HUGO — After the social media posts and comments started to spin out of control following the Aug. 15 Black Lives Matter protest in town, many Hugonians found themselves “disappointed” and “disheartened” and wanted their community to do better.
Hugo resident Becky Magnuson recently established a Facebook group called, “Hugo Friendly Hangout: A Hate-Free Community Forum.”
“I wanted to create a space for the people in our community who don’t want to argue all the time and who don’t continue to fuel the fire and spread hateful messages. It is not necessarily an anti-racist group; it is a group for people to conquer the divide, where we can still come together but in a way that is kind and nice to one another,” Magnuson explained. “I felt like the other (Facebook) groups had gotten to a point where people would go on there just to attack other people. They would go on there for sport just to bring people down, and I couldn’t be a part of that anymore.”
That’s when Hugo resident Amanda Carter decided to see if anyone else in the new group would want to meet up in person to share their experiences in a respectful dialogue. Carter posted in the group and received overwhelming support from people who wanted to attend.
“I saw the reaction of some of the residents in Hugo (after the Aug. 15 protest) and I wanted to use this as an outlet to reach out and let them know that not every person of color agrees with the rioting and the looting and the behavior that was shown,” Carter said. “This is not a politics thing, it is how we treat each other and how we show support for one another whether they are white, black, yellow, brown. I haven’t really seen any of that here since I have moved here, and that is they type of place I hope to live in.”
Carter added that the purpose of the group is to “understand and educate one another, because not everyone understands what a person of color may go through during these times.”
On the afternoon of Sunday, Aug. 30 around 16 people gathered at Lions Park for the first “community conversation.” Each person introduced themselves; how long they have lived in Hugo, why they chose to attend and what they would like to see come out of the group. People of color also shared some of the experiences they have had in Hugo.
A common trend was that residents were looking to meet up with like-minded people and work together to see how to better the community.
The majority of people in attendance have only lived in Hugo for a short time, but there were a few longtime residents. Many of the new residents shared that they were really questioning their move to Hugo and whether or not they made the right choice. Others shared that they were not planning to stay here forever.
One resident shared that she and her husband were not planning to stay because her husband, who is Black, and their children did not feel welcome here.
Thomas Rodriguez shared that he lived in Hugo for 20 years, but he and his family recently moved to White Bear Township because it was a more welcoming community. He said his very first experience in Hugo 20 years ago, the day he moved into town, was when a gentleman at a local gas station told him he didn’t belong here.
Rodriguez explained that because he is biracial, he didn’t have as bad of an experience growing up as some of his “darker” friends did. “I truly believe that the darker you go, the darker it gets,” he said. He added that the heaviest burden he carries is listening to people say really ugly things and choosing to not speak up.
He doesn’t do that anymore. “I feel like I am poking the beehive every day. I don’t know if that is the right answer, but being silent hasn’t changed anything, that much I know,” he said. “Saying nothing and doing nothing changes nothing.”
Rodriguez said he wanted to attend the community conversation because even though he lives just outside of the community, he will always consider Hugo home because it is where he spent the majority of his life and raised his children.
“I love the community enough to want to see it be better. I don’t believe people are necessarily willfully racist, but I think a lot of people have never been able to find a way to see perspective in the way that those of us that have lived it have,” he said. “If you haven’t walked a day in our shoes, you will never fully understand it.”
The group plans to have regular meetups going forward. The next community conversation is scheduled for 9:15 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 13 at Lions Park.
Lead Editor Shannon Granholm can be reached at 651-407-1227 or firstname.lastname@example.org.