Calls for change

Kate Lundquist: Black Lives Matter in Roseau, a small white city

A family looks at a mural at a memorial.
Siblings Nelson, Ridge, Charlotte and Maki Lundquist visit the memorial for George Floyd in Minneapolis in early June.
Courtesy of Kate Lundquist

Protests large and small have emerged across Minnesota since the police killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

MPR News is talking to some of the people behind rallies, marches and demonstrations happening beyond the Twin Cities metro area — about their experiences with race in Minnesota, why they march and what they hope for the future. See and hear all of the conversations.

On June 4, the day of George Floyd’s memorial service, Kate Lundquist packed up four of her school-aged children and headed south.

It’s a six-hour drive from their home in Roseau to Minneapolis. The kids pointed out their windows at things they don’t see too often up north, like graffiti.

They asked why a person would spray paint a wall, and Kate explained that, sometimes, it’s the only way to be heard.

Then they asked why someone had spray-painted the words, “I can’t breathe,” and Kate began to cry.

“There’s no way to say this well,” she said, as she tried to explain George Floyd’s final words.

Kate is white. Two of her children are Black. She and her husband, Jacob, adopted 11-year-old Nelson and his 8-year-old brother Maki from Haiti when they were little.

Living in the small, mostly white community of Roseau, Kate said they’ve largely been cut off from this cultural moment. She thought it would be important for them to witness it.

The gathering in Minneapolis that day outside the memorial service was beautiful, Kate said. So sad, but imbued with a euphoric sense of solidarity.

At one point, Kate told Nelson he could go walk around by himself, if he wanted. The experience was transformative.

A transracial family poses in front of a wooden fence with graffiti art.
Kate Lundquist and four of her children pose in front of a fence near the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis. During the visit, the graffiti artist took the time to educate the kids about why he paints.
Courtesy of Kate Lundquist

“I watched him walk away, and just blend in,” she said. “It was so powerful to me because I have never seen him blend in like that.”

She didn’t want to go home. But she had to, so she thought she might as well bring the demonstration back with them to Roseau.

Hours after their return, the Lundquist family joined a group of student organizers from the local high school as they lined Roseau’s main road, holding “Black Lives Matter” signs. All told, about 50 or 60 people came.

But it did not feel like Minneapolis, Kate said. It felt exposed.

“It was a whole lot easier to go to Minneapolis with thousands of people,” she said, “than to stand in my home community with the same message.”

Children sit on the side of the road with signs.
Lily Johnson sits in silence for the amount of time Floyd was knelt on as she takes part in a June 7 protest in Roseau, Minn.
Courtesy of Chloe Johnson

Sixteen years ago, when Kate first moved to Roseau, she thought it would be the perfect place to raise a family. She fell hard for the small town at the top of the state. Then, when she adopted her boys, she started reading books by transracial adoptees — people like her own kids, only grown up and with the benefit of hindsight.

They all said, don’t raise your kids in little white towns. But Kate thought: They don’t know about my town. My town is so nice, we’ll make up for it.

After that demonstration in Roseau, she’s not so sure anymore. Plenty of people honked their support, she said. That was encouraging, but pickup trucks also drove by and gunned their engines. Drivers laughed when they read the signs. A few shouted insults.

Then the pastor of a local church — Kate’s church — coasted up with his window down to confront one of the demonstrators. He wasn’t happy.

People sit on the side of a road with signs.
Rob Wisner sits with Darli and Brenda Yanok during the moments of silence in honor of George Floyd during a protest in Roseau, Minn.
Courtesy of Chloe Johnson

“This man leads our church,” she said, “And he pulled up and said, ‘Don’t ever let me see you doing this again — or don’t ever talk to me again.’ It was so insensitive and so arrogant, and it was just my last straw.”

In the weeks since, Kate’s husband has asked his employer, for a transfer to the company’s office in the Twin Cities.

In the past, whenever Kate has considered moving away from Roseau, she was gripped with panic. It was too much like leaving Mayberry.

This time, when the fear gets to her, she said, she thinks about a moment with her son Nelson, during their pilgrimage to the George Floyd memorial in Minneapolis. She went to take a picture of him, and he raised his fist for the camera, and Kate swears he looked a couple inches taller.

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