A future of acceptance: Minnesotans share their hopes

Side by side portraits of 5 people.
(From left) Dan Thewis, Coco Larson, Adrian Benjamin, ShaVunda Brown and Alisa Tollin shared what they're hopeful for looking toward the future.
Christine T. Nguyen, Evan Frost and Derek Montgomery | MPR News

We’re only days away from Election Day. It has been a year with many unexpected, difficult events and changes. To better understand what people are thinking about as we look toward the future we asked Minnesotans:

“What are your hopes for your life in Minnesota over the next 5-10 years and why are these hopes important to you?”

Here’s what a few of them had to say.

Adrian Benjamin: A place ‘you can call home’

Adrian Benjamin, 26, is a legislative clerk with the city of Minneapolis. “I know it can be done. Because there are people here that already have all that. That they feel safe in their homes. And so if some of us can have it, I know we all can.”

A transcript of the video:

“I am biracial, Latinx and Black. I'm from here in the Twin Cities.

I hope in the next five to 10 years here in Minnesota we'll have a place that is welcoming and celebrates Minnesotans of color and Indigenous Minnesotans. We can thrive here.

Thriving in Minnesota looks like a place where you can call home. Where we feel comfortable to live here freely. Where we don't feel like we're hiding in the shadows. Where we feel we can be our most healthy and wealthy. Where we have environments that allow us all to do that. To thrive here in Minnesota means I can do anything my heart desires. I can pursue education. I can hold a career that has a future in it. Yeah, I can have a doctor, a health team that is readily available to me. It's having access to the things we all need. It's really quite simple in my eyes.

And I know it can be done. Because there are people here that already have all that. That they feel safe in their homes. And so if some of us can have it, I know we all can. And I see a place here in Minnesota [in] five to 10 years where in our workplaces, at church, at school we all feel equal.”

Coco Larson: The ability to invest in ourselves

Coco Larson, 18, is currently a freshman at the University of Minnesota. “I have some underlying issues that I have to pay for all the time. And it's a genuine concern. Like what if I don't have enough money for this?”

A transcript of the video:

“My name is Coco Larson. I am 18 years old. I'm from the Eagan, Minnesota and I am currently a freshman at the U of M this year.

I hope that minimum wage will increase so the normal teen in college like myself, can eventually save up enough money for their future. Last year for seven months, I held a job in retail and my minimum wage was around $10. My goal for that job was to save up for college and I basically made around a little under $1,000 within that job. And so if minimum wage had been increased, I feel like I would have been way more prepared to invest in my college tuition. So that's why it is concerning for me as with my credentials in this moment, I can only really apply for minimum wage jobs. And if I do I want to increase my savings or save up for my future life after college, that is somewhat concerning because I can't really apply for those jobs that pay for a higher amount. 

So one hope that I have for this state is involving free health care. My mom is a nurse and one thing I know is that diabetic people will die if they can't afford their insulin because it's that expensive. So that's something that's really personal to me. My mom has some issues that have been there for awhile. I have some underlying issues that I have to pay for all the time. And it's a genuine concern. Like what if I don't have enough money for this? Because I am trying to save up for my future and my family and other things and health care just adds on top of that.”

ShaVunda Brown: A society where children ‘feel seen’

ShaVunda Brown, 31, is an artist living in St. Paul. “Children should be learning about themselves and their culture through the different scientists that come from their culture, the mathematicians. All of these things can be represented throughout the core curriculum, and it doesn't happen.”

A transcript of the video:

“My name is ShaVunda Brown. I am 31. I am a mother, an artist, a healer, writer, musician, and concerned community member.

My hopes for my life in Minnesota is that I'm living in a place where education is easily accessible to everyone who desires it and who desires to educate their children themselves, to home school, to be a part of home schooling collectives, to run Montessoris, and offer a culturally relevant education to their children. An education where their children feel seen, heard and understood and honored within the texts that they are given. 

It's important to me that education is equitable because I see the disparities that exist. So when we are able to create systems for ourselves that reflect our cultural thinking, that honor our cultural practices, we aren't inundated with negative stereotypes of ourselves. We see ourselves represented and we feel good about ourselves, which creates an environment for learning to happen. Children should be learning about themselves and their culture through the different scientists that come from their culture, the mathematicians. All of these things can be represented throughout the core curriculum, and it doesn't happen. And we wonder why children feel like, ‘Oh, this isn't for me. Math isn't for me. I don't see myself reflected in the people we study or even the history in the textbooks around American history.’

I certainly want my children to feel reflected within the education that they get. It shouldn't all look like something that is outside of them. Something that seems out of reach. It's important for my children to see themselves reflected in all aspects of society because then they know that they can become anything it is that they wish.”

