Marsha Tureaud wanted to leave Chicago in 2001 with her five children because of an unhealthy marriage.
She went to the bus station in Chicago with her children and asked for six tickets to anywhere. She did not know where they were going, only that she was leaving Chicago. The bus drove to St. Paul and the family stayed at the Dorothy Day Center, a homeless shelter. Tureaud said the shelter called around to other shelters and she ended up in the women's shelter in Brainerd.
The family stayed at the shelter for a few weeks and then moved into a home in northeast Brainerd in the fall of 2001. Tureaud said the timing was perfect for her children since school just started.
Her children are LaBaltiara Tureaud, who is in kindergarten; Antonie Tureaud, a third-grader; Brianna Tureaud, a fifth-grader; Kody Conley, a seventh-grader; and Charles Conley, a Brainerd High School senior.
Tureaud said life for her black family has been good since they moved to Brainerd. She said the children have made good friends at school and she easily found a job. She started working at Bonanza as a server and now works at Comfort Suites as a housekeeper.
Tureaud said she enjoys Brainerd because it is much safer than Chicago for her to raise her children. She said they can actually leave their bicycles in the yard without worrying that they will be stolen. She also said there are no drug dealers on the street here.
Tureaud said advocates at the women's shelter told her that Brainerd area people can be prejudicial. However, she has a different attitude when it comes to discrimination. She lives for today.
"There's always one bad apple in the bunch," she said. "I don't care (if they say something bad to me). This is my life. You can't change a person for what they believe in.
"I teach my kids to not say anything back if they are confronted with a racist comment. If it's in school they need to let me know and then we'll deal with it. But mainly it is OK. Most of our friends are white."
When Antonie was a first-grader, one of the students said to him, "You're black." That was the end of it, she said.
Shawn Jillson, 22, Brainerd, held Shania (left) and Drew Robinson near the playground during a lunch break at Garfield Elementary School. Jillson plans to marry the children's mother, Sarah.
Tureaud said she recalls only one main incident regarding race when she was a server at Bonanza. She said one customer would not eat in her waitress section. She said the other servers overheard him say, "Why do these niggers come here?"
Charles Conley, whose two best friends are white, said he thinks Brainerd is nice and peaceful. Conley said when he first started school in Brainerd that a lot of the students came up to him and introduced themselves.
He recalls only a few racial problems. He said last year at a football game he cheered because the team scored a touchdown and another student said, "Shut up, Charles, or I'll make you pick some cotton."
Conley said he knew of the student, but did not associate with him. Another incident happened when he began hanging out with a Pillager girl.
"I wanted to hang out with her but her dad said she couldn't because I was black," said Conley.
Conley said he likes Brainerd, but said he might move back to Chicago after graduation because that is where most of his family lives.
Conley is dating Chez Strong, a senior at the Alternative Learning Center in Brainerd. Strong also is from Chicago. She said she as well as her sister and aunt moved to Brainerd in January because of the Tureaud family.
She said life has been good away from Chicago and she has not experienced any harassment. Strong, who was four and a half months pregnant when she arrived, said she wants to make something of her life before she leaves Brainerd.
Another family shared their experiences.
Sarah (last name withheld), 25, a Brainerd High School graduate, has two biracial children who attend Garfield Elementary School. She said her children, Shania Robinson, a second-grader, and Drew Robinson, a kindergartner, have a relationship with their biological black dad and a relationship with her fianc, Shawn Jillson, 22, Brainerd, who is white.
Marsha Tureaud (center) of Brainerd posed for a family photograph with her children, except Kody Conley, shown in the picture frame she is holding. Kody was at football practice. Her children are Antonie Tureaud (left), Brianna Tureaud, LaBaltiara Tureaud, and Charles Conley. (Dispatch Photos by Nels Norquist)
Sarah said when Shania entered kindergarten at Whittier Elementary School, she was the only biracial girl in class. Sarah said her daughter wanted to have straight hair then, like the others.
"We always tell her and Drew that they are beautiful," said Sarah. "We have them in modeling as another way to boost their confidence of who they are."
Sarah said many family members tell her children that they wish they looked like them. Sarah said a few times Shania will say to her, "You wish you had a tan like mine, don't you Mom."
Shania transferred to Garfield as a first-grader and Drew always attended Garfield.
"There is a lot more diversity at Garfield," said Sarah. "Drew doesn't even mention to us that he is a different color than us. He has no problems."
Sarah said her children have not had racial slurs directed at them, but said when she was dating their dad that she had a hard time.
"I was called a nigger-lover by my peers and a lot of other things," she said. "I got a lot of looks, but most the time people would not say anything. When he walked alone one time a person said, 'Get off my sidewalk you nigger.'
Sarah said she does not want her children to go through what she went though when she started dating the children's biological father.
"I'm afraid for their future," she said.
Jillson said when he began dating Sarah it did not bother him that she had two biracial children. He said he felt accepted by the children, who began calling him dad after nine months.
Sarah and Jillson plan to have one child together and then they would like to adopt a child of a different nationality than their own. They said they want to do this to make a statement that their family is built on love.
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