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Let the Water Speak

We all rely on water as a part of our daily lives. We require it for nourishment, cleanliness, cooking, and so much more. Water is so ubiquitous in our lives that we may even take for granted our ability to access clean and safe water wherever we live. But I’ve recently learned that not everyone in America shares such great fortune.

In fact, in Minneapolis and elsewhere, people on a fixed income and groups who are marginalized have historically been placed on undesirable (and sometimes toxic) land across the country. They are held there as place holders until maximum profit can be reaped by those who stand to gain from their loss. Their lives, cultural experiences, and histories are, in my opinion, easily discarded to achieve the ultimate American dream: money.

The Folwell Community in north Minneapolis, along with Minneapolis Public Radio (MPR), had the idea to host a community gathering focused on the racial and cultural inequity of access to the river. We called the event “Let the Water Speak.”

In partnership with MPR, “Let the Water Speak” hosted local Northside talent, including artists, storytellers, and cooks. Using various media, they strived to answer some of the following questions: If water is the source of life and a sacred element for human and cultural survival, then what does it mean to cut off an entire community’s access to that resource? What are our personal relationships with water? What are our cultural histories surrounding water? How does the intentional separation and racial inequity around access to the Great River play out in the everyday lives of Northsiders?

We filled our local Story Garden with music, soul food, and various forms of art. More than forty neighbors came out to engage in a deeper conversation about their relationships with water, their cultural histories, and their responses to being intentionally separated from the water.


Folks told engaging stories about playing in the water, questioned what it means to be forced away from the water, and collectively sang a call-and-response chorus about being environmentally-focused citizens.

We watched children play in water from the hydrant, we snapped along to ShaVunda’s poem, we experienced Joe Davis leading a storytelling exercise, and we enjoyed the kids drumming with Marcus. Everyone brought their gifts to the table, and each gift brought a unique thread to the overall tapestry of the event.

The Northside community came out in their power and gifts. They were vulnerable and ready to share.

That night restored, refreshed, and renewed community members. It drew them deeper and closer to each other.

Opportunities like “Let the Water Speak” spotlight the artists and storytellers; they build connections and draw community members together. Our connections with each other, our work for peace, and our fight for justice makes us stronger in our ability to create the future we want to see.

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