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Duluth residents raise east-west concerns

Approximately 40 people met at Lincoln Park Middle School Wednesday to discuss Duluth’s east-west issues. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

A mother explained that she moved to Duluth to raise her children because of the city’s size, but she’s recently come to feel that there’s a “good side” and “bad side” to the city, and she’s troubled by the division.

Meanwhile, at the table next to her, another woman said she’s concerned that Duluth students may not be receiving equal educations. There’s a perception that the “trouble students” only live on the western side of Duluth, and the division began when the school district closed Central High School, she said.

Their opinions were among those expressed by the 40 people attending “Soup and Civility: Bridging Duluth’s West-East Divide,” led by the Duluth Superior Area Community Foundation, on Wednesday at Lincoln Park Middle School. After eating a meal together, participants gathered in small groups to give their opinions on the topic for two minutes and then roleplayed on listening respectfully and listening disrespectfully to differing opinions.

Duluth Mayor Emily Larson pointed out that there’s something to having a meal together and sharing opinions in person, away from social media.

Larson said she’s proud to live in a city that “doesn’t shy away from hard conversations.” She noted that Duluth residents are willing to be honest about their concerns and open to others’ opinions. She encouraged people to stay in conversations and relationships with people despite differences in opinion.

“What I find is that a good, authentic life for yourself or for your family or for your community should have conflict, because it means that you have people who care about the same issue and they care deeply, and that’s often something we seek to avoid because it can get uncomfortable. But when things start getting uncomfortable is when they start getting good,” Larson said. “When we open ourselves up to the possibility of feeling vulnerable or feeling uncertain is when we actually start opening ourselves up to the possibility of being changed and stronger, and closer to who we’re with.”

Dale Lewis grew up in the east end of Duluth and worked on the west side. She said she’s familiar with the city’s attitudes and she supports taking steps to minimize the “mom always loved you best” attitude between the two sides of Duluth.

“It’s not healthy. We’re one city. We have to work together to grow and prosper,” she said.

Lewis said the division has always been there, but the problem has grown since the closure of Central High School. She said she supports getting students from Duluth’s eastern and western schools together more often so they grow up knowing people living in other parts of the city, with the goal of minimizing the divide in the next generation.  

Esmeralda Lew, an eighth grader at Ordean East Middle School attending the meeting with her father, said that she had felt a little uncomfortable while at the Heritage Sports Center in Lincoln Park because she didn’t know any of the other kids, but she met a few people while she was there.

Esmeralda Lew

She suggested that half the students at Ordean should switch with half the students at Lincoln Park Middle School so that they’re able to meet each other. It would be “cool” to meet the students at Lincoln Park, she said.

“Going to Ordean, you feel really welcome when you go to Ordean. I feel like at Lincoln, on the west side, you’d feel welcomed, too. Just because it’s a different size doesn’t mean there’s a difference in how the people are,” she said.

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