by Dennis Dalman
Natalie Ringsmuth of Waite Park strongly believes the way to prevent prejudice, unfounded fears and hatred is to change one’s heart by getting to know people perceived as “different” or “dangerous.”
That is why she, with the help of others, founded a website called UniteCloud several years ago – to help bring understanding among the diverse cultures, ethnic groups and religions in central Minnesota – and beyond.
Many months ago, Ringsmuth and other UniteCloud enthusiasts were pondering how to do a project in honor of World Refugee Day, June 20. They decided that showing a series of photos and texts of immigrants would be a good idea, especially if they’d be displayed in various businesses in the area – Sartell, St. Joseph, St. Cloud, Sauk Rapids. After much research, they heard about the heralded photographs, journalism and justice work done by James A. Bowey of St. Paul. They called him, and he was more than willing to do the project at which point UniteCloud received a grant from the Central Minnesota Arts Board. On June 20, World Refugee Day, the photographs were installed at the businesses. The project is called “When Home Won’t Let You Stay.” (See related story.)
When Ringsmuth looks back on the arc of her life, she now sees clearly how she came to work for justice and diversity. Born in Port Arthur, Texas, her family moved to Sauk Rapids where she entered the fourth grade. As a young girl, she experienced a form of culture shock moving to Minnesota. She graduated from Sauk Rapids High School, then earned a degree in music education from Concordia College, Moorhead. She then moved to Atlanta, Ga., where she again experienced a bit of culture shock and where she taught choir and general music. She married and for the next decade continued to teach music in Atlanta and later in central Minnesota. She also did anti-racist training for school students, staff and community members. Her husband, Jeremy, a marketing consultant, is related to the Ringsmuths of Waite Park, who have long been active in civic leadership. Natalie and Jeremy have three children: Quin, 13; Aaron, 12; and Lauren, 8.
In the Ringmuth tradition, the family decided it was their time to give back to the community. A good way to do that, they decided, was to help lessen the tensions building up between the larger white population and the increasing numbers of Somali immigrants to the greater St. Cloud area. Thus, the UniteCloud website was founded.
For a time, she and Jeremy, who are members of Westwood Church in St. Cloud, did jail ministry. She said that experience of getting to know the incarcerated people and their life stories reminded her time and again of how “There but for fortune go you and I.”
That spirit, one combining empathy with compassion, has infused all of her justice work – her job as a legal assistant at the Tripicano Immigration Law firm and on the UniteCloud website.
Ringsmuth said she was not surprised the photo exhibit caused some polarizing attitudes – people being very moved by the photos and texts or people upset and disturbed by photos of “Muslims.”
Many in the photos, she noted, are not Muslims.
“There are about 20 to 25 percent of people who absolutely do not want to change their attitudes,” she said. “We are trying to affect the middle range of people who are open to the context and history of people.”
That middle range of people are those who want to learn and who want to open their minds and hearts to their fellow human beings, to their neighbors.
“The responses to the photos/texts brought about some really good conversations,” Ringsmuth noted.
She wishes all people would heed the gospel message of Jesus, and she said getting to know others and to understand them is the first step in realizing and acting upon the gospel message of kindness, love, acceptance.
“God has no enemies,” she said. “He has children, and we are all children of God.”