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“I’m so proud of Grand Rapids in being a progressive community – willing to have a conversation like this” said Peter Birkey, Board Vice President, United Way of 1000 Lakes and event moderator for a special forum on inequities in education, employment and health at the Timberlake Lodge Hotel.

A live stream of the “Cultivating Conditions for Change: A Forum on Race & Equity,” hosted by the Greater Twin Cities United Way in Minneapolis, kicked off the morning. In his opening remarks, emcee Reg Chapman of WCCO-TV called out to those participating in the forum in Grand Rapids.

The keynote speaker for the forum was Angela Glover Blackwell, the founder and CEO of PolicyLink.

In her keynote, Blackwell praised Minnesota for getting people talking honestly and forthrightly about what the challenges are in communities, like Itasca, that are quite prosperous in some ways but still has great deficits.

“The people who are being left behind are going to become the majority. By 2040, almost 50 percent of the people in the Twin Cities will be people of color,” she said. “There will not be continued prosperity if people of color can’t lead here. There will be no middle class in this area if people of color don’t become the middle class.”

Minnesota leads the country in health, education and employment disparities. 

Following the live stream, a local panel of community members, including Darlene Freeman, Weldon Braxton, Scott Johnson and Kari Person, led the morning’s discussion. 

Freeman shared her experience growing up here, “As being an American Indian person, living close to a reservation, there is a lot of opinions on what Indian people are. There are a lot of things that are said and institutional things that are done, but there are a lot of people that will help along the way.”

Braxton shared his perspective on leadership, “If you want to improve diversity, you must have people in professional positions. If you’re going to be committed to diversity, you’re going to be committed to doing things and making things better for the community.”

Reviewing business practices, curriculum in schools, festivals that celebrate diversity, addressing racial slurs and stereotypes are just a sampling of actionable idea sharing during group dialogues. 

One participate, responded, “Remember race is only a mental barrier, we must all care for one another and unite against discrimination.”

The Forum was hosted by United Way of 1000 Lakes in collaboration with Greater Twin Cities United Way, sponsored by the Blandin Foundation and Paul Bunyan Communications, with additional support provided by local equity advocates. 

For more information: contact United Way of 1000 Lakes by calling 218-999-7570 or visit

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