01 December 1987
The city of Richmond, Virginia, is the former capital of the Southern Confederacy.
The city of Richmond, Virginia, is the former capital of the Southern Confederacy. It passed political, if not economic, power to the black Americans - who make up 53 per cent of its population - ten years ago.
The Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St Paul, 1,300 miles distant in the fertile northern prairies of Minnesota, are 85 per cent white and constitute a high - tech, high- culture conglomerate of two million inhabitants. Their minorities are fairly equally proportioned between Native Americans, black, Asian and Hispanic - and they have little economic or political influence.
What, you might ask, can these two metro areas have in common? They share a growing recognition that right relationships between the different races are key to the future of America. And that building them falls primarily on the cities.
For some months now members of both white and minority communities in the Twin Cities have been engaged in a process of honest dialogue. Hearing how a group of Richmonders, through courageous individual decisions, had helped bring the best out of their southern city, they invited them to come north to share their experiences.
Fourteen accepted the invitation, bringing with them their documentary The Courage to Change. `Potent, simple faith could turn sceptics' reads the headline of an editorial column in the St Paul Pioneer Press, describing the October visit of the multiracial group.
Among them was the Executive Director of the Richmond Commission on Human Relations, a black woman with community relations responsibilities in the Virginia Department of Corrections, a white businesswoman who ran one of Virginia's most successful dancing schools, the director of an inner city community development centre and the former City Manager.
Over a five-day period they met the mayors of Minneapolis and St Paul, a Dakota (Sioux) Native American chief, directors and staff of the Martin Luther King Center in St Paul and the Urban Coalition in Minneapolis, and leaders of the large Asian communities.
What took place was an exchange of experiences - a cross fertilization of models of constructive change.
Responding to a concern of Mayor Donald Fraser of Minneapolis that `most of our problems can be traced back to the fact that far too many children are not growing up right', Audrey Burton spoke of her childhood as a black in the deep south. Her deep bitterness had affected all she did and said; then she discovered change and faith that took her, as she put it, into `the second dimension' of freedom from fear, hate and blame.
Al Smith, Executive Director of the Richmond Commission on Human Relations, related his own discovery that for human relations policy and work to be effective it had to have change in the heart of each individual at its core. And Chief David Larson of the Dakota Band related the moving story of his discovery of the heritage of faith of his people and the changes it brought in his life. `We have always believed there is one God,' he said, `and that all people on earth are therefore relatives.'
One Minnesota host commented, `I wanted us to wake people up to the issues so that they would do something before crises erupt. I still want to do this but I realize now that the change has to be rooted in me.'