County Manager Column from Jan. 19, 2021

Reflections on the National Day of Racial Healing

Today marks the fifth annual National Day of Racial Healing, an event which is part of the W.K Kellogg Foundation’s Truth, Racial Healing and Transformation efforts. From the foundation:

Through racial healing, we can all forge deep, meaningful relationships, lay the groundwork to transform broken systems, and create a world in which, together, we are a new force for positive change…

Like many communities across the United States, here in Ramsey County, our commissioners proclaimed today National Day of Racial Healing during their meeting this morning.

Watch the video

I want to thank Racial & Heath Equity Administrators Sara Hollie and Prince Corbett for their efforts in bringing this important event forward at Ramsey County in recent years and for helping our organization advance racial equity year-round. I encourage you to watch today’s video of the board meeting to see Sara’s and Prince’s remarks. Sara has also provided a written reflection for RamseyNet today.

In addition to my own reflections shared in the video here, I have asked the members of Ramsey County’s Eexecutive Team to each share a reflection for this day. Each of them took the opportunity to do so. These thoughts, in their own words, showcase a variety of perspectives so that you are able to hear from a broader group on a day that needs to be about our individual and collective journeys to build a better organization and society. It takes courage to be willing to share reflections with 4,000 colleagues and I thank each of them for their honesty and thoughts.

Johanna Berg, Deputy County Manager – Economic Growth and Community Investment:

The effects of racism – historic and contemporary – surround us. And that in this county, race can be used to predict an individual’s success, should appall us all. Our organization’s genuine and deep commitment to advancing racial equity is one of the things I am most proud of as a county leader and is an absolute imperative for our residents and our community. While 2020 provided us all with stark evidence that the racial divide in our country remains profound, it also showcased the positive impact that we, as Ramsey County employees, can and did make. We have much to be proud of in meaningfully advancing equity by explicitly bringing race into strategic planning and operational decision-making across our departments and Service Teams. Today I reflect on historic injustice, where we have made progress, how much work lies ahead of us, and how I may be a stronger force for good.  

Ann Feaman, Acting Director of Human Resources:

At its core, the National Day of Racial Healing is about healing our hearts and minds from what seeks to divide us as people. To heal, it’s important to recognize and affirm the trauma experienced by our racially and ethnically diverse co-workers, friends and community members, and to build a new path together. It is truly an honor to be here in this moment with all of you at the county where we are actively engaging in building that new path forward. For our workforce, it means that we value all employees and employees will feel that they have a purpose and a home here at Ramsey County. That as an employee, I know that I am respected and valued for the unique gifts and contributions I bring. Martin Luther King Jr. said, “If I cannot do great things, I will do small things in a great way.” That’s the beauty. Right now, we can all create space for healing and transformation by showing up and engaging with others in our workspaces with respect, intention and grace. 

Karen Francois, Deputy County Manager – Information and Public Records:

The work Martin Luther King Jr. began to heal our nation and build community that stands for justice and democracy must continue. In his memory, let’s honor him daily by continuing the fight against hatred, racism and white supremacy, and for racial healing.

Let’s continue his work by looking deep within ourselves. Ask yourself daily: What am I doing today that perpetuates racism - racial inequity. Be honest and humble and whatever it is, stop it. What am I doing today to heal racial division and inequity? Engage your curiosity. Do some research. 

Can we heal? I don’t know. I hope so. It will be difficult – especially in light of the recent terrorist insurgency against our democracy perpetrated by “Americans” and the pandemic that disparately impacts people based on race – negatively impacting black and brown people. We have to be ever vigilant and willing to do very hard work every day and stay the course. The healing it will take to overcome the effects of our history of systemic racism is a lifelong journey. “Racism is still deeply rooted all over America…It is still deeply rooted in the north, and it’s still deeply rooted in the south.” This was Dr. King 54 years ago, and yet we’ve seen over the past four years just how deeply rooted racism still is all over the nation. Dr. King also said, “Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” We have to accept that justice means accountability. Until all are held accountable for the vicious attack on our democratic way of life, healing will be a fleeting memory we contemplate 50 years from now. So, today and every day, let’s “…let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.” Amos 5:24.

Kathy Hedin, Deputy County Manager – Health and Wellness:

Racial healing is long overdue for our country and our community. Generations of Indigenous, Black and brown people continue to suffer from decisions that are thought to be for our common good. As recently as this past year, a Black physician by the name of Dr. Susan Moore died after not getting the treatment she deserved while being hospitalized for COVID-19. Her pain was downplayed, a common behavior by practitioners that happens to BIPOC patients, usually with the underlying bias that Black, Indigenous and brown people are addicted to drugs. Because of this, her treatment was not adequate. Her story has occurred over and over during the past 300-plus years. We weren’t seen as worthy. There’s power in worth. We all need to listen to one another speaking truth, we need to acknowledge our behaviors and actions and we need to give power and value to our human worth in order to heal together.

Alex Kotze, Director of Finance and Chief Financial Officer:

I am from Minnesota. I went to Saint Paul Central High School and saw firsthand many racial injustices early in my life. This shaped me, and as an adult, I have taken time - especially this past year - to reflect on those experiences to learn and grow. I have reflected on why Black parents were upset that a white student represented the school on the PTA, when the school was majority students of color; why the police responded so quickly to a call about a fight at Central when they didn’t seem to even notice the fights at nearby schools and so many other moments of injustice. I have thought a lot about these experiences, their influence on my life and my privilege. In Ramsey County, I am part of a leadership team and community where racial equity is part of everything we do. I am part of a team that is striving to improve and learn. Today, on the National Day of Racial Healing, I am honored to be here in Ramsey County and having hard conversations as part of a journey to heal and grow. 

Elizabeth Tolzmann, Director of Policy & Planning:

As we proclaim today as National Day of Racial Healing in Ramsey County, I am reminded by Dr. Martin Luther King’s call to action that still rings true to this day: “We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism. Now is the time to rise from the dark and desolate valley of segregation to the sunlit path of racial justice…We must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline. We must not allow creative protests to degenerate into physical violence…”

Nearly 60 years later and we still live in a world of historic injustice that have led to broken systems and policies that have resulted in institutional racism, stark disparities among our BIPOC community and greater community divide. Racial healing begins when we acknowledge that power, privilege and disparities exist and that we cannot start to heal until we fully acknowledge our past harm and authentically engage in courageous conversations of race if we want to move forward to transform our community toward our mission, values and goals

Scott Williams, Deputy County Manager – Safety and Justice:

Most of my 32-year career in public service has involved working to maintain and improve the effectiveness of public safety systems. It has been a difficult journey in recent years to realize and acknowledge the harm those systems have caused and to acknowledge my role in that. I feel grateful that I am in a position to work toward fixing this and excited to be part of an organization with the courage and determination to make real change. I look forward to continuing work with community leaders, my colleagues and willing criminal justice partners to reform and reconstruct our systems to ensure better and more equitable outcomes for all. 

As each of us use this National Day of Racial Healing as an opportunity to reflect on issues of race and racial healing, I hope our leaders’ reflections here have provided inspiration for your own consideration. I’d like to thank the Executive Team members and our Racial & Health Equity Administrators for sharing their thoughts and their ongoing work as we continue to drive forward to meet our Vision to make Ramsey County a vibrant community where all are valued and thrive.