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Honoring Labor event highlights social issues, emphasizes need for change

The Rotary Pavilion at Paul Bunyan Park came alive Monday as local officials, volunteers and community members gathered for an Honoring Labor event, hosted by Project for Change and Our Revolution Bemidji.

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Cynthia Wilson, vice president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP, speaks at an Honoring Labor event on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, at Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- The Rotary Pavilion at Paul Bunyan Park came alive Monday as local officials, volunteers and community members gathered for an Honoring Labor event, hosted by Project for Change and Our Revolution Bemidji.

The event, which included speakers, local musicians and a silent raffle, had a focus on wage issues, racial discrimination and creating change in the workforce. A picnic-style meal kicked off the event, with volunteers serving up hot dogs and brats to attendees.

Bemidji City Councilmembers Dan Jourdain and Audrey Thayer were among the group of about 60 attendees. To kick off the program, Thayer took the stage to thank Our Revolution Bemidji Vice Chair Benjamin Cahill.

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Bemidji City Councilmembers Dan Jourdain and Audrey Thayer talk to an attendee during an Honoring Labor event on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, at Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

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“Ben has managed to help organize a number of events this summer in the city of Bemidji, and I’m really grateful,” Thayer remarked before presenting Cahill with a mug as a gift for his efforts.

Other speakers included Project for Change Vice President David Frison, and Ernest Joseph Oppegaard-Peltier lll.

Our Revolution Bemidji Chair Kimberly Jannson also spoke at the event, sharing a personal anecdote to bring attention to the racism her son has experienced throughout his life, even as a young child.

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Our Revolution Bemidji Vice Chair Benjamin Cahill and Our Revolution Bemidji Chair Kimberly Jannson listen to speakers under the Rotary Pavilion at Paul Bunyan Park during an Honoring Labor event on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, in Bemidji. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

“I never want to see another BIPOC child go through what my son has gone through,” Jannson said before applause broke out among the crowd.

Featured speaker Cynthia Wilson, vice president of the Minneapolis branch of the NAACP, took the stage to discuss her work with the organization and what led her there.

Wilson said she wears many hats, describing herself as a mother, wife, sister, friend and activist. Originally from Lansing, Mich., she ended up at the University of Minnesota on a basketball scholarship. During this time, Wilson helped form small “groups of support” for student-athletes, which then expanded to community activism.

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After college, Wilson worked for the city of Minneapolis, where she said she experienced several issues within her department.

“I worked for the city of Minneapolis, under the recreation division. I’ve worked there for almost 34 years now. While working for the city, I experienced some discrimination, some racism, harassment, retaliation, the list goes on,” Wilson said.

After going through human resources, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, Wilson said she decided to start her own union along with other staff of color. Though the original group of 26 dwindled down to just six people, the group was able to reach the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and other local activists, ultimately creating change in Wilson’s department.

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Project for Change Vice President David Frison speaks during an Honoring Labor event on Monday, Sept. 6, 2021, at Paul Bunyan Park in Bemidji. (Madelyn Haasken / Bemidji Pioneer)

“If you’re willing to work, you can get anything accomplished,” she said. “If you give up, you’re just a part of the problem. Anything that is worth something is going to take time.”

Now, Wilson said, she strives to continue helping her community as vice president of the Minneapolis NAACP.

“The work that we have and the issues that come across our desks every day is unbelievable,” she said. “We have people who are willing to put this work in, to make sure that we answer every call, we try to make sure we get some resolve in every issue that’s brought across our desks, and that we take the time to make sure that we’re serving our community.”

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Wilson emphasized the impact a small group of people can have when it comes to creating change.

“Never, ever despise small beginnings,” Wilson says. “Don’t worry about how many people are showing up, worry about being the change.”

Madelyn Haasken is the multimedia editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is a 2020 graduate of Bemidji State University with a degree in Mass Communication, with minors in writing and design. In her free time, she likes watching hockey, doing crossword puzzles and being outside.
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