Our community can rise to the challenge

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As most of us know, a proposed dog park at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park has been a catalyst for painful discussions of race and neighborhood history. For neighbors of the Eighth Ward, which includes areas in South Minneapolis bordering I-35W, issues of race, class, and geography often underlie public and private dialogue.

The nature and passion of the discussion, and the inability of many on both sides to understand each other’s point of view, let alone agree on solutions, has heightened the racial divide exposed in our community.

Throughout the difficult public conversation, many core members of the organized groups supporting or opposing a dog park at King Park have taken care to reflect their passionate views in a civil and respectful way, each advocating their positive vision for the park. Unfortunately, some individuals from the broader community have made comments that are offensive, hurtful and sometimes even violent.

Community blogs and online message boards have included some harsh and inappropriate comments that have heightened the ugly rhetoric and done nothing to heal our community. I do not condone these irresponsible and incendiary remarks.

Just this weekend, the Minneapolis Park Board president announced that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park will no longer be considered as a potential dog park site. It is my hope that the community I love can now focus on how we move forward together. I believe we must do so on several fronts.
First, we must address, not ignore, the community divide highlighted by our discussion of a dog park at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park. While the dog park has been a focus of discussion, it did not cause these feelings of racial difference and divide. Rather, it provided an opportunity to talk about issues of race in sometimes unpleasant ways.

Neighbors can, and have, already begun healing and relationship-building on their own blocks and in their neighborhoods. The park board has hosted one public meeting and will host two more on how to better honor Dr. King at Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park.

One resident wrote of her common-sense step of “tuning out” the media and politicians and talking to her neighbors. And, a group of residents in neighboring communities – including dog park proponents and opponents – have been meeting since November to discuss the need for ongoing community dialogue on race and neighborhood history.

I want to thank the many neighbors who have had courageous conversations about race at their own initiative and at meetings convened by others. And, I join with a group of neighbors who will soon invite the broader community to join us in a community dialogue on race and neighborhood history.
As a resident within one block of the park, with years-long relationships with dog park supporters and opponents, this racially charged dialogue has been particularly painful. My conversations with neighbors about this topic have universally been long and packed with historical learning. And yet, so many neighbors have expressed a desire to explore their own feelings about race, to confront and better understand our history and the life experiences of our neighbors of different ages, cultures and races.

Second, I believe it is important that the challenge of finding a location for a dog park in the Sixth Park District remains a focus for the park board in cooperation with the community. I want thank the Kingfield Dog Park Task Force for championing the need for a dog park within the Sixth Park District and highlighting the many community benefits a dog park can bring.

The “process” has not been kind to core members of this group. This group of volunteers was asked to identify a site for a potential dog park and then engaged in over a year of work that has resulted in no dog park yet.

Today, the Sixth Park District is the only district without a dog park. While I am encouraged that the park board will examine a number of potential sites where a dog park could be located, this is a step that should have taken place much earlier. I urge the park board to approve a Sixth District dog park site this year.

Finally, I think it is important to note that one goal of the Kingfield Neighborhood Association, as well as many of the task force members who live blocks from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Park, has been to work with the park board to better engage nearby residents in using the park’s public space. This positive goal for the entire surrounding area, to draw immediate neighbors into the life of the park, should not be lost as the park board now turns to alternate sites for a dog park.

Each one of us has a responsibility to make the community we live in better, stronger and more connected. Is it serendipity that one activist involved in the dog park discussion is an aunt to NPR’s Michele Norris, author of The Grace of Silence?

In her book, Ms. Norris describes her childhood in the Field neighborhood as the first Black family on their block and her discovery of painful past race-based events her parents had kept secret. Ms. Norris, who herself led conversations on race regarding the 2008 presidential election, advocates small group settings with food as important elements for discussions focusing on race.

As Ms. Norris’ aunt said to me, bringing issues of race into the open is an opportunity for something good for our community. For this, I thank the African American community elders who organized in opposition to the dog park, many of whom were active in the Civil Rights Movement and worked to change the name of the former Nicollet Field to honor Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

I have faith that our community is resilient and full of active, engaged residents willing to take on the challenge of talking neighbor-to-neighbor about issues of race.  Some neighbors are doing this now, and more of us are willing to engage in rebuilding relationships and learning about each other even when the conversation is uncomfortable.

Together, we can seize this opportunity.

Elizabeth Glidden is Minneapolis’ Eighth Ward city council member. She welcomes reader responses to Elizabeth.Glidden@ci.minneapolis.mn.us, or call 612-673-2208.