What began as an intention of a racist, hurtful rally against Muslim and Somali community members in St. Cloud turned into a positive, historical event on Oct. 25.
The city of St. Cloud has one of the highest Somali populations in the United States, while some community members have been more welcoming that others, many were there to support in response to the hate rally.
It all began on social media, when a hate group created a Facebook page promoting a rally against St. Cloud’s Muslim and Somali community members. No one could anticipate the reaction that followed, as people formed together to support St. Cloud’s diverse community.
In response to the hate group, a new group formed that promoted a very different message: Unity. The ‘We are One 4 Social Justice Coalition’ first formed Oct. 2, as a group of students and administration members from SCSU, St. Bens, St. Johns University and community leaders gathered to organize an event in response to counter the racist rally that was originally scheduled to take place Oct. 25 at Lake George. This racist rally responded by cancelling and did not end up taking place.
The purpose of the coalition was summarized by Dr. Miguel Chavez, one of the coalition organizers, as well as the director of the Chicano studies and professor at SCSU. “Our hope for this coalition is to continue to build and foster united communities and the positive relationship between diverse communities. We are continuing to mobilize and embrace the idea that we can live together, that we can celebrate our cultures and our languages to bring peace, dignity, and social justice.”
Justin Michael was also one of the coalition organizers, and expressed what he hoped the group accomplished.
“My hope for this event is that we can send a message loud and clear to anyone feeling unsafe living in St. Cloud. The message is that whether they are LGBT, Chicano, African American, or part of the immigrant population- that people of faith of all demographics are coming together as well as students from universities and community leaders, to stand in solidarity with our Muslim population,” Michael said. “I hope people will see this and feel safe. It is essential for them to see there are a bunch of human beings standing together to advocate for them. My other hope is to let people know that we need to take action for things to change.”
The march began at St. Cloud’s city hall, and had a very positive atmosphere. Music played, people sang, and held many signs promoting equality and love. The event also featured speakers during the preparation for the march, which began from the courthouse and went to Halenbeck Hall on SCSU’s campus. Upon reaching the destination, the rally continued at Halenbeck hall until 4 p.m.
People of all ethnic backgrounds were seen at the march, each sharing in the promotion of unity and equality to the St. Cloud community. A Somali woman, Hayes Abokar an SCSU student at the march shared her views on the racist group and the peaceful march.
“The idea that there are people here that just don’t like me or hate me because of my religion and my culture is very hurtful and it is the reason why I joined the coalition. We are here as a counter-protest against them to show we are here for peace and love; we are not here to fight. We are all one, we are here, and we are all human beings,” she said.
The peaceful march accomplished many of its goals Saturday, which included the hopes to bring people together and ensure that members felt safe living in the St. Cloud community.
“This event definitely helped me feel safer. On the first day, it brought me to tears, to see so many people from different backgrounds, different cultures and religions coming together to basically stand in one with us and to show that they don’t believe in the same beliefs as those people,” Abokar said.
“It is very moving to me to see all these different people here to basically stand for Muslims and Somali people and for St. Cloud as one. We are all unity, we are here together. We are neighbors, friends, classmates, co-workers; we are here together for all of us.”
This event presented a unique opportunity in which the format was provided so that everyone’s opinions could be heard. Many saw the march as an opportunity to understand their neighbor’s backgrounds and to better understand other people’s points of view.
Another Somali woman, Nasar Ali, a local community leader, expressed her views about the rally and march. “The reason why I am here today is because I was raised in St. Cloud. I did not just come a year or two years ago. I have been here for fourteen years, basically half of my childhood. To hear people say they don’t want my culture or religion here is heartbreaking. I consider St. Cloud as my home. I know it’s not majority of people saying this [the racist remarks], but the people saying it are louder than those who are welcoming me into the community,” Ali said.
She also addressed the ‘terrorist’ stereotype many Somali people encounter. “We are not harmful people. Yes, we have different cultures and religions, but if you come up and talk to me than you would realize we do not want to do damage to anyone. We came from a home that does not have a place for education or a place to run around, because it is war zone. If my country was safe, I would be able to go there.”
An overall theme of the peaceful march included the sense that St. Cloud consists of one united population, one community. Many people in attendance promoted the sense of community by acknowledging their neighbors as an essential step for people to understand. Individual action was also promoted to encourage justice and freedom in order to obtain a broader sense of unity.