A pilgrimage to the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis this summer confirmed what the Lundquist family had thought for a long time: They could no longer live in the overwhelmingly white city of Roseau, Minn.
In September, the family of eight moved 340 miles south to Brooklyn Park — one of the most diverse cities in the state, with 57% of residents identifying as Black, Indigenous and people of color.
Two of Kate and Jacob Lundquist’s six children are adopted from Haiti and were often the only students of color in classrooms in Roseau, whose population is 97% white.
“I’m doing the opposite of white flight,” Kate said from their new home with framed pictures still in bubble wrap. “We made the decision and eight weeks later, we turned our entire life upside down.”
Even though Floyd was killed in the Twin Cities, the Lundquists were drawn to the metro by its diversity and anti-racist activism. They contrast it with what they heard in Roseau after Floyd’s death in May.
Kate said people she considered friends and neighbors were saying Floyd deserved it, that he was a criminal.
“I’ve been watching how people react to the death of unarmed Black people for years now, and it’s just very subtle. But when George Floyd died, it wasn’t so subtle anymore. That was scary. As a mom, you just think, ‘Well, what if that was my kid? How would my community react? Would they fight with me? Or would they tell me that the world is better off without them?’ And that’s why we’re here.”
In early June, Kate packed the minivan and drove six hours with her Haitian-born sons Nelson, 11, and Maki, 9, along with son Ridge, 9, and daughter Charlotte, 11, to visit the memorial in south Minneapolis. Jacob stayed home with 2-year-old Verabeth and eldest daughter Addi, 14.
The experience at 38th and Chicago Avenue, known as George Floyd Square, was so transformative that it served as the final push for the Lundquists to leave Roseau after 16 years — not only in the midst of a pandemic and political uprising sparked in the city they wanted to call home, but also breast cancer treatment for Kate, now in remission, and just in time for the start of a new school year.
A month after the visit, Jacob had a job offer in the Twin Cities, and they put their house on the market.
Kate said signs of affirmation for their migration are everywhere, and literal, like the abundance of Black Lives Matter flags comparable to the Trump 2020 signs Up North. Their neighbors are Asian, Ethiopian and Egyptian. Nelson has his first Black male teacher — a “racial mirror” the family longed for.
“I’ve only had white women as teachers here in America,” Nelson said during another day of distance learning in which he and his siblings spread out throughout the house with laptops and headphones. He still wears a Roseau Rams T-shirt.
Over the years, Kate, 39, heard from other transracial families about moving to be near diversity — whether that meant a different school district with more dynamic demographics or a completely new city. For kids adopted into families that don’t look like them, she knew this was a crucial transition. “Love wasn’t enough,” she said.
“When my Black sons have something that’s difficult for them in relation to their race, nobody’s going to understand. [Roseau] wasn’t the best soil for us to grow anymore,” Kate said. “And now that I’m here, I feel this huge gap fill, and it’s filling fast.”
Alexis Oberdorfer, president of Children’s Home Society of Minnesota, which provides adoption services, said the Lundquists are not the first transracial family she’s heard of moving to the metro area for more diversity.
Oberdorfer views this from a professional lens but also a personal one. She is raising adopted children and is an adult transracial adoptee who moved to a white community in the suburbs of the Twin Cities shortly after she was born in Chicago in 1971. So she understands the importance of children of color seeing their race and culture reflected in their everyday lives.
“Being an African American family, race is a routine discussion we have in our house, pre- and post-George Floyd,” she said. “When you’re raising a child of color ... they need to have proximity and access to individuals and communities of color.”
Oberdorfer said she helps transracial adoptive families create a bridge to make their adopted child feel comfortable in school, church and their community. “You have to have positive influences where they can see themselves reflected.”
It’s not that Roseau is without diversity. Like many rural communities across the state in the past 10 years, more people of color are moving in, according to state demographer Susan Brower.
In Roseau and neighboring Warroad, Polaris and Marvin Windows are big employers of Laotians and Puerto Ricans.
“The vast majority of greater Minnesota counties are only growing because of populations of color the past decade,” Brower said.
Longtime Roseau Mayor Jeff Pelowski said he thinks of his city as a welcoming place. “I’m not aware of any racist problems in Roseau. I will argue till I’m blue in the face that there’s not a racist mentality here,” he said. But he recognized that as a white man, he can’t fully comprehend what it would be like as a person of color living in the community. “We assume you’re one of us. It’s easy to overlook.”
Nadine Yanok, a family friend who lives in Warroad, can relate to the Lundquists’ decision to move. Adopted from Haiti as a baby along with her sister, Yanok, now 23, has a 1-year-old of her own.
“I told [Kate] how much it touches me to see what she’s doing for her kids because that’s what me and my sister always wished for,” Yanok said. “It’s going to mean a lot to those boys.”
Jacob Lundquist, 38, said he’s been ready to move for years. It’s been increasingly difficult to live Up North where their political views don’t align with the city and county where voters overwhelmingly supported Trump in 2016. Since then, he said the division continued to worsen. Bible studies would turn political and he felt like a progressive outlier.
He deactivated social media as a way to avoid some of the tension that he said was so apparent that “you can taste it.” Recently, during his first visit to the Floyd memorial, he described the moment as a somber reminder of why they uprooted their lives.
“This had to happen now. It felt right. The Cities was the right spot. I’m excited for the future, for the kids, for the culture,” he said. “We thought we were doing everything right, protecting them but sheltering them in a bad way.”
The kids started to notice the tension in town before moving, too. Addie said her support of Black Lives Matter meant losing friendships and feeling isolated. At a BLM rally in Roseau the Lundquists attended, Kate said it was good to see dozens of people come out with signs in support, but it also put on full display the reasons they felt they needed to move: People drove by revving their engines and shouting insults.
A pastor confronted a protester in disapproval, Kate said, so she started hosting church at her house during their last weeks in Roseau.
Not long after their migration south, Kate said she and Maki went searching for a Sunday service and returned to the Floyd memorial. That’s where this summer she saw her children’s heart for humanity grow before her eyes, and her Black children blend in with the crowd for the first time.
Kate said she often thinks of Floyd’s 6-year-old daughter, Gigi, saying that “Daddy changed the world.”
“[Floyd] changed my world,” she said. “He brought us to Minneapolis.”
Kim Hyatt • 612-673-4751