Local View: Northland Welcoming Efforts and Events

What happens when a community isn’t welcoming? Employees quit. That new family that moved in only stays a year. Population declines, along with economic vitality.

A broad range of efforts and events are underway in the Northland right now to foster a more welcoming culture in Northeastern Minnesota. Here are three you might not have heard about yet:

  • Duluth Lyceum is a community learning and social forum that takes place on the fourth Monday of every month at Bent Paddle Brewing Company in Duluth. A new take on a historic concept, the format is a revival of a farmer-led tradition from the early 19th century which saw rural communities across the country repurpose main-street buildings and farmhouses into venues for public conversations. Duluth Lyceum is designed to gather the community to talk about local issues and big ideas.
  • Uniting for Democracy in the Northland (pictured above) is a nonpartisan program that broadens civic participation in Northeastern Minnesota with a day-long workshop to tackle challenges related to local democracy. During a workshop at Lake Superior College on April 30, participants chose a problem statement: “There is low civic engagement of underrepresented community members in the Northland.” Action planning is now underway to launch a community project to address the problem.
  • Inclusion Learning Cohorts is a year-long facilitated process to measure and improve inclusiveness in the community and to better understand equity gaps across seven sectors: schools, local government, nonprofit organizations, religious organizations, health care, law enforcement, and business. Two rural Minnesota communities — the Cloquet School District and Cook County School District — are participating. A survey was open to community members in May and June, and results are now informing curriculum for upcoming monthly meetings.

This is just a taste of the work being conducted by a vast array of individuals and organizations in our region.

In July 2021, Amber Lewis joined Northspan for a two-year fellowship program through Lead for Minnesota. Amber gathered resident surveys and data to map out the welcoming work being done in our region.

“What we found was a complex ecosystem,” Amber said. “Some of the work is brand new and some has been around for decades. Some of the pieces of the puzzle knew about each other; others didn’t. We believe communication and collaboration is preferable to fragmented efforts, so we’re working to raise awareness and create more of a united front for welcoming work in the area.”

There’s a lot happening — and there’s a place for you. The region’s first Equity Summit took place online in October 2021. Our goal is to host the 2022 summit in person on Nov. 10 at the Iron Trail Motors Event Center in Virginia, Minnesota. If you’re interested in welcoming work in the Northland, this summit is a great chance to do some networking and make connections that will help strengthen our community.

Elissa Hansen of Duluth is president and CEO of the nonprofit consulting firm Northspan (northspan.org), which is powering the region’s Welcoming Community program. For more information or resources, she recommends contacting Programming Coordinator Amber Lewis at alewis@northspan.org.

This op ed ran in the Duluth News Tribune on June 30, 2022 (view here).