Glen Gunderson

May 27, 2021

As part of my own personal journey, I am committed to being a strong equity leader. This is the 37th 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 2 of my talk with Brian Davis. (You can read part one here)


Glen: Maybe you can address this. But did the Y's presence in the community, by your leadership, help spark Hastings to collectively decide, "We want to be a more diverse and inclusive place?" What do you see there, and is there a pathway for other communities to become more inclusive?

 

Brian: There's the colloquial phrase, "Minnesota Nice," but it's more a matter of just not really saying what's on your mind. Where Hastings has had to get to is, being willing to put it out there. A number of people — not everyone — is going to try to sit here and pretend 23,000 people, all of a sudden, woke up one day and said, "We've got to change this."

We get our pushback here. But the reason we're getting that pushback is because when you start having conversations like this in a town this size, honestly, you have to, if you've been a part of the generations and generations of families, accept the flaws that might've been in your town the whole time. And that's tough to accept when your great, great grandparents built a town.

Now you're being asked to accept there are some things you didn't do, and that's hard. And so we've got folks here that are working on that, and they're trying to have conversations. But they're working on it, and they're moving in that direction.

The fact is, there used to be a pretty vibrant Black community here in Hastings. They started doing a little too well, and the folks who didn't like it ultimately ended up running them out of town and burning down the African Methodist Church that was here. In fact, there's a headline that I've seen a few times from the Hastings Gazette back in the late 1950s that said, "So and so, the last Black resident of Hastings dies." Now, why would that even be something that would be noted?

It's almost, "Okay, we got rid of the last one.' That's what that headline said to me. And so the interesting thing is, when presented with these things, I can tell you that there was quite a different reaction to, depending on which camp you were in, and some of the books here were just and faced with a fact like that, were not accepting of it. Where Hastings is now is getting themselves to embrace and accept this. "Yes, we ran people of color out of the city way back when. Yes, we burned down the church."

These are facts. And the acceptance of those facts will allow us to move forward from those facts.

Again, I have to tell you, I have worked with any number of people here on a lot of different initiatives for kids, and I am positive that there are people in this town who cannot stand me, simply for who I am. But that's okay. This is not something where I'm on this high mountain top, looking down at people. I've learned things.

There is a gentleman who has been an amazing coach for us, for years. And initially to look at him, you think, "Whoa, rough around the edges." But he's an amazing coach, amazing dad, amazing guy, great to communicate with, but I don't know that I made that assumption initially.

Initially, my gut was, "Okay, here we go, this is going to be a challenge." And it turned out I was wrong. I was wrong about him. Let's give everybody a chance, never judge a book by its cover. And I feel that's where Hastings is getting to now.

But we still struggle with folks that are new to town, and I work really hard, at the Y, when people come in and they're new. I say, 'Hey, come do this. Come do that. Come talk to me."

I met a kid that is now going to be coming to our third- or fourth-grade basketball program. He has been in Hastings since 2015. Why am I just meeting him? And I told my executive here at the Hastings Y, "We have got to do a better job. We've got to get our word out there better. This kid's been here. He's biracial, and he's been here for six years. We could have been working with this kid this entire time, making him feel more comfortable here in the school system."

Right now, we're working on an anti-bullying campaign for our new discipline policies, because bullying has been a problem. And a lot of the new kids to town are the ones who are getting bullied. 

Now we have an opportunity to change that and change that narrative and change kids' perspectives. I think that's important. 

 

Glen: I want to talk about labels. I'm really interested in learning because language continues to change, and I wonder what your perspective is on this. BIPOC? POC? Black, with a capital B? How do you feel about these labels? Do you want to be referred to as a person of color, or do you want to be referred to as a human being?

I'm just really curious about this because, in some ways, I think the way we print applications in our country, the way we ask people to check race. Is that a good thing? Is that a bad thing? Is that propagating a racism dynamics and systemic issues? Should we be using these labels or not?

 

Brian: I think this is a tricky one for me because I think it's important for people to be aware, but I also think that one of the struggles we have is, you want folks to be aware and I want them to be cognizant and acknowledge my race. I shudder when people say, "I don't see color." It's a bothersome thing to me because I think you should see it. I think you should see the differences we have, and the mosaic that makes up our country.

I see everyone, and I see all the different shades and hues and personality types, all that stuff. It makes up the mosaic of people in this country.

This is tricky because I think that in an effort to try to balance out some of the scales, we have created one heck of a lot of check boxes. And the thing that makes me uncomfortable, at times, is that I am fine with the concept of trying to make sure that we are diversifying. I think it's important, not because the Equal Opportunity Act says that we have to do it this way. I think it's important because if you have a really huge and diverse group that you're working with, you learn more from people that way. You learn about the human condition, you learn about what people are all about, you learn about what their lives are like. 

That makes you a better employee. That makes you have a richer life. So I think that's why it's important, not because they say, "Oh, you've got to do this and it balances out." Because the trouble with that is, then you might start getting into the danger of checking boxes, and I don't ever want people to check boxes, and here's why.

If you are a person of color, and you are hired into a position because someone was checking a box that you're not qualified for, if it doesn't go well, that will be a mark on every other person of that same group for who knows how long, in the hiring person's mind. 

"That didn't go well. I'm not doing that again."

And unfortunately, that is the reality of being a person of color. If a white male is not the right hire, we'll try another white male. But if it's someone of color, the odds of you getting another shot or another person in that particular group is not as high. So from my perspective, I want to see diversity, but I don't want to see it at the cost of the person who should have been hired. Because that's dangerous, when you start getting too caught up in it, you might start making bad hires. And I think that's a bad plan now, developmentally. Yes. I absolutely think that we should have diversity. I think I like to try to avoid labels.

I like to just be Brian. Now when I walked in the room, yes, I want them to go, "Oh, this is a gentleman who's African-American and blah, blah, blah." Great. That's fine.

No, don't look at me as anybody else. I'm a man of color. I was raised in a very large, East coast city. But here's a city kid who also learned how to ride and rope, and barrel race. See, here's the neat thing about that. 

You and I came from completely different backgrounds, but we both have that point in common.

 

Look for Part 3 of our “A Conversation on Race” with Brian next week.