"Duluth isn't the face people normally associate with racism," said Dan Corbett, Director of Lifelong Learning at WDSE in Duluth, Minnesota. "But, homogeneous population doesn't mean we're without racism."
The issue was thrust into the public consciousness by North Star: Minnesota's Black Pioneers, a Twin Cities Public Television documentary that included a story about Duluth.
"In 1920, three black men in town with a carnival were lynched," Corbett explained. "After 70 years, the incident was brought back into the public arena."
Duluth citizens reacted. Some proposed a memorial to the men. Others wanted to rebury the memory.
"From this grew a question," Corbett said, "'What does racism look like in our community and what can we do about it?'"
That question became the basis of the Eracism project and the focus for town meetings and a WDSE-produced documentary called Bringing the Truth to Light. The station gathered representatives of Duluth churches, schools, and community organizations to discuss the issue. Partner organizations invited their constituents - whether children or elders, immigrant newcomers or Native Americans, farmers or suburbanites - into open, perspective-challenging forums. People talked. They shared stories and personal experiences.
"Our desire was to blanket the community - to get people talking," Corbett said.
In addition to the documentary, the station re-aired North Star as well as documentaries about Minnesota American Indians, and the PBS programs Eyes on the Prize and Race is the Place.
To extend the project, participating students from the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD) built the issue into their work.
"Students brought the mindset of the project to lesson plans they created," said UMD professor of education Jean Stevenson. Each semester, Stevenson's practicum students teach Eracism-based lessons to approximately 1,700 students in small towns and inner city schools across the state. All told, the students have created 84 lesson plans on discrimination and racism.
"These lessons are seeds planted," Stevenson explained. "Like the Eracism project, they create awareness. And, awareness is the beginning of change."