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Embrace differences, be part of your community

Published in General, For the Health of It Author: Ken Holmen, MD

The locales I have called home are different in many ways, yet I have experienced a true sense of community in each.

In the small Iowa town where I grew up, almost everybody got involved in school, church and civic activities. It was simply what we did. Everybody knew everybody.

During my 45 years in the Twin Cities, I practiced medicine, served on boards, performed choral music and played an active role in my congregation. And although I've lived in St. Cloud for less than six months, I am finding numerous opportunities to engage with the community here.

But I know that many people are not welcomed and do not feel included.

Too often, ethnicity, religion, economics, sexual preference, education, race, social status, language or egos present roadblocks to forming strong, diverse, vibrant communities. I am pleased that Central Minnesota is on a positive path to tear down those walls, to ensure that people who have experienced exclusion or discrimination will feel welcome and as much a part of the community as those who are in positions of privilege and power.

It comes down to this: How do we treat each other more respectfully?

Our journey is being facilitated in large part by Create CommUNITY, a nonprofit organization that addresses racial and other civil rights issues. Create CommUNITY focuses on building awareness, and ensuring access to education, housing and health care.

And that's where CentraCare Health and I, as CentraCare's president and CEO, come in. We are striving to engage with the entire Central Minnesota community to keep healthy people healthy and provide care to the sick and injured. Even though CentraCare operates 18 clinics, six hospitals and six long-term care facilities, we can't affect this region's health alone. We recognize the importance of partnering, the importance of community. The patients we serve, the people we employ and the communities we serve are diverse and becoming more diverse.

I ask each of you to join me in making a commitment to not rush to judgment about others. Be curious. Try to understand others' journeys. Get involved. Volunteer. Be engaged in your church or your town.

You don't have to join a committee or wave a flag to be part of the community-building effort. If you aren't acquainted with anyone with a skin color or lifestyle different from yours, say "hello," start a conversation. Read about the cultures of the ethnic groups that are growing in this region.

Be aware of your thoughts. If you jump to conclusions based on people's skin color, speech pattern, tattoos or clothing, remind yourself that we all are individuals. Not all middle-aged white businessmen are the same — and not all young Somali women are the same.

We all have biases of which we are not even aware. We also have the power to challenge ourselves to become aware and to change our behaviors.

My impetus to speak out on behalf of CentraCare lies in these three beliefs:

  • By definition, Central Minnesota is a diverse community (a collection of unique individuals);
  • Helping those in need is an important aspect of this region's moral fiber;
  • Embracing diversity is good for me, for CentraCare Health, for you, for everyone.

St. Cloud and the entire Central Minnesota region have a rich history dating to the mid-1800s of immigrants building communities. Please join me in continuing the work that our ancestors began. Let's embrace — and celebrate — our differences.

This post appeared as a commentary in the St. Cloud Times June 6, 2015. The commentary was part of a series from people and organizations engaged with the work of Create CommUNITY. Create CommUNITY works to dismantle racism through systemic change with a long-term vision of providing a welcoming, non-discriminatory environment with respect and opportunity for all. Create CommUNITY focuses its work around awareness, educational attainment, health care access and housing access.