Ten Watonwan County’s community organizations came together to organize a virtual equity summit.

The Building Bridges summit on Wednesday and Thursday is billed as an “opportunity to hear authentic voices, build relationships, begin candid conversations, and share resources in order to create more equitable, vibrant communities.”

While it’s being hosted by organizations in St. James and Madelia, co-organizer Sue Harris said the presenters and attendees are coming from across southern Minnesota and beyond.

“It has been a turbulent last few years and it’s important to have these conversations,” said Harris, who is the community education director for the St. James and Madelia school districts and one of the members of the summit organizing committee.

Each day includes a keynote speaker, breakout sessions and a reflection conversation.

Wednesday’s keynote on “engaging communities in the work of equity and equality” will be delivered by Verna Price, CEO of a Minneapolis leadership consulting firm, author and host of a WCCO Radio show on racism.

On Tuesday Ramon Pastrano, also a CEO of a Twin Cities leadership consulting company, will lead exercises and discussions on unconscious bias.

Wednesday’s breakout presenters include the pastor of a Le Sueur church serving the Hispanic community, representatives of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, an ACLU representative who will “debunk myths of immigration,” a panel of St. James High School graduates, and more.

Thursday’s breakout topics include talking to children about racism, types of racial microaggressions, resources for partnership building, and strategies for welcoming new residents and promoting inclusion. Or attendees can learn about the Convivencia Hispana group based in St. James, hear from a panel of professionals who work with diverse populations or listen to an El Salvadorian immigrant share her story.

The breakouts will be recorded and summit attendees also will receive links to watch replays of all of the sessions.

Attendees are asked to pay $40, but Harris said scholarships are available to anyone for whom that cost would be a barrier. A number of sponsors are helping pay for the costs of putting on the summit and providing scholarships.

Harris said the summit is the “latest iteration of collaboration” promoting equity in Watonwan County. Nearly 30% of the county’s population is Hispanic.

Past initiatives included a book sharing the stories of immigrants to St. James, community education classes on social justice issues, and community meals celebrating cuisine from a variety of cultures.

Next Harris said they writing grants to fund more storytelling initiatives and are planning to revive the annual Multicultural Fiesta community celebration in September after it was canceled last year. due to the pandemic.

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