I NEVER EXPECTED the conversation to turn away from college as I chatted with a young man Saturday afternoon on a downtown Faribault street corner. But it did. One minute we were talking about his future and life in southeastern Minnesota. And then he was asking me what I thought of Republican Presidential candidate Donald Trump.
But first, I’ll back up and explain how I even struck up a conversation with this 20-something. He noticed my long-lensed camera as he strode down the sidewalk toward me, hamming it up for the camera. I didn’t click the shutter button. Now I wish I had. Just to show you this millennial with the wide smile and warm, welcoming persona.
I felt I owed him an explanation. So I pointed to the horse-drawn wagon traveling along Central Avenue, the reason I was there with my Canon DSLR. Together we admired the team of horses.
Then I noticed his University of Minnesota sweatshirt and I asked if he is a student. He was, for a semester. He’s lived in Faribault for awhile, found people mostly friendly, but the town too small.
Soon he’s moving to South Dakota’s capitol city with his dad. I inquired about his future; he’s interested in business. “Promise me,” I said, “that you’ll go back to college.” He nodded, then high-fived his youthful brown palm against my aging white hand. It’s one of those spontaneous moments in life that I will always remember. He appears to be the type of person who will accomplish his goals and I told him so. I genuinely meant that and he thanked me.
Then he brought up Donald Trump, expressing his deep concern over Trump’s plan to ban Muslims from coming into the U.S. I told him exactly what I think of this Presidential candidate and how I fear for our country if he is elected President. I should have listened more than I talked. But I sensed that it was important for this young man to know that I, for one, don’t support Trump’s proposal. I don’t want to start a heated political debate here because that’s not the point of this post.
The point is that I connected with this young man. I’ve heard way too many stories and reports in my community of locals afraid to come downtown Faribault, where many Somali families live. Complaints range from Somalis hangings out on street corners to a lack of respect, unpleasant odors and more. I didn’t feel afraid or uncomfortable. Not on this Saturday. Or any other day. I was treated with respect and always have been.
How many people, I wondered, pause to speak one-on-one with our newest immigrants? Sometimes that’s all it takes to begin to break down barriers, to understand one another, to see someone as an individual rather than a person of a different color, faith or ethnicity.
Look into eyes. Listen to a voice. Hear hopes and dreams. Connect.
© Copyright 2015 Audrey Kletscher Helbling