As part of my volunteer year, I live and work in St. Cloud with a refugee resettlement program. The majority of the refugees I help resettle hail from Somalia. They've spent the past 15-20 years living in refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Yemen, and a few other countries while a civil war has raged on in their home country. I've had a chance to get to know this refugee community. Like all of us, they have their strengths and their faults. I've learning about the Muslim culture. This experience is completely different than anything I have ever experienced.
St. Cloud, while pretty and situated nicely along the Mississippi river, is a racist town. Despite welcoming refugees into their city for upwards of 10 years, there are still many people who don't hesitate to voice their hatred of the refugee community. St. Cloud is a primarily white, German, and Catholic town. The Somali refugees are Muslim. They speak a different language. They look different. They have different dietary needs and prayer needs. Some people have embraced them as neighbors. Others...not so much.
Why do I write about this? This morning, weeks after the November election, I stumbled across two articles about a man who was elected to the school board. He has definite feelings about how Muslim students should be treated in the school district - feelings that I don't agree with. Frankly, his one statement made me sick. (Nevermind the fact that I don't think he is qualified to be an elected member of the school board). This article, originally published in the St. Cloud Times, includes the comment that I saw this morning. How he was elected to the school board, I will never understand.
After conversations with my other volunteers, I know that I (we) cannot remain silent and ignore the racism in the city that we are calling home for 10 months.