With vaccinations to help mitigate the effects of the COVID virus, and warmer temperatures to lure people outside, the Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo area has seen a host of varied events over the past few months. One noteworthy event was the First Annual Spring Fling (2022) hosted not by an organization or business, but instead by members of a local Facebook group.
The Fargo Moorhead Humans of Color Facebook group began when Lynnea Eckhoff accepted a job and moved to the FM area. In her search to find community, she discovered that many of the existing opportunities for people of color were connected to a larger group requiring membership in a specific business, profession, or charity. Finding it difficult to find a community of other BIPOC people, she decided to “try to use the internet for good” and created a group on Facebook for BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and people of color) individuals in the FM and surrounding areas to connect with each other without a formal structure.
“The big theme I kept coming back to is that obviously, we know there are quite a few people of color in Fargo-Moorhead, but it still feels so predominantly white, and there is clearly a barrier between people of color being able to connect with each other,” Lynnea says. “There are all these small pockets of people, that don’t really seem to interact much. Also, traditional networking structures often revolve around people working an 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. desk job. But there are a lot of people in the community—not just people of color—who work odd hours or have multiple part-time jobs or work weekends. I wanted to eliminate some of the barriers to connecting, and this is really accessible. Anyone with a Facebook account can join. I just thought, there are groups for everything: mom’s groups, running groups, craft groups. Why not this?”
Starting with just three people, and currently boasting over a hundred, the group continues to grow slowly, but steadily. Members share opportunities, ask for help, or offer to attend an event with someone who doesn’t want to go alone. Lynnea believes those connections are very important.
“Fargo-Moorhead is growing rapidly,” Lynnea continues. “A lot of BIPOC individuals come here for college, but do they stay? Do they feel they have a community here? Or do they leave when they finish school?”
“When I went to NDSU in 2019, I didn’t see anyone that looked like me,” Gabby Clavo, a member of the group says. “It wasn’t until I saw the Black Student Association that I got connected. But after college most of the people I knew left, and I was wondering what there would be for me in the community. But then I discovered the Fargo Moorhead Humans of Color Facebook group and the FMWF Chamber Professionals of Color and I started meeting people.”
It was Gracia Sanchez-Dekarske who urged the group to put on a spring event where members could meet not only each other, but anyone in the greater community who wished to attend.
“Most community events aren’t planned by people of color, though BIPOC people are invited. This event was organized by a group of BIPOC women, but we wanted to be clear that the event was open to the entire local community region. We wanted it to be an invitation to our community to get to know us,” states Gracia.
“That cross-sector collaboration is what many organizers are missing,” says Yvette Reyes, local business owner and co-organizer of the event. “I grew up in the Midwest, and I know how it feels to know people don’t want you there and to feel like an outsider all the time, so I’m always trying to create space for people. All our organizers are people of color, so what do we want to see at an event? It’s all about the same community, just showing there’s a whole lot more to it.”
With the assistance of a $1000 gift from the Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation, the group hosted its first Spring Fling event at the Hjemkomst Center at the end of May. The Historical and Cultural Society of Clay County is known for encouraging events to be held at their location, especially those hosted by the BIPOC community. The timing was especially fortuitous, as the museum has three exhibits available to visit through the end of 2022 highlighting people of color in the history of the area: ‘Stories of Local Black History’, ‘Ihdago Manipi: 150’, and ‘Dibaajimowin: History in Color’. The event offered free admission to view the exhibits, refreshments provided by Food Hotspot, whose owner is also a member of the Facebook group, performances by BIPOC individuals, and brief talks from community organizations making a difference in the community.
“I wouldn’t say we are a resource yet,” continues Lynnea. “We just want to get people connected to each other and to feel like they belong here. There was a moment at our event where I was looking out at the park, watching people talking, sitting together and eating food, and seeing little kids running around playing together, and I just thought ‘this is what community is about’. I’m proud of how the event went and I’m so grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.”
The Cass Clay chapter of the Awesome Foundation awards a $1,000 gift each month for awesome ideas of all sorts. Grant recipients do not need to be associated with a non-profit. Applications can be made at awesomefoundation.org/en/chapters/cassclay.