A recent New York Times story put a national focus on the city of St. Cloud as a bastion of racist, anti-immigrant sentiment.
It described a group called C-Cubed, or Concerned Community Citizens, that shares President Donald Trump's anti-immigration positions and meets regularly to discuss what its members call St. Cloud's immigrant crisis.
Even before that story, local media had documented St. Cloud's "White Cloud" image and problems with racism and discrimination. But it's also important to acknowledge that the central Minnesota city of 70,000 is not taking those hateful, uninformed, racist deeds and words lying down.
St. Cloud's population increased 33% over the past 30 years, with the share of nonwhite residents growing from 2% to 18%, mostly because of an influx of East African immigrants from Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia. In response, there have been anti-Muslim events and incidents, and even an unsuccessful legal effort to ban resettlement.
But local news media, including the Star Tribune, also have featured stories on a number of constructive efforts to counter racism. Among those initiatives:
• Beginning in 2017, Hudda Ibrahim and her husband, Abdi Mahad, started inviting St. Cloud residents to their apartment for a bimonthly event called "Dine and Dialogue with your Muslim neighbor." Hudda, a Somali refugee who teaches diversity and social justice at St. Cloud Technical and Community College, started the meetings to allow people to ask questions during civil conversations. The sessions attracted so many people that they had to move the event from their home to a larger venue. "The goal," she said, "is to bring people together to discuss who they are and share their experiences ... We have barriers. Let's talk about those things."
• #UniteCloud is a grassroots group that describes its mission as providing "education and actionable steps to resolve tension." The group strives to "foster an empathetic community that chooses to stand up for one another … regardless of race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, abilities, or socio-economic background … that will lead to sense of greater safety and hope — and a decrease in fear and suspicion."
• St. Cloud Mayor Dave Kleis lists the city's long-established Create Community program as another effort to bring together people from across the city. In addition, for several years the mayor has invited seven strangers to his house for dinner each month.
Kleis told an editorial writer that the evening the Times story came out, he attended a pot luck dinner at an Islamic center. He said he talked with one of the Somali women quoted in the story for several hours, and she's now helping with St. Cloud's youth commission.
" I don't agree with some of the actions of groups [like C-Cubed]," Kleis said. "And I denounce any group or individual that focuses on hate, division and unconstitutional acts."
Kleis and others in St. Cloud aren't simply sitting back and allowing anti-immigrant forces to rule the day. They're proactively working to dispel myths, welcome newcomers and combat racism and xenophobia. They deserve praise and support for their efforts.