Glen Gunderson

May 20, 2021

As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 36th in a series of blogs that will be a part of that effort. I hope you will benefit from the conversation.

I have utilized A Conversation on Race to engage with equity leaders — mentors, teammates and dear friends — from all over the country, and I’ve learned so much about them and me in the process.

The murder of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, inspired an awareness and awakening on injustice in our nation. Enough is enough! Yet so many events have happened in the 11 months since, from the attack at the Capitol and the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th president of the United States on January 20, 2021, and Kamala Harris as our nation's first female, Black and Indian American vice president in Washington D.C., to multiple mass shootings and the alarming spike in domestic hate crimes against Asian Pacific Islanders.

But the national and international spotlight returned to Minneapolis, first with the trial of former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin, then the shooting of Daunte Wright, a 20-year-old Black man, by a police officer during a traffic stop on April 11th in nearby Brooklyn Center.

The testimony was powerful and emotional, and many Black people in our community were re-traumatized watching the viral video of Chauvin's knee on George Floyd's neck and hearing the insights of those on the scene next to Cup Foods in Minneapolis. Our community and country anxiously awaited the jury's decision to convict Chauvin on manslaughter, and second- and third-degree murder charges, and now many are wondering if justice will be served for Wright and his family.

In addition, COVID-19 still heavily influences how we live, and there are many daunting challenges that our community and nation are facing. But the YMCA of the North remains focused and committed on our goals.

We will continue our efforts to become an anti-racist, anti-oppressive and multicultural organization. To that end, I will continue to have these conversations with influencers and leaders of diverse backgrounds who will be a part of the solution.

My 19th guest is Brian Davis, the senior sports director at the YMCA of Hastings. Brian holds a bachelor’s degree in political science and economics from the University of Rochester and a masters of business administration in finance from Syracuse University. He's worked at Northwest Airlines and Target, but Brian's passion around young people has made a massive impact on his two children and many others in and around Hastings. To say he's involved is an understatement: In addition to his important role at the Y, Brian is on the school board, and president of the Raider Nation Baseball and Basketball Boosters.

I hope you'll enjoy Part 1 of my talk with Brian Davis.

Glen: Brian, thank you for joining me! Let's start with this: Where have you come from?


Brian: I've got a strange story. My parents are both from the South. My mom was born in Texas, my dad was born in North Carolina, tobacco road. And they met at a party in New York, after they both decided to leave their respective hometowns and strike out on their own. They met, married and decided they wanted to raise their kids in New York and not go back. So I was born and raised in New York, but my background is all Southern roots. So I'm a hundred percent Southern, with a lot of Texas in me. It's just a strange upbringing, to have city and country meet each other like that. So it gave me a unique perspective on things.

My parents sent me to a private school, all 13 years, and so I got to experience very early on what it's like to be different or be treated as different. We had 400 kids, grades nine through 12, and of that, 25 of us were students of color. I've spent a long time working on identity challenges and different things like that: Who am I? Who do I hope to be? Those types of things, and spending your school year adjusting to a life of being in a private school with a lot of children of U.S. senators and captains of industries.

I was just a kid on scholarship. 

And then spending your summers, working on a farm, down South. It's a mishmash of things that are going on, an interesting upbringing. I've got one sibling that's seven years younger than me, and we are pretty tight. She lives down in Texas. 

My parents are in Arkansas right now, and everybody's down South except me. Everybody's back.


Glen: When we talked before, you shared a little bit about the Civil Rights movement and some history that your family has around that movement. Would you share about that?


Brian: So my mom is one of six children, and her second youngest sister is Thelma, and she was one of the Little Rock Nine. These are the nine children of color who attended Little Rock Central High School in 1957 and had to be escorted by the military into school because there was so much violence around them, integrating the school that, up until that point, had been completely segregated.

So my grandparents had to deal with death threats, the Ku Klux Klan, any number of things going on. That's been a backdrop of my life, standing up for the right thing, being able to have very courageous conversations, being brave. I have my own children now and to think of someone sending your child into a situation like that, for fear of the harm that they could come to you?

I asked my grandfather once why he did it, and he looked at me, and he told me, "Because somebody had to."

So it's part of who I am, and I've always had a lens for equity and how people should be treated.

