Feeling Minnesota

My job as a culture facilitator took me to Ferguson and Charlotte. Minneapolis was different.
Cup Foods 2

The Minneapolis street corner where George Floyd was killed by police

“We need you to find a way to cut through the anger and visceral before we kill ourselves. It is that bad.”

These were the final 22 words of a 90-minute discussion that had me flying to Minneapolis in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

I am a culture facilitator and thus I spend every single day of the week listening to the thoughts and feelings of people who find themselves in unhealthy, stressful and contentious situations. My job is to discover the truth behind the anger, what is really going on. I have done this 5,000 times, to include Ferguson and Charlottesville.

And yet, I knew Minnesota would be different.

The killing of George Floyd had already set off an intercontinental movement. What’s more, it came on the heels of the killings of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery. Additionally, Minnesota was in the throes of Covid-19. When I landed, the airport was stocked with police officers and extra security—a strange sight at a time when most flights had been grounded.

None of this could prepare me for what it was like to feel Minnesota. To see 99% of the buildings boarded up. To see children holding candles as they held their mothers’ hands, walking across the street to one of dozens of vigils. To see the scene where he was killed, blocked off in all directions as waves of people self-organized to talk race relations and the need for change.

Floyd Fist

By the time I got to facilitating one of two six-hour discussions, I was emotionally spent. Still, I had to press on. And I had to maintain one of the most important traits in culture facilitation: neutrality.

Neutrality is what allows me to hear every voice without introducing my own thoughts and feelings or asking leading questions. Neutrality allows everyone in the room to open up without fear of retaliation or retribution. Finally, neutrality is what allows me to walk out of the room with an unbiased assessment.

To be clear, I left neutrality in the room. I must. We all must.

It is one thing to look objectively at what happens in any given situation. It is another thing, altogether different, to assess a racist culture and do nothing about it. To do nothing as Blacks and African Americans continuously face systemic racism and oppression in the form of unequal access, opportunities and treatment. To do nothing, even as every meaningful statistic points to Blacks and African Americans having it harder.

Higher poverty rates.

Higher arrest and incarceration rates.

Less access to quality education.

Less access to quality housing.

Less access to quality health care.

Higher exposure to environmental pollution.

So while I am, and always will be, a neutral facilitator, I will not be a neutral citizen.  I am sure Switzerland is a beautiful country, but we cannot plant our flag in that space and call ourselves humans.

Chris Armstrong is a Certified Master Facilitator and Certified Diversity Executive. He is frequently called upon to facilitate national level issues around diversity, equity, inclusion and culture. 

Arlington Magazine’s Race & Equity essay series is a community voices project, and all perspectives are welcome. To submit, send a 400-500 word essay or a 3-4 minute spoken-word video, plus a photo of yourself, to editorial@arlingtonmagazine.com. The views and opinions expressed in this essay series are those of the writers and do not necessarily reflect the official position of Arlington Magazine. 

Categories: Race & Equity