People of color who attend Central Lakes College in Brainerd acknowledged they have been discriminated against mainly in the community, but also noted it can happen on campus.
Ronald Jackson and Justin Gilliam, who were recruited to come to the college by CLC basketball coach Jim Russell, had opposite experiences in Brainerd regarding an apartment complex. Both students are black.
Gilliam, who came to Brainerd this fall from Milwaukee, and another black student took an apartment manager to court. He said his two white roommates were approved to live in the apartment within an hour of them applying for the unit. The white students were evicted because the two black students were living there who were not approved. After the court case was settled, Gilliam and his friend were approved a month and a half later.
Jackson, who came from Minneapolis in 2003, had no problems with housing at the same place. Jackson, who was born in Chicago, said people seem nice in Brainerd and he does not want to make any mistakes on his housing lease. Jackson said the manager at the apartment is hard on students, but treats everyone the same.
Jackson said when he was approached by Russell he said he'd come to Brainerd and see how he liked the town. He said he bonded with a few players on the team and decided he liked Brainerd.
"It's a big change," Jackson said of living in a mainly white community. "But it is something you get used to. It is different from the city."
However, Jackson said he is easygoing and gets along with everyone. He said he works hard, focuses on basketball and stays out of trouble.
Gilliam said when he heard Russell say if you can live in Brainerd you can live anywhere for the rest of your life he was intrigued to come here because he enjoys a good challenge.
Central Lakes College student Linford Cunningham worked on writing letters to clubs as part of his duties on the college's Student Senate. Cunningham said the Student Senate is working on how to promote diversity at the college. (Dispatch Photo by Jennifer Stockinger)
"I've been here half of a semester and I am already seeing it (racism)," said Gilliam. "We had other problems with housing."
He said someone broke into the apartment and broke things in the hallway and the Brainerd Police Department tried to accuse them of it. An officer said to them, "If anything goes on here we'll be in your apartment," said Gilliam. "We've never had any complaints."
Gilliam also had a problem cashing his loan check at a bank. He said a white student told him that all he needs in order to cash the check is to have two identification cards present and he did.
"My white guy said that's where he goes and he has no state ID and he was able to get it cashed," said Gilliam. "My dad had to come from Milwaukee just to open an account at another bank so I could cash my check.
"I was very disappointed."
Gilliam said if Russell was not there to support him he would be homesick. And Gilliam takes that support and helps other blacks at the college. He said he went to a white school in Milwaukee and he knows how to deal with a mainly white school.
Gilliam said he has not experienced discrimination at the college and feels comfortable there. He said there are just a few portions of Brainerd that are racist.
"I don't know what Brainerd can do," said Gilliam when asked what it would take to end discrimination. "Brainerd is an old town and a lot of black people have come here in the past two or three years."
Gilliam said the college and community could host heritage celebrations for people of color, but said this event also could segregate races.
Jamie, an Hispanic CLC student, who did not feel comfortable giving her full name, said she moved to Brainerd four years ago from Minneapolis to be near her family.
Jamie said many people think she is American Indian and discriminate against her. She said she is not continually harassed, but said a few times a year she encounters a racist remark.
"When I went to buy my schoolbooks the clerk at CLC asked me if I wanted to charge them to the casino," she said. "I was just furious."
Jamie said she also has experienced discrimination outside of school. She said she went to a pharmacy in Staples and they assumed that she was on state health care assistance, most likely because of her race.
"I feel more accepted in school than outside of school," she said. "Brainerd is pretty narrow-minded. Many people here don't want a diverse community."
Jamie hopes people in the community become educated and not assume the common stereotypes of different races.
Jamie said she never had a problem getting a job in the community. She works with many people of color. She said though she would recommend those who cannot speak English move to a different city. She said there are not enough resources here to help people with the English language.
CLC student Linford Cunningham has had a different racial experience in Brainerd. He came to the college in 2001 after a family in Outing visited him in Jamaica, his hometown, and offered to pay his intuition.
Cunningham went through financial and transportation difficulties at first. He took rides from strangers and went to the Brainerd Salvation Army for food and clothes and he survived.
On Cunningham's first day at the college he walked into the cafeteria and looked for someone who was black. He didn't see many. When he saw one he said he slowly began to feel comfortable.
Cunningham said Jamaica has its own racism, based on who is black, brown or light, but the racism is based on social language, not economics.
He has had a few problems the past two years in Brainerd. He went into a store in town dressed in ragged clothes and the store clerk was sweeping the floor. He said she swept the dirt onto his shoes.
"I said could you've asked me to move or apologize?" said Cunningham. "Maybe if I'd been dressed up differently. I think it was a combination of my color and the way I was dressed."
Cunningham said another upsetting issue is when people ask him to speak better. He said people from Jamaica have an accent and that is the way it is. He went to a fast-food drive-through and the teller asked him to speak better and later apologized to him. He ended up with the wrong order and when he called the manager about it he was told to come back to the chain for a free meal. When Cunningham got there he said they argued and he was told to take his business elsewhere.
Cunningham is a member of the CLC Student Senate and he had an anonymous letter mailed to him that he considered racist. The letter said that he stunk and needed to take a shower, he said.
Cunningham said it is hard for him to say if Brainerd is a racist town.
"People have been good to me," he said. "Once I speak people realize I am not from around here and they change their attitude.
"I would say it is not racist, but then I hear stories from college students and then it is racist."
Cunningham said community participation is missing. He said the Fourth of July parade did not have anything relating to black heritage and it should have.
The CLC student is on the diversity task force at the college. He wanted to participate so he could try to change people's attitudes about different ethnic groups.
"People in the community need to be more understanding to people who are different and be more open-minded," he said. "You need to give people a chance and not assume until you have all the facts."
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