My wife is Caucasian, and we've had a lot of really meaningful conversations, especially here in the last five years with everything going on. How we view things, how her experiences are not mine, and how there are certain things that I rail against, and she has helped me get a perspective and see it from the other side, because whenever there's a fight to be fought, I'm more than willing to step out there and take the chance to fight that fight.

And if that means that I lost my job, or if that meant that I didn't get elected to school board here or whatever it meant, that's fine because it has to be said. And when people don't fight like that, I get very frustrated.

I remember my wife telling me once, "You have to understand Brian. If you're not raised to fight, you can't expect somebody decades later to all of a sudden be a fighter, when they've never had a fight in their entire life."

She's right. She's absolutely right.

I was getting frustrated with a group of folks who I wasn't understanding well enough. There will be their side of things. It's not that they shouldn't fight, but I had to better understand why maybe they were hesitant to fight.

My wife is originally from a small town in Iowa and, fortunately for me, she did quite a bit of traveling. She's a Spanish teacher. She's been to Europe. She's been to Spain, all that type of thing that gives you a different world view. And my sister-in-law, who is amazing, also got to do some of those things. And I think that's one of the things that helped bring us together, is that she doesn't see it the same way as other others might. But my brother-in-law, he never left. And, as a result of that, his perspective on things is very different.


Glen: Can you share a little bit about your work in Hastings and what that's been like?

Brian: My wife wanted a small town to live in. We ended up moving out here and Hastings fit that bill. I mean, her hometown was 3,000 people, so Hastings, with 22,000, is the big city for her! A big step.

I started off here with Northwest Airlines, which became Delta. Then 9-11 happened, and a lot of us lost our jobs. I became a buyer for Target While I was at Target, I worked a couple of evenings here at the Hastings Y, up on the fitness floor. From there, I was asked if I ever wanted to teach a couple of group fitness classes so I started teaching a H.I.I.T. class, and it was a lot of fun. And while all this was going on, I discovered that Target, while it was an incredible company, was also a pressure cooker. I was a buyer, frozen pizzas and frozen desserts. High-pressure job, and I discovered I was always in a bad mood, crabby at home, crabby with my kids. And it was a little bit serendipitous at the time. I was working as a youth advisor here in town with my church, and working with kids and healthy youth. Then all of a sudden, the director of healthy youth was moving on to St. Paul, and the job became open. So I talked to my wife about the fact that it'd be a salary cut and things, but it'd probably be better overall for us.

I determined to interview for it. And that was right in the time, when it was being transitioned over to being sports director, so when I interviewed for it, I knew I was interviewing for a job that was going to change. So I became the sports director here, and that got me really starting to integrate in this community. I was on the Hastings Basketball board as the president. I was president of the in-house baseball program. And so I started working on those types of programs and working with youth and working with the community to better understand what their needs were, how, the why.

I could meet these kids where they're at. How could we fill any gaps within the community? Not trying to reinvent the wheel. I'm not trying anything different, but how can we fill gaps? And during all this craziness, I ran for school board! I'm still on the Hastings Basketball board. I'm still the president of Raider Nation Baseball, and I'm the senior sports director for the East region of the Y.


Glen: You got to start getting involved, Brian! 


Brian: That's how I got here. As a result of all that, Glen, it also allowed me, as we started our Thrive Project, to bring equity and better understand each other in this community. I've been right in the center of that. 

Believe me, this is a small town. There's generations of family names and things like that. I can rattle off names here in this town that everybody knows. But what it has allowed for is, for people to have a different perspective, for kids to have a different perspective. I think that's important.

What's happening for these kids is, if they can see one person of color — even if it's only one — who's in a position of management, who's in a position of bringing to them the things that they enjoy, that changes their perspective hopefully forever going forward. Because the people of color will not be a mystery to them. They'll say, "Oh, Brian's a person of color, and I have known him for 10 years. He was the guy that ran our sports programs."

So you hope that carries forward. In addition, Hastings is becoming more diverse. My son graduated two years ago. He's a sophomore now, at TCU. When he graduated, I believe his graduating class was 4 percent people of color. The kindergarten class back then was 15 percent.

So you can see the movement.


Look for Part 2 of our “A Conversation on Race” with Brian next week.