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Lacking diversity, suburbs take on the issue of race

Edina book club
Posted at 4:37 PM, Mar 26, 2021

Step into Nicole Jennings' book club today and you will hear conversations she wasn’t having with her neighbors a year ago.

Her book club was born in the months after the death of George Floyd.

The discussion is often about issues at the core of what took place less than 10 miles from where they live in the Minneapolis suburb of Edina.

“The fact that I am a person of color, so for me to talk about life is not difficult, but for someone else to talk about my life and my experiences and to understand them from my point of view, it takes a lot,” Jennings said. “It takes someone who would want to listen and want to learn and not to feel as though anyone is pointing the finger, but my reality is my reality.”

For eight years, Jennings has lived in a neighborhood that is mostly white.

“I know that as an African American, I can count on one hand the number of people who look like me in the neighborhood,” she said. “Unless you get out of your bubble and your comfort zone, you’ll never recognize what you’re impacting and also what is impacting you.”

Like many suburbs across America, Edina is evolving.

“For our own community, which is predominantly white, getting more diverse every year, embracing that diversity, making sure everyone is welcome everyone is included,” said Edina Mayor Jim Hovland.

Mayor Hovland says his city has taken steps over the yearsto become more inclusive, including hiring a race and equity coordinator.

“That’s kind of the pathway we’re on, the trajectory for our community is gaining a better understanding of what these issues have historically been for people who are different from us, who have faced more impediments in life, things that we just took for granted,” the Mayor Hovland said.

High school senior Shreya Konkimalla has taken an active role in Edina when it comes to social justice.

“Usually in Edina, I think, we usually try to stray away from the hard conversations about race, diversity, and inclusion in order to avoid conflict,” Konkimalla said.

She’s building a virtual art gallery titled “From Struggling to Healing.”

“I think it’s something we can all come together with and all appreciate together, and I think from that, we have the ability to understand other people and where they are coming from,” the senior said.

It’s hard to know what progress looks like for an issue so deep and so personal.

“There is no yardstick for progress when you think about the centuries of acts that have not been discussed,” Jennings said.

Jennings says book club conversations with her neighbors have grown over the months to be authentic.

“We can take what we’re reading and look around us in the world,” book club member Kathy Ganley said.

“It’s the fact that we listen, and by doing so, we learn from each other,” another member Andrea Kmetz-Sheehy stated.

As we close in on a year since many parts of America started having uncomfortable conversations, Jennings says it’s important the discussions don’t go quiet.

“Ahmaud Arbery, that was before. Then, right after, that was Breonna Taylor, and right after that, it was sequential again. You don’t recognize it until it got in your backyard. That was frustrating. That was frustrating," Jennings said. "It was that concept. It wasn’t the, ‘Let’s talk about it’ moment. No, I’m eager to do that actually. I welcome it."