the object of verbal slights sometimes. One afternoon, while James and I were walking along Fifth Avenue S., some jeering hooligans rolled down their car windows and yelled, “Hey, you, where’s your green card?! Go back to where you came from!”
In the 1960s, some otherwise wonderful neighbors complained about the Civil Rights struggles in the South, claiming “if you give ‘em an inch, they’ll take a mile,” and one neighbor man (it’s painful to recall this) guffawed loudly when black actress Diahann Carroll landed the starring role in her own series, Julia, about a nurse. “See?” the man rumbled. “Didn’t I tell you? Now they’re taking over TV!” What’s really sad is that man, whom I knew as well as my own father, was very kind-hearted and would have given a black man the shirt off his back – that is, if he would have ever met a black man, in our white town, who needed a shirt.
Sometimes, in public places and check-out lines, I overhear cruel snide remarks and viciously stupid “jokes” whispered about Somalis. Makes me cringe. Oh yes, prejudices remain. Vestiges of ignorance. We have some work to do.
However, I still strongly believe the overwhelming number of people in this area are kind, hospitable, welcoming – leaders like Mayor Kleis; like Bishop Kettler; like Natalie Ringsmuth of Waite Park, who initiated, with Somali help, the excellent UniteCloud organization/website. There are so many others in all walks of life who speak up in solidarity for diversity and inclusion.
We should encourage all mayors and councils of the greater St. Cloud area to pass resolutions in support of a “just and welcoming community.” Speaking up, acting in solidarity, reaching out to newcomers, lending helping hands – those are always the best ways to counter prejudices.
Author: Dennis Dalman
Dalman was born and raised in South St. Cloud, graduated from St. Cloud Tech High School, then graduated from St. Cloud State University with a degree in English (emphasis on American and British literature) and mass communications (emphasis on print journalism). He studied in London, England for a year (1980-81) where he concentrated on British literature, political science, the history of Great Britain and wrote a book-length study of the British writer V.S. Naipaul. Dalman has been a reporter and weekly columnist for more than 30 years and worked for 16 of those years for the Alexandria Echo Press.