Write on Race 2018

Tom Westendorf of Mankato speaks with his small group as part of the Greater Mankato Diversity Council's Write on Race project at the Verizon Center's Grand Hall in August 2018.

MANKATO — The Greater Mankato Diversity Council is reviving Write on Race, its community journaling exercise, for the COVID-19 age.

The Diversity Council, along with nonprofit Love & Struggle, will conduct weekly writing exercises through mid-July to allow local residents to think about, digest, and grapple with systemic racism during the pandemic.

Bukata Hayes, the Diversity Council’s executive director, said this latest round of Write on Race may be much shorter than the first iteration but is vital for people to understand how residents of color are affected by the ongoing pandemic.

“We just saw how COVID-19 and the pandemic was impacting communities of color, from actual death rates among the black community to the kind of anti-Asian discrimination that came once the virus hit the U.S.,” Hayes said.

Write on Race ran from 2016 to 2018 as a long-term project to chronicle community perspectives on race. This latest round significantly speeds up that initial format.

Each week on Mondays, Write on Race organizers send out writing prompts along with articles, essays and news clippings for participants to consider as they journal their thoughts on systemic racism. Organizers will host a series of online meetings for participants to share their thoughts, from informal “Virtual Village” Zoom sessions to longer meetings to “harvest” journal entries from residents.

The first informal Zoom meeting is Friday. The last harvesting session be July 17, a few days after the last writing prompt is released.

The novel coronavirus is affecting communities of color on a much stronger basis than white communities. Data compiled and published last week by APM Research Lab shows 1 in 1,850 black Americans have died due to virus-related complications, whereas 1 in 4,400 white Americans have died under similar circumstances. About 1 in 4,000 Latinx Americans have died from the virus, and 1 in 4,200 Asian Americans have died due to COVID-19.

Residents who are interested in the project can sign up through the Diversity Council’s website at mankatodiversity.org/contact-us. Fill out the form with your name, email address and write “WOR COVID-19” to let organizers know you’d like to be included on the weekly email listings.

Larger implications

The latest Write on Race comes as Minnesota and the U.S. reckon with a new round of police-related killings of black people. Protests and riots started across the country last week when 46-year-old George Floyd died after being arrested by four Minneapolis police officers who restrained and held him in place for nearly nine minutes, during which he first begged for air then became unresponsive.

The officers involved in Floyd’s death were fired. One officer has been charged with killing Floyd while the others await potential homicide charges.

Floyd’s death came on the same day as the first Write on Race writing prompt, an unfortunate coincidence. This week’s prompt deals with Floyd’s murder and urges residents to ponder the impact systemic racism has on people of color.

While Floyd’s death marks a flashpoint in U.S. race relations, Hayes said such high-profile events often help remind people of community activism done across the nation to improve equality and equity for people of color.

“There’s been so many folks working. That should not be lost,” Hayes said. “There have been so many folks working on these things.”

In the Mankato area, the Diversity Council and several organizations from city governments to Mankato Area Public Schools have pledged to redouble efforts to include residents of color. The Diversity Council is working on other projects toward that effort, though some, such as the Mapping Prejudice project where volunteers can help uncover racist housing codes in decades-old deeds, have been put on hold due to COVID-19.

“That’s been kind of a glitch,” said Blue Earth County Commissioner Colleen Landkamer, one of the organizers of the Mapping Prejudice project.

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