Usually our newsletter articles are written on business topics germane to the collections industry, and except for Rick’s letter, we don’t typically include bylines. But this time is different as the times we live in have become so very different and so very fast. I sense that for many it would be easy to be defeatist and simply throw in the towel, giving up on all of the challenges we face right now. Yet I wanted to share with you a brief story of hope and how our natural resilience as Americans can bring us out of this.
So you know, I live in the Minneapolis St. Paul area. In my work for UCS I cover Minnesota and a portion of Northwest Wisconsin. Except for a brief time, many years ago, I have lived here all my life. My great-grand parents and grandparents were immigrants in the early part of the last century. My parent’s families knew each other, and when my parents married they made south Minneapolis our home. I married a girl from Minneapolis, and my in-laws lived in Minneapolis as well. Most of our relatives and friends lived within a few miles of each other; many still do.
My roots here run deep. This is my home.
I have often been asked why I still live here. The city has such a reputation as being cold, snowy and bleak in the winter. That it surely can be at times. Yet when spring and summer come the cities blossom with beauty and vibrant activity.
The cities are built around lakes and parkways; lots of greenspace. Three rivers come together here: the Mississippi, the Minnesota and the St. Croix. I live within spitting distance of the Minnesota, not far from where it and the Mississippi meet near historic Fr. Snelling.
Ft. Snelling was an outpost on the frontier when Minnesota was still part of the Wisconsin territory. A key post in the expansion of the United States westward, it also was witness to the brutal murder and displacement of many Native Americans. Ft. Snelling also played a part in the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court Decision of 1857. For those of you who don’t know, Dred Scott was a slave that traveled to Ft. Snelling in the company of his then owner, a doctor assigned to the fort. The case before the court asserted that because he resided in free territory he should be free of his bondage as well. The Supreme Court ruled that he was not only not free, but that black American slaves were not even U.S. Citizens, in free territory or not.
Roll ahead a year and Minnesota became a state in 1858 and a year later the embers that were to grow into the great conflagration we know as the Civil War were fanned in part because of that decision.
I include the last so that you don’t think I have a glossy eyed view of my hometown. We have our dark side and share of challenges. Living here in the Midwest, my sense is that on a national level it is easy to overlook the very deep and challenging issues we face in terms of poverty, crime, drugs and of course racism.
Like the rest of the United States we have weathered a great depression, two world wars, Korea, Vietnam, recessions, political scandal, and have largely come through it all better and growing. We are certainly nothing if not resilient.
And also, like the rest of the Country, when COVID hit, we took a torpedo economically. Unemployment surged, lock down ensued, life as we knew it ground to a halt. Like most other challenges, we knew we would make it through and by and large we pulled together to try to limit the spread of the virus. That is usually how things are done here. And we seemed to be winning.
Until May 25th, that is.
That is the day George Floyd was tragically and horrifically killed and the policemen who caused his death ultimately charged with murder.
That is the day it felt like our world turned bottom up.
Like I say, here in the Midwest, we typically are ‘fly over’ country. Only when tragedies like this happen do we get a blitz of attention.
I still find it hard to believe what happened in the following week. Riots and vandalism of unprecedented scope ensued. The Minneapolis Star Tribune now reports that more than 1,500 buildings were burnt, looted, or otherwise vandalized throughout the metro area. This includes the burning and abandonment of a police precinct about two blocks away from the dentist office I visited as a kid. National Guard troops marched down streets where I would shop with my parents. Some of our client businesses were impacted, too, and no doubt it will be a long time until there is a return to business as usual. To say the area looks like Beirut at its worse or parts of Syria today would not be a stretch.
Even more stunning was the national and international reaction to George Floyd’s death. I was dumbfounded by how fast the violence grew as well as the scope of the often-surreal events that were spawned by the protests. To see the protests grow in cities like New York, Washington and Los Angeles was one thing, but London, Paris and even in Australia was mind boggling. The power of social and other media to influence events around the world cannot be overstated.
That brings me back to the real subject of this reflection: resilience.
A day or so after all the rioting and looting had ended, the news media began to report on a number of people in the community who just spontaneously showed up to start the clean-up and provide help to the community in the form of food, water and supplies which suddenly had become unavailable because of the damaged businesses.
You see, while there were a number of ‘big box’ stores damaged and looted, and the loss of local jobs really harmful, the real hurt came to the local small businesses that were basically wiped out. The main thoroughfare, Lake Street, had become a place of renaissance in recent years. Yes, some really bad areas remained, but so many new shops, restaurants and places of business had opened up there was a real sense that this part of the city would once again recover its vibrancy; a vibrancy my family enjoyed and that it will hopefully recover.
On that day when I saw the outpouring of support my hope that the vibrancy and diversity of this area would prevail was rekindled. People of all races, faiths and backgrounds literally just showed up--brooms, mops, dust pans and garbage bags in hand--to begin cleaning up all the debris. Thousands of pounds of food and supplies were donated to community organizations and churches to help fill the needs of the community. In some cases there was so much donated that the agencies could not accept more. Talk about loaves and fishes!
At this writing the protests continue, here and around the world. Largely peaceful, they have been going now for nearly three weeks. I don’t see an end to that soon. While media attention has shifted from here to other parts of the country, there is a lot more to go to flush all of this anger and hatred out of our world.
In the midst of it all I have learned the lesson of the power of listening instead of talking. There is still much I need to hear. There is much being said that is hard to hear, but hear it we must if we are to change. We all need a world where “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is realized for everyone. Where fear is replaced by trust, and anger by respect and love.
At the core of it all, though, is resilience. The will to come back from tragedy and heartache and the deep, deep desire to heal and change.
We will come back. And we will be better. We are nothing if not resilient.