Building Bridges Across The Racial Divide In Rapid City

Dec 21, 2015

Rapid City Community Conversations members in July of 2015.
Credit Chynna Lockett

Rapid City has a history of tense race relations.   

Last year racial tension erupted after an incident in which Lakota students say they were doused with beer at a hockey game.   Those accused were found not guilty of any crimes.

But following the incident, a number of efforts began to build bridges and forge new cross cultural relationships in Rapid City.  One of those efforts is called Community Conversations.

Race is not always an easy topic to discuss, one goal of the Community Conversations is to foster an open dialogue.

“What we got to do is to create a space where we can make mistakes with each other.  Where we can feel comfortable and feel safe in approaching each other, then we can start to trust each other.  Then we can build something together,” says Community Organizer Chas Jewett.

Jewett says the efforts are showing real progress.
“We’ve been so long as enemies, in a sense, that it’s going to take a while for us to solve.  But you know the hope sustains me, and I feel it.  And folks have to be realistic,  we all have to be realistic that this took a long time to do so this is going to take a long time to change,” says Jewett.

The Community Conversation gatherings have involved both Native- and non-Native community members.  Mark Anderson with the Barbara Schneider Foundation of Minneapolis is helping facilitate the process.  He says he’s pleased with the broad participation.

“From local government, police department, hospital administration, chamber of commerce, community members native and non-native, I think it’s been really positive,” says Anderson.   

The group hosted a conversation and events tied with the Lakota Nation Invitational last week in Rapid City.  Those working with the project say while hurdles remain, the results are beginning to take hold.  They are planning more events around the one year anniversary of the project in February.