The speaker showed two pictures of young Black people on the large overhead screen in a full-nearly-to-capacity conference room at an Alexandria hotel on Tuesday, June 15.
In the left-hand picture, which looked to be from about the 1950s, the young people appeared neat and trim, in skirts and tucked in shirts. The right-hand picture depicted a young man wearing saggy pants and showing his underwear, a fashion trend that began in the 1990s and has waned in recent years.
"The Black community didn't used to live like that, in the far-right picture," said Kendall Qualls, a Black veteran and sales manager who ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. House in Minnesota's Third District in 2020 before launching Take Charge Minnesota, an organization that contends that the U.S. itself is not racist. "It was a change, and what was the change? Eighty percent of fathers are not home."
He blamed government policies that once provided aid only to single mothers, arguing that it provided them an incentive to stay single, as the aid stopped once they married, and that the policy fostered the breakdown of Black families.
Then he launched into the topic everyone had come to hear: Critical race theory, an idea developed in the 1970s and 1980s by academics and lawyers to examine the effect of public policy on America's racial groups. Proponents of the theory says it helps researchers understand how certain policies have harmed Black Americans, such as banks refusing loans to entire neighborhoods. Conservative critics say it is a sinister attempt to pit Blacks against whites and to indoctrinate schoolchildren into seeing whites as oppressors and Blacks as victims.
"Critical race theory is not a Black-led movement," Qualls said. "There's no Martin Luther King in front of this thing. There's not even Al Sharpton in front of this thing. This is progressive left elitism."
The mostly white crowd skewed older, and applauded Qualls' call to return to traditional two-parent families, God, and hard work.
Organized by the Center for the American Experiment, a Golden Valley, Minn.-based nonprofit, the event was dubbed the "Raise Our Standards Tour." It had made stops throughout Minnesota to call attention to new social studies standards in the works for Minnesota that it says relies heavily on critical race theory.
After its stop in Alexandria, the tour drew protesters in Moorhead, and an event planned for June 17 in Duluth was postponed after the Duluth chapter of the NAACP posted a video calling the event "hate speech," "overt racism," and "overt white supremacy."
Qualls said he disputes the view that Americans should be divided by race.
He used his own life as an illustration of how Black people can succeed, saying that his parents split up when he was a young child and he and his siblings moved with their mother to Harlem. He lost siblings to "street culture," he said, before going to live with his dad in a trailer in Oklahoma. Determined to succeed, he went to college, joined the military, worked in sales and management for Johnson & Johnson and gained several master's degrees.
"This narrative that I've heard about how bad our country is and how evil white people, it is an attack against the very foundation of who we are as Americans," he said, to murmurs of agreement. "The people that helped me along the way personally and professional were people who looked like you. They were black, they were white, they were rich, they were poor, they were male and female. Americans help one another when they see someone who wants to better their lot in life."
"The neat thing about our country is where you start in life is not where you have to stay in life," he said, to applause and murmurs of agreement.
"What I'm doing in the Black community in the Twin Cities is helping the culture return back to its roots of faith, family and education like we were before we got help from the government," he said, to more applause.
His partner on the tour, Catrin Wigfall, a policy fellow at the Center for the American Experiment, accused those who espouse critical race theory of cloaking their intentions with language like "equity, inclusion and diversity," and of rejecting what she called the "founding principles of the United States," such as capitalism and property rights in favor of land and wealth redistribution that is race-based.
She cited examples that she says shows critical race theory at work in Minnesota public schools. Two examples:
- The book "Something Happened in Our Town," about a police shooting of a Black man, was read to fourth graders in Burnsville. When she mentioned the book is on a list of books approved by the Minnesota Department of Education, some in the audience groaned.
- In White Bear Lake, a sixth grade choir teacher divided students into privileged or targeted groups based on race, sex, gender, religion and birthplace, and students were asked how they felt about being included in these groups. "How can we hope to reconcile society when we're emphasizing differences over similarities?" Wigfall said.
Wigfall urged parents and community members to run for school board and even to find alternatives to public schools, such as charter schools, home schools, online schools and private schools. She also urged them to contact the Department of Education over revised social studies standards, which she said are overly influenced by Minnesota's tribes.
Meanwhile, Alexandria School Superintendent Rick Sansted, reached after the meeting, said parents do not have to be afraid to send their children to public school.
"Our teachers live here, raise their kids here and are engaged in community and faith organizations in the area," he said. "Public schools are not something to be afraid of but be a part of."
Public education, he said, is a partnership that involves collaboration and communication between home and school, and that he thinks parents are doing a great job providing feedback to teachers.
"Should a parent be fearful of indoctrination, I hope they would reach out to either their teacher or their school and share their experience," Sansted said.