Upcoming summit will bring rural equity advocates together | Local News

MANKATO — The annual rural equity summit will bring advocates from across the state together next week, with organizers charting out the ripple effects from their work.

A switch to virtual last year, which will continue this year, made the summit more accessible for advocates far from the Mankato area. It drew more than 300 people from 77 Minnesota cities and 43 counties last year to discuss ways to make rural communities more equitable and inclusive.

Promoting equity in rural areas can feel isolating, said organizer Scott Chazdon, so one goal for this year’s summit from Nov. 30-Dec. 1 is to bring together people doing similar work.

“I hope that this is reinforcing for people that continuing to go to events like this and continuing to take the connections they make and stay active in these issues is valuable,” he said. “It can energize them to keep doing that work.”

Unlike in metro areas where resources are more concentrated, advocates are more often on their own working on equity projects in rural areas. Their work can draw backlash from locals resistant to change, like the politically charged groups taking aim at school districts this year for diversity, equity and inclusion programming.

This year’s summit theme will be “celebrating the power of collective change in rural communities.”

Demographic changes make equity work important in rural areas, said Julie Hawker. A census analysis from the Brookings Institute found the median rural county in the U.S. had a 3.5% increase in its population of color from 2010 to 2020.

“We have to find ways to embrace and invite and welcome all communities,” Hawker said.

Following last year’s summit, organizers followed up with attendees in May to hear what impact it had on their work. Chazdon charted it out using a tool called ripple effect mapping to see what themes emerged.

One of the key themes was how the summit helped attendees create support networks for equity and social justice work. Another was how the summit led to them expanding their work and collaborating more in rural communities.

Seeing it all mapped out was a little like throwing a pebble into a pond, Hawker said.

“It creates these rings,” she said. “And that’s what we envision has happened with the equity summit.”

Ripples reached St. James, where several Watonwan County community organizations organized a similar virtual summit in June. Another collaboration provided swimming lessons to Somali-American children in North Mankato after a drowning death in June.

Those stories and more will be highlighted during the summit, which will have 22 sessions, Hawker said.

The summit is a partnership between the Greater Mankato Diversity Council, St. Peter Community Education and the University of Minnesota Extension’s Center for Community Vitality. A group of foundations, nonprofits and businesses sponsor the event, including the United Way of the Brown County Area.

The cost to attend is $60, and attendees can earn continuing education credits for participating. Sessions will be recorded and available for attendees to broadcast in their communities afterward.

For more information on the event, go to www.unitedwaybrowncountyarea.org.

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