Mayor Emily Larson didn't sugarcoat the difficulties residents continue to face Tuesday, in her sixth annual appearance at a "Let's Do Lunch" event hosted by the Duluth Area Chamber of Commerce. Unlike in the past, this year's lunch was not in person but was switched to a virtual online format, in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

Since last year's event, Larson said, "a lot has happened."

"We have had an impeachment proceeding, riots in Minneapolis, insurrection in Washington, D.C. We've had an incredibly painful election cycle. We have had a true awakening to the realities of race in America, a recession and skyrocketing unemployment or underemployment. Many of you closed all or part of your business for all or part of the year. You maybe had to lay people off. Some of us lost time with loved ones because of this pandemic and then some of us lost loved ones," she said.

In combination, Larson said the events of the past year have inflicted "collective trauma."

But she noted Duluth has plenty of experience overcoming difficulties, from weather to economic downturns.

Newsletter signup for email alerts

"You build a path that hopefully makes you stronger, smarter and more resilient and ready for what's ahead," Larson said.

Larson said she hopes people also have found moments of joy amidst the sorrow, however, whether that's additional time reconnecting with family, taking up a new hobby or rediscovering a passion.

She cited task forces formed to address the need for affordable housing and the ongoing financial hardships of the Spirit Mountain Recreational Area. "We've paved over 15 miles of road. We issued 6,100 construction permits. We conducted a free and fair election with overwhelming participation."

Larson said she's encouraged to see people grappling with the nation's racist past, as well.

"But we are hope and change and progress, because we are a city that, as of last night, has our first Native American president in Renee Van Nett, and our first African heritage councilor in Janet Kennedy," she said.

Larson said she had an ask to make of everyone Tuesday.

"And it's to allow this past year, to allow 2020, to allow that chaos and the uncertainty, the things that are really real, to allow it to break you and allow it to break your heart wide open, actually — to see that suffering, to experience the hurt, but then to work with that broken heart open to the possibility of relief and progress and to be that locally and for one another," she said.