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Local Leaders Join Up To Improve Race Relations

Charles Michael Ray

A new effort in Rapid City that includes a broad range of community leaders is working to improve race relations.  

The city has seen racial tension increase in recent months following a police shooting of a Lakota man and an incident where a group of non-natives are accused of shouting racial slurs and throwing beer on Lakota children at a hockey game.

The new effort is tied to a group called Community Conversations, it includes a coalition of individuals and organizations who are working to build relationships across cultures and find new solutions to longstanding divisions.


At a press conference in Rapid City’s Memorial Park leaders of the Native American community stood beside leaders from the Chamber of Commerce, Regional Health, and the Rapid City Police Department along with a host of other organizations.   Scott Means, an educator who is Lakota and Hopi, has lived and worked in Rapid City for 21 years.  Means says he’s happy to see this new effort take hold following many years of struggle against racism in Rapid City.

“We’ve marched on this city in the past, Lakota people.   We’ve taken up arms.  We’ve been in courts.  And, today is an evolution from those times,” says Means.  He then adds, “we’re moving forward in our lives by asking people to come to the table and let’s create something, what, it’s up to us as a community, all of us. Whatever the race is,  whatever the religion, whatever the gender, we want to come together and we want to create a community where everybody is happy to be here.”

The Board Chair of the Chamber of Commerce Marnie Herrmann, announced a new chamber resolution supporting diversity, dialog, and respect.    The president of the Rapid City Regional Hospital, Mick Gibbs expressed hope in creating a new positive future where all cultures are respected and admired.  Karen Mortimer with the Rapid City Public Schools  Foundation and the Oceti Sakowin Ambassadors says this is just the beginning of the effort as work to build positive relationships continues.    

This week in Rapid City the trial of Trace O’Connell could lead to another spike in racial tension.  O’Connell is charged with disorderly conduct and allegedly throwing beer and uttering racial slurs at a group of Lakota children at a hockey game in January.  

Credit Chynna Lockett
Board Chair of the Chamber of Commerce Marnie Herrmann speaks at a meeting announcing the Community Innovation project.

Those with the Community Conversations group say the new local effort is in part a response to this incident.  They say positive outcomes and improved race relations can be found in the long term

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