FARGO — People of all colors and ages were gathered Friday afternoon, June 5, at Island Park in downtown Fargo to try to show love, listening, self-examination and action are needed to make inroads to changes that will improve the treatment of black people in Fargo, Moorhead and West Fargo in the days and years ahead.
The speakers were as varied as the crowd of almost 2,000 that were spread among the shade trees near the park's gazebo.
Speakers were members of the Black Lives Matter group, mayors, the North Dakota Teacher of the Year and Native Americans, with all of them urging that things have to change after the death of George Floyd after a now-fired Minneapolis police officer knelt on his neck for almost nine minutes more than a week ago.
One of the organizers, Wess Philome of BLM, asked if this would be North Dakota's "ceiling or floor" in the effort to seek change.
"The world is watching; the youth are watching," he said.
As part of the BLM group who met with the metro mayors, Philome said he told the mayors that "if the changes we seek aren't made, we'll be right back taking to the streets."
He urged metro residents to "buy in" to the goals of justice, equality, unity and change.
"There are people who would love to see us fail," Philome said. "My hope is that an overwhelming amount of people want to see us succeed."
The mayors pledged to help make those positive changes when addressing the crowd.
West Fargo Mayor Bernie Dardis said he caught "a lot of hell" when meeting with the BLM group.
"I was embarrassed and humbled because they were right and I was wrong," he said.
Dardis said residents need to know that "we are all one."
"We have to figure it out," he said. "Our values have to be that we condemn racism. We have to be compassionate. We have to live with one another. We have to love one another."
Fargo Mayor Tim Mahoney said leaders, including Fargo Police Chief David Todd who is soon retiring, are listening.
He invited people to "help us pick a new police chief."
"We want our communities to be an embracing community," said Mahoney, who pledged to work with people through the summer and into the fall on the issues.
Moorhead's first black mayor, Johnathan Judd, said he was up for the challenge and expects to be held accountable, but said the mayors can't do it alone.
"We will do this together as a region, as a community," he said.
As for law enforcement, he said, "this is an excellent opportunity for us to be creative in how we connect and build relationships with the communities that exist within our cities."
He pledged to look at innovative ways to increase diversity, including in law enforcement.
State Teacher of the Year Sara Medalen, who works with students in a high poverty Minot elementary school, said she wanted to be a voice for black and brown children.
Schools can work harder on teaching students about inclusiveness and awareness "so they can thrive in what is a diverse world," she said
"We need to build schools that are a place of social justice, love, joy and anti-racism," Medalen added. "I love my black and brown students and don't ever want to hear about the tragic death of one of my students because of the color of their skin."
Ritchell Aboah, an event organizer who is running for a seat on the Fargo City Commission, said the gathering was a "giant step forward."
"We are at the table," she said about conversations with local leaders.
She said the "historical movement underway" will need to hold the leaders accountable, but also said businesses and the media need to not be silent about injustices.
Aboah pointed to the good start by giving credit to Todd, whom she believes has "shown tremendously that he doesn't want to see injustice for our people."
However, as organizer and Minnesota State University Moorhead student Joseph Lewis pointed out, "injustice to one is injustice to everyone."
Lewis said Judd told them work on changes was "maybe a five-year project."
"He's right, but at least we have a fresh start," Lewis said.