Twenty-year-old Tanisha DeRungs has a message for the citizens of Mora: “It doesn’t matter if you feel that you have no place in this conversation. You absolutely do.”
A 2018 graduate of Mora High School, Tanisha has a message about the importance of participating in issues of race in the wake of George Floyd’s death on May 25 and the subsequent protests and riots across the state, nation and world.
She brought that message to the Mora High School parking lot, adjacent to the Kanabec County Courthouse and Jail on Saturday, June 6, in a gathering she dubbed a “conversational event.”
“It was a little stressful for me, trying to figure out how I can come across as someone who just wants to be heard, rather than someone who wants to bark at people because I’ve been hurt,” she said.
In preparation for the event, Tanisha coordinated with leaders at Mora Public Schools, City of Mora and requested the help of Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith. Help, which Tanisha said, he delivered.
“(Brian Smith) really is an amazing man. A big reason I have so much faith in this town is because of the authority figures and what they have come together to accomplish for this very conversation. It has been nothing but love and I am so grateful.”
At the event, Tanisha shared her own story of what it was like to grow up as a black person, then encouraged those in attendance to share how they have been affected by issues of race and prejudice.
Tanisha grew up in St. Paul where there was “massive” diversity. She spent some time in foster care, until three years ago, Tanisha moved to Mora to live with her grandparents, Sue and Virgil Ericson. She began attending Mora High School as a junior.
One of the first things Tanisha noticed was that she stood out as someone who wasn’t white.
According to the United States Census Bureau 2018 American Community Survey estimates, nearly all of Kanabec County’s 16,000 residents are white.
The Kanabec County population’s racial background is:
96.3% White alone
1.8% two or more races
0.8% American Indian and Alaska Native alone
0.5% Asian alone
0.3% Black or African American alone
By comparison, St. Paul is 56.7% white alone, with 16% black or African American alone, and 5% two or more races.
Tanisha said it was difficult being a black child of the foster care system in St. Paul. She got another chance and fresh start when she was able to move to Mora. “Coming here was everything to me,” she said — but Tanisha described some of her experiences in high school as “not very pleasant.”
“I spent the last two years of my high school career in this town, trying to talk myself into feeling worthy,” she said. It was a negative experience she hopes to diminish for others as statewide, national and global conversations continue about issues of race.
“My experience has been hurtful, but it has been filled with hope,” she said.
Uncomfortable & inconvenient
Tanisha knew this conversation and those following would be uncomfortable. “(These narratives) aren’t meant to be convenient. They are not meant to excuse people who don’t care enough to be a part of them.”
During Saturday’s event, over a dozen people of different races took turns at the microphone, including teachers, students, counselors, school administrators, city council members and others.
Among them there were tears, laughter, expressions of fear, love, anger, encouragement and questions about what to do.
Tanisha said, “We are all human. We are a part of the human race and in our work on Earth we are meant to love each other, we are meant to embrace each other, we are meant to understand and take the time for each other so we can all come to a greater understanding of what we want and need in our communities.”
In a statement to Mora residents and businesses leading up to the event, Kanabec County Sheriff Brian Smith wrote, “I have talked to the organizers and have been ensured that their intent is to peacefully voice their concerns ...
“The Sheriff’s Office will be actively involved in protecting their right to free speech and also preventing any damage to local properties ... I am asking you to stay out of the area if your intent is to disrupt the demonstration or create an unsafe environment.
“I know that the Mora community can be an example to all of those around us on how to properly interact and allow for voices to be heard. Thank you for your support and cooperation.”
In response to threats made leading up to the event, a section of East Maple Avenue adjacent to the school was barricaded. Smith said this was done as a way to subdue potential disruptions.
To see more photos and video of some of the speeches made during the event, visit the Kanabec County Times website at www.MoraMinn.com