Dan Thewis: ‘Putting the world back together’

Dan Thewis, 32, is a social studies teacher in Two Harbors. “What's best for everyone isn't commonplace right now. Commonplace is ‘someone's got to win, someone's got to lose, and I hope I'm on the right side of it. And in the meantime, if I push you down so I can win so be it.’”

A transcript of the video:

“My name is Dan Thewis. I'm 32. I live in Two Harbors. I teach social studies at Two Harbors High School. And I've got three boys and a fourth one coming shortly. 

My hope is just to build a community everyone wants to live in. My wife and I spend time talking about being good neighbors. What does that mean? What does that action look like? And I think just kind of sharing that through example, spreading that through example, and living that out every day. I've tried my best to be kind, simply put. It's not always that easy but that's what we aspire to: to just have a community everyone wants to live in. 

The biggest concern for me is, I don't know how to word it, lack of trust I think just with people in general. Based on the sign at the end of their driveway, or a flag on their truck or a sticker on their car — whatever it is — that label is an automatic assumption of who they are. And we just automatically don't trust — whether it's that person, whether it's that institution — because of a decision that they made. There's not an opportunity for grace or mercy, or forgiveness and healing. It's just straight to, ‘You did this. You wronged me.’ Over. And that concerns me a lot. That's a lot of work saying, ‘I'm sorry.’ Saying, ‘I'm wrong. Hey, how can we work this out?’

What's best for everyone isn't commonplace right now. Commonplace is “someone's got to win, someone's got to lose, and I hope I'm on the right side of it.” And in the meantime, if I push you down so I can win so be it.’ And that's what concerns me the most is that seems to be more common now: Doing what you can to win at all costs. Every single human has value. Every being — doesn't matter the shape, form, language, skin color — has intrinsic value. Seems like life doesn't have intrinsic value anymore. It's just you're disposable almost. Gets back to the win at all costs that I mentioned earlier. Doesn't matter who we have to hurt or who might pass away, but if we win that's all that matters. 

The hardest thing to do is be humble, but that's what we've got to start with. Realizing that one person is not going to be your savior. One human body's not going to save the world and protect your 40 acres, or your truck, or your car, or whatever it is you want protected … your job. So we've got to be humble with that. But then we spend so much time thinking the world apart. We spend so much time trying to fit everyone into boxes. And we don't spend enough time thinking, I would say, ‘the world together’ and try to figure out, ‘what's going to be the thing that brings people together?’ and ‘what action is that?’ I don't have the answer to that. But we don't spend enough time thinking about putting the world back together. We spend too much time [on] ‘how is it divided?’ and analyzing that. 

Every single human has value. Love your neighbor is really important for us in our family and how my boys can live that out at school. How I can do that when I teach. How my wife does that when she's at work. What do we do here in Two Harbors  And like I said, my boys are going to be that next round so instilling that in them is important.”

Alisa Tollin: A more empathetic state

This video is a still image with recorded audio.

Alisa Tollin, 38, is a preschool teacher living in Alexandria. “It really hit home for me this year when both kids begged me, begged me, not to hang the pride flag out for June and just said ‘Mom we just don’t feel safe.’”

A transcript of the video:

“I have two, amazing LGTBQ+ kids, and up until 4 years ago we lived in the Twin Cities metro. Everyone was inclusive. There wasn't really a whole lot of concern about “oh my kids are gonna go to school and they're not gonna have a bathroom to access,” or things like that. 

And then we relocated here, and we were initially very, kind of upbeat. We knew there was going to be some pushback and some stereotypical Minnesotan passive aggressiveness. But over time it became increasingly harder and harder and harder to be the token gay family in town, the family with the two gay kids.

So my hope going forward is that over time, eventually, Minnesota’s acceptance and outlook of people not just in the LGBGTQ+ community but people of color, black people, those attitudes will change and become more inclusive and understanding.

It really hit home for me this year when both kids begged me, begged me, not to hang the pride flag out for June and just said ‘Mom we just don’t feel safe.’

And I was like ‘OK,’ which as a mom, and that’s the thing I guess I don’t understand, is like where did human empathy go? Nobody can even relate to me as a parent and go ‘oh I would feel awful if that was my child and they felt fear for even existing in their own skin.’

So for me that’s hard. But that’s my huge wish, is that I guess, over all a more empathetic state.

We’re renowned for our Minnesota nice and I have no idea where it has gone to. But over the course of, since 2016, I've just seen a huge sharp decline in just common sense and kindness, it's just gone out the window, and everybody’s got their soapbox they want to stand on. It’s kind of rough.”

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