'Please have a voice, Bemidji': Hundreds gather in Paul Bunyan Park to rally against racism

Zoe Christensen, president of BSU’s Black Student Union, gives a speech titled “A Message to the Silent” during a rally against racism on Saturday in Paul Bunyan Park. (Jillian Gandsey / Bemidji Pioneer)

BEMIDJI -- For the second straight weekend, hundreds of people in Bemidji attended a peaceful anti-racism rally sparked by the death of George Floyd.

The Saturday, June 6, event was led by BSU's Black Student Union. The rally included a handful of speakers near the Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox statues, music and an observed nine minutes of silence in memory of Floyd, the Black man who died May 25 after then-Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into Floyd's neck despite his repeated requests for the officer to stop.

BSU professor David Frison spoke at last weekend's event and again on Saturday with a speech titled "Minnesota Not Nice."

"Before moving here about four years ago, I looked up Minnesota," Frison said. He found that Minnesota ranked No. 3 in the country of best places to live. He kept hearing the term "Minnesota nice."

"First of all, I tried to find the Black communities and couldn't find any, and the ones that I found that was here were afraid to come out," Frison said. "First of all let me say, Minnesota, that's not nice."


Zoe Christensen, president of the Black Student Union, ended the event with a speech titled “A Message to the Silent,” in which she addressed community members who have chosen not to say anything against social injustice. She spoke of the racism she's endured throughout her life and asked Bemidji to not remain silent.

"If you are a friend, ally or supporter of the Black community, you must speak up," Christensen said. "Your silence only sides with the oppressors. It isn't enough to not be racist. Stand with us. It may be uncomfortable but do it anyways. You may have never seen it done before but that's OK, you can be the first. You might be scared but, trust me, we're scared, too."

Christensen shared heartbreaking stories of how racism cost her high school friends and about being the lone Black woman in classrooms. Her stories had a common theme: silence. No one spoke up for her when she couldn't find the words to do it herself.

"We are tired, Bemidji. We are tired. We keep fighting and it doesn't change. When will you understand?" Christensen said while fighting back tears. "If you weren't a voice before, I invite you to be a voice now. It's OK to be enlightened and change your opinion. We can't fix past mistakes but we can forgive. We need to move forward and we need to move together. Please have a voice, Bemidji."


Chauvin, the former officer who knelt on Floyd's neck for nearly nine minutes, has been charged with murder and manslaughter, and those charges were increased from third- to second-degree murder on Wednesday, June 3.

The other three officers at the scene -- Thomas Lane, Tou Thao and J Alexander Kueng -- have also been charged with aiding and abetting murder. The four officers were all fired from the Minneapolis Police Department on May 26.

Jillian Gandsey is the Multimedia Editor at the Bemidji Pioneer. She is an Iron Range native and a 2013 graduate of Bemidji State University. Follow Jillian on Twitter and Instagram @jilliangandsey. Contact her at (218) 333-9786, (218) 996-1216 or at
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