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Rallying around respect: Group of Bemidji residents prepare statement to promote unity

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BEMIDJI -- Bemidji Mayor Rita Albrecht and a group of residents are working to highlight Bemidji as an inclusive community after they’ve heard of several recent incidents of hostility and harassment toward local citizens.

Bemidji Mayor Rita AlbrechtThe effort began Friday, when Albrecht was contacted by three residents who informed her that their friends and family had experienced discriminatory harassment.

"A group of us met and talked about our concerns and we decided that this isn't the way Bemidji is. We decided that we should make a statement about what our values are in Bemidji," Albrecht said in an interview Wednesday.

The result is a document titled "Standing Together for #BemidjiRespect."

The statement reads that Bemidji views any of these incidents as "absolutely unacceptable, here or anywhere.

"We invite you to stand with us as we affirm shared values of mutual respect and appreciation for our differences," the statement continues. "Our community seeks to build bridges of inclusion, awareness and understanding across all divides. We face up to challenges and address them together. We hold one another accountable for doing the right thing."

Word has spread about the statement, and Albrecht said people from across the city are asking to be involved.

"The only thing we had thought of was to put out this statement. So far, the community has rallied around this idea and have said that they want to do more," Albrecht said. "So, we're also putting the question back to the community about what it wants to do, because that's where the energy is."

According to Scott Faust, director of communications and marketing for BSU and Northwest Technical College, at least 50 organizations and businesses are expected to endorse the statement by Thursday afternoon.

So far, endorsements include:

  • Harmony Foods.

  • The Bemidji Downtown Alliance.

  • KAXE/KBXE Radio Stations.

  • Bemidji State University.

  • Northwest Technical College.

  • Bemidji Pioneer.

  • The Indigenous Environmental Network.

  • Rail River Folk School.

  • Headwaters Unitarian Universalist Fellowship.

  • Peacemaker Resources.

  • Bi-County Community Action Programs.

  • St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church.

"I've also been contacted by one of the members of Shared Vision (a local community group working to improve race relations) and he offered to be of assistance, and I think that's really awesome that they want to do something with us," Albrecht said. "I think there are a number of organizations in our city that could be helpful including Shared Vision."

The plan for the growing group is to publish its statement in the Pioneer this weekend while also creating a way for those who are interested to “opt in” to the effort.

"I'd like people to focus on the things that unite us, rather than divide us," Albrecht said. "We all share values of wanting to have the best for our family, our children and to live safely."

The full statement: 

Matthew Liedke

Matthew Liedke is the city, county and state government reporter for the Bemidji Pioneer. He also covers business, politics and financial news.

(218) 333-9791