CLC initiative sheds light on racial concerns in Brainerd
“Honestly, people just need to communicate and talk to each other."
Cash Robinson wants everyone to feel welcome in the Brainerd lakes community, especially college students.
Robinson works at Central Lakes College as an equity inclusion retention coach, meaning he works primarily with student athletes to help them get acclimated to the Brainerd lakes community and make sure they have all the resources they need. Many of the CLC athletes he works with are students of color.
The Raider Roost initiative, where local businesses and organizations promote inclusivity for all students, was born out of conversations with those athletes about how they feel at times when going out into the community.
“Like, for instance, being in a store and feeling like you’re being followed around the store, even though you’re going to purchase something. And me personally, I know what that feels like,” Robinson said during a Zoom interview.
CLC football player Ivory Jones is no stranger to scenarios like that. A Black student originally from Minneapolis, Jones came to Brainerd about three years ago.
While he felt welcomed at CLC, Jones said the off-campus atmosphere in Brainerd was much different. There wasn’t necessarily tension when visiting places like grocery stores or public areas in the city, but it was strange.
“I’ve never been looked at so much,” Jones said during a Zoom interview.
He recalled a time when he stepped into an establishment after a football game, donning a bandana and the ripped shirt he had worn under his uniform. Everyone stared.
“I’m not exaggerating at all, I’m not adding anything — everyone in the store was staring at me,” he said.
While working at Perkins, Jones said the crowds that came in were pretty fun for the most part, but there were also rowdier groups who came in later at night and did not want him as their server.
But those were minor incidents for Jones, who said one of the bigger shocks he had in coming to Brainerd from the Twin Cities was the first time he saw a confederate flag on display in person at a party.
He was taken aback at the sight but, as someone who has learned to adapt to his surroundings, didn’t feel the immediate need to leave the party. Jones chalks those sorts of displays in this area up to a false sense of history.
“They think the confederate flag is like heritage or something like that,” Jones said of the loose grasps he’s gotten on the subject from talking to people in the community.
The Raider Roost initiative aims to help students like Jones — and all students, for that matter — feel more comfortable in the community. Participating businesses and organizations display Raider Roost stickers to show students they are welcome there.
“Everybody’s expected to be a decent human being anywhere,” Robinson said, but the Raider Roost stickers show that business owners understand there are college students in the community who should be welcomed as community members and not outsiders.
The Brainerd Family YMCA is among those participating in the initiative, which Laura Marsolek aligns perfectly with the nonprofit’s mission.
“We especially want to welcome these students because a lot of them come from out of state,” said Marsolek, assistant aquatics director who also heads the YMCA’s diversity, equity and inclusion committee. “We want to make sure that they definitely feel welcome here at the Y because the Y is more than a gym. It’s a place to connect, it’s a place to meet people. It’s a place to really feel welcomed and at home, and so if this is a way to do that, then we are all on board.”
One of the YMCA’s biggest goals right now, Marsolek said, is to increase inclusiveness, so the Raider Roost program is a step in the right direction.
Robinson hopes the program will also bolster businesses that take part and encourage students to stay in the area longer.
“Everything I’m doing is trying to get the students to feel comfortable while they’re here and to be productive and at least get their AA (associate of arts degree) and transfer onto a four-year from here instead of going to another two-year,” Robinson said.
Jones sees the initiative as a big step for a city like Brainerd and hopes it will bring more awareness to racial issues in the community.
“You can make somebody welcome but if you don’t show somebody that you’re aware of the issue, they don’t feel like their problem or whatever is being addressed,” Jones said. “... You have to vocalize that you are aware. This is that vocalization.”
And that awareness extends further than just the African American community in Brainerd, Jones said, but also to other minority groups like Native Americans and the realization that racism is still going on to do this day in the area.
As more minority residents move to Brainerd, Robinson said the need for inclusivity efforts increases. People of color tend to get grouped together, Robinson said, meaning one negative interaction with a person of color brings out racial profiling and discrimination, whether it’s intentional or not.
“We can’t control what people do, but we can educate others on the difference between people,” Robinson said in an email after the interview. “... The Raider Roost initiative is just one step in the process. Once people start seeing students out in the community more, they may engage in conversation and learn from each other rather than judge from afar.”
Robinson would also like to see a community center in Brainerd — a place where people can gather, can get along and can communicate openly.
For Jones, communication is the key to addressing issues like race.
“Honestly, people just need to communicate and talk to each other,” he said. “That’s really it because if there were more people talking — actually communicating — with each other, there would be less misunderstanding, less animosity between people.”
Raider Roost locations
So far, the following businesses have shown support as Raider Roost location:
College Square Gas Station
Four Seas Super Buffet
Great Clips in northeast Brainerd
Dairy Queen in northeast Brainerd
Shep's on 6th