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Local View: Duluth needs to support all ‘our kids’

I and other members of the Acting for Justice Hub at Peace Church felt called to voice our concern and outrage about the incident that took place Feb. 3 in a Duluth high school. An image of a young black student digitally altered to have a noose around his neck, and with the caption “Gotta hang em all,” was shared widely on social media.

It is clear we as a community need to stand up and say that such hateful and hurtful messages have no place here.

As members at Peace Church, we see the ways that such images create an environment in which students of color feel unwelcome and intensify the stress of growing up. One mother at our church recently shared her frustration at needing to teach her elementary-aged son all of the ways he needs to be careful so that white people won’t misjudge him — so that he won’t fit into a stereotype or, worse yet, become a statistic. When she recently asked him what he knows about police, he responded, “Some police shoot black people.”  

The reality that this is part of our kids’ experience is sobering, and we have to address it in many ways. We have church members who were involved in founding and developing the Duluth Citizen Review Board and so are involved in working with the Duluth Police Department to build relationships between police officers and the community, relationships built on trust and not fear. We have members who are teachers in the school district who are working to create safe spaces that are free of bullying.

Yet this incident spurred us to commit to do even more. As Sharon Witherspoon said when talking about what happened to her grandson, “A lesson has got to be learned.”

For us as adults, part of the lesson is looking at who we see as “our kids.”  Robert Putnam, a Harvard sociologist, recently published a book analyzing the growing inequality gap. In an interview on National Public Radio, he shared that part of the issue is a cultural shift in our nation in which we limit who we see as “our kids.” Too often now, “our kids” are the ones who share our social class, racial background, or place of birth.  

Yet the way for Duluth to be the best city it can be is to expand our idea of who “our kids” are. “Our kids” include the young man whose image was altered. And “our kids” include the students who altered the image. They are the children growing up wondering if the police can be trusted. And they are the children of police officers who wonder how safe their parents are in the line of duty.

All of these are “our kids,” and we need to mentor them to respect themselves and each other. Perhaps we can best do this by modeling an appreciation of diversity and inclusion among adults. That includes taking risks and sometimes making mistakes and needing forgiveness. In other words, being human together.

As a community that has so many divisions, we need to come together to support “our kids.” Whatever their school or background or experience, they need to know that their community is there for them — so they all can grow and succeed and feel proud to call Duluth home.  

Doug Bowen-Bailey is a member of Peace Church in Duluth. He wrote this with fellow members of the church’s Acting for Justice Hub.