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Mpls. forum looks at Charlottesville, its implications

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The panel begins discussion with Nekima Levy-Pounds at the Guthrie Theater
Nekima Levy-Pounds moderated a panel on race and the recent deadly events Charlottesville, Va.
Maria Alejandra Cardona | MPR News

A month after a 32-year-old woman was killed following a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Va., community leaders and activists across the country, including in Minnesota, continue to gather to discuss the implications of that day.

At a sold-out event at the Guthrie Theater Tuesday evening, titled "Charlottesville Revisited: Unpacking Race in America," they spoke of racism, white supremacy and the alleged complicity of the political establishment.

Meghan Barp with Twin Cities United Way led off the conversation. "We've had enough senseless violence in our community," she declared. "We've had enough hateful rhetoric. We're here tonight to listen, to share, and most importantly to lead."

The panelists included organizers, faith leaders and academics. Melina Abdullah, chair of Pan-African studies at California State University, and a Black Lives Matter organizer, said that "what happened in Charlottesville isn't surprising because we, as black people, could feel it, beneath the surface."

She said that for herself and many others, what happened in Charlottesville was about white supremacy.

"With Charlottesville, we are now able to use that term: to be very clear that we live under a system of white supremacists, patriarchal, heteronormative capitalism," she said.

Abdullah's statements heaped blame on Republicans and Democrats alike, and after her comments a number of people left the theater. Another panelist, the Rev. Brian C. Herron of Zion Baptist Church in Minneapolis, continued the conversation:

"And many people kept trying to tell us, 'Oh, racism doesn't exist anymore.' But we knew it did! It never went away. This is something that has been rooted into the American culture, what America was founded on," he said. "But what we can do is, we can make America something she's never been before."

For Professor Keith Mayes, who teaches in the African American & African Studies Department at the University of Minnesota, the Charlottesville attack and the white nationalist rally before it were examples of how white people never stopped fighting to take away the rights won by people of color.

"I tell my students all the time, if you look at any era of American history, where people of color have made gains, white people are applauding — and planning, and trying to execute how to roll those gains back," he said.

Of the white supremacists, the neo-Nazis who came out in Charlottesville, he said:

"We want to associate that as a certain kind of white political backlash. But that's not where the real fight takes place. It takes place in institutions, white institutions. What I'm concerned about is all the white folks of good will who work in corporations, nonprofits, educational institutions that in many ways serve as impediments to black and brown advancement."

As the forum wound down, an audience member who didn't give his name said he wanted to "put some responsibility on black folks, because we have to do for ourselves. We can equally pool our resources together, purchase property, claim land and ownership, and employ ourselves." "I immediately thought about Black Wall Street when you said that," replied Luz Maria Frias, president and CEO of the YWCA Minneapolis, one of the sponsors of the race conversation. "We haven't supported that enough, and I would say, the rest of us also need to be supporting black-owned businesses and the community as well, and put our wealth in that."

At the end of the evening, moderator and Minneapolis mayoral candidate Nekima Levy-Pounds introduced a member of the Justice Choir of the Twin Cities, Tesfa Wondemagegnehu. He sang the civil rights anthem, "We Shall Overcome."