by Mike Knaak
Community leaders are speaking out and planning action after white nationalist posters appeared on main streets in St. Joseph last week.
About two dozen members of Cultural Bridges, a group formed more than a year ago to help immigrants, plans to ask the St. Joseph City Council to support a resolution affirming St. Joseph as a welcoming community.
“We can’t be silent, but we don’t want to wage war either,” said Dianne DeVargas, a Cultural Bridges member after a Monday night meeting. DeVargas is a St. Joseph resident.
Group members plan to draft a resolution and submit it to the city council for it’s next meeting at 6 p.m. Monday, Feb. 5.
The two-dozen Cultural Bridges members also talked about creating their own posters that would display “welcoming, inclusive” messages. Group members suggested conducting a community dialog meeting to connect people of different cultures.
Other community reaction to the white nationalist posters came from the leaders of the College of St. Benedict, St. John’s University and the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict.
“As academic communities committed to the liberal arts, we embrace the free exchange of ideas and free speech,” said a letter from the two college presidents. “But as Catholic and Benedictine communities, our callings go deeper. The Rule of Benedict instructs us that ‘all guests who present themselves are to be welcomed as Christ.’ As learning institutions, we have an opportunity and obligation to expose and denounce expressions of hate.”
The statement from the Sisters of the Order of St. Benedict said, in part, “We do not meet hate with hate. Instead, again following the teaching of Christ, who tells us to ‘love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,’ we pray not only for those who are the target of racist and white supremacist propaganda, but also for those who propagate these un-Christian and shameful expressions of hate.”
Monday night’s Cultural Bridges meeting included students from St. John’s and St. Ben’s as well as several Somali women.
“I want my community to get to know people in St. Joseph and get to know each other’s cultures and share our foods,” Anisa Mohamed said. “We need to get to know each other more deeply.”
DeVargas said Cultural Bridges was formed to help the approximately 50 Somali families living in St. Joseph by tutoring children and helping the families become part of community life.
“We need them to hear we are a welcoming community,” DeVargas said.