Why are we not able to talk about race? That was the question that was on Gethsemane Lutheran Church's mind in 2015 when they decided to host a forum dedicated to the subject. So many people attended that the room lacked proper seating. The church quickly realized two things: the Hopkins community wanted to have this conversation and the church lacked the tools to do it alone.
That's how the Hopkins Race and Equity Initiative (HREI) was formed, a collaborative effort between Hopkins Public Schools, the City of Hopkins, the Hopkins Police Department, and Gethsemane Lutheran Church. Since its inception, there have been five community conversations about race all sponsored by the HREI. These community conversations on race and equity topics address and unravel social constructs specifically designed to promote and exclude particular racial groups.
The Humphrey School of Public Affairs at the University of Minnesota honored the HREI with the Local Government Innovation Award. The group was one of 19 government projects to receive this honor. The project also earned the title of Leading Innovator in the category of schools, an additional honor that gives the HREI a $5,000 grant to expand its work. A panel of judges considered submissions for creativity, sustainability, and collaboration.
"It is an affirmation that this unique collaboration that was started in a church basement is actually making a difference in our community," said Sarah Moat, associate pastor at Gethsemane Lutheran Church. "It is also motivating to continue our efforts because it is clear that there is need to gather and learn as a community."
The mission of the HREI is to create opportunities that increase awareness and understanding of race and diversity, while promoting a sense of community that welcomes and values all residents. In May of 2016, the group hosted its first event called "Let's Talk about Race in Hopkins." That fall it hosted a forum called "Is White Privilege Real." The group has continued to sponsor a fall and spring event around race each year with topics ranging from immigration to book studies to the importance of civility. The strength of HREI is in the partnership between school, city, police and the faith community. At a time when the demographics of Hopkins are shifting to a more diverse community, each entity has an interest in creating a true and authentic path of inclusion.
"This partnership is unlike any other that I have worked with," said Julia Ross, of the Hopkins Police Department. "In terms of collaboration, I've not worked on an ongoing project of this size and magnitude."
Hopkins Public Schools, which is well-versed in equity work, was able to contribute in unique ways to this effort. Its students and staff have played key roles in the hosted events, serving as table leaders, speakers and participants.
"The intent was that, through community conversations, we would inspire others to do things in their organization or provide an individual with the courage to address race and equity issues in the community," said Katie Williams, director of community education for Hopkins Public Schools.
According to Williams, the $5,000 will be used in the form of mini-grants to support youth projects related to social justice and/or equity work. The HREI will be formally recognized at an awards ceremony and reception on Dec. 13 at 5 p.m. at the Humphrey School.
About the Hopkins Race and Equity Initiative: the Hopkins Race and Equity Initiative is a collaborative effort creating opportunities to increase awareness and understanding of race, equity and diversity while promoting a sense of community that welcomes all residents. Most recently, it hosted a community conversation on civility in the fall of 2018 and is scheduled to have a follow-up conversation called civility 2.0 in the spring. The following people make up the HREI: Stanley Brown (HPS), Katie Williams (HPS), Jody De St Hubert (HPS), Julia Ross (HPD through multicultural grant), Ann Buck (HPD), Brent Johnson (HPD), Erik Husevold (HPD), Greg Pilon (HPD), Sarah Moat (GLC), John Nelson (GLC), Donna Anderson (GLC), Ari Lenz (City of Hopkins), Kersten Elverum (city of Hopkins) and Bill Wells (Consultant).
About the Local Government Innovation Award: The award program is organized in partnership with the Bush Foundation and its Native Nation Building Initiative and co-sponsored by the League of Minnesota Cities, the Association of Minnesota Counties, the Minnesota Association of Townships and the Minnesota School Boards Association.