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Shared Vision rally: Community rallies against racism

Bemidji State University psychology professor John Gonzalez speaks about racism in today's world at the Shared Vision "Moving Forward: Rally Against Racism" Thursday afternoon at the Beltrami County Courthouse. Monte Draper | Bemidji Pioneer

BEMIDJI - Shared Vision held a rally Thursday to bring attention to the cross burning that occurred several weeks ago and help the community move forward from the racist act.

"The cross burning that happened is a very unfortunate reminder that racism is alive and well today," Bemidji State University psychology professor John Gonzalez said at Thursday's rally. "It is really unfortunate that something like this has to happen before we realize that racism still exists."

"Moving Forward: Rally Against Racism" gave Gonzalez and other members of the Bemidji community a chance to speak about the hate crime and to bring the community closer together after such a disturbing event.

Mayor David Larson and County Commissioner Quentin Fairbanks signed a proclamation showing their disgust for the crime but also showing their desire to get the community back to the friendly community it is known to be.

"Hate crimes do not just reflect upon the perpetrator but upon our entire community," City Manager John Chattin read from the letter. "It is up to each and every one of us that such a crime never happens again."

Two men, Derek Barnes and Ryan Andree, were charged last week for involvement in the cross burning, but Annie Henry, a former BSU professor, said the victims' scars will not be healed from that alone.

"My one wish is I wish I could meet the family," Henry said. "They are going to need all of our support (and) all of our prayers because that is a fear that they are going to have to deal with the rest of their lives."

Henry said she hopes rallies like the one held Thursday continue several times a year and not just after horrific events like the cross burning occur.

Larson said a community effort is needed to move forward and to create a friendly and safe community.

"Friendliness and acceptance cannot be attained with the implementation of a program or by signing of a proclamation," Larson said. "It must begin with you and me. Each of us as individuals of diversity must begin to be what we want the other person to become."