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New Web site aims to show Minnesota isn't for whites only
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Harvey Rupert, Minnesota Association of Black Lawyers (Harvey Rupert/ MPR Photo Elizabeth Stawicki)
Members of Minnesota's minority bar associations, area law schools and law firms will launch a Website that they hope will dispel some of the myths about Minnesota that they say hinder people of color from moving here. The site will feature profiles of noted legal professionals of color and offer information about such things as where to live and shop.

St. Paul, Minn. — The head of the Minnesota Association of Black lawyers, Harvey Rupert, remembers finishing a recruiting session in Atlanta when an attorney came up to him and said she'd never consider moving to Minnesota because it was "too cold and too white."

"They look you in your eyes and they say, 'it's a wonderful presentation, your firm sounds like a wonderful place to be. But I'm not interested in coming to Minnesota because there are no minorities there; there are no support systems there,'" says Rupert.

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Image Judge Edward Toussaint

Rupert understands their skepticism. He grew up in rural Mississippi, but attended law school at Hamline University in St. Paul.

"It definitely was very, very difficult to come into an environment where I didn't see African-Americans on a day-to-day basis, a large number of African-American businesses, or doctors, or lawyers or at least not visible," he says.

Rupert eventually discovered there is an African-American community if you know where to look. The new Web site will try to make that process of discovery easier. Though sponsored primarily by legal organizations, it will offer more than legal-related information, such as minority bar associations. For example, it will have information on arts and entertainment venues -- how the Twin Cities hosts big name acts, but also showcases local bands; how multi-cultural artists hold shows and exhibits at festivals such as Juneteenth, Aquatennial, and the Hmong New Year Festival. It will also feature demographic information -- how the state is becoming increasingly diverse as home to the largest number of Somali residents, the second-largest Hmong population and the 13th-largest American-Indian/Native Alaskan population in the United States.

And it will show how winter is not the only season.

Jorge Saavedra heads the Minnesota Hispanic Bar Association and Centro Legal which provides legal services for low-income Spanish-speaking and Latino people and is one of the creators of the Web site.

"Tell a broader story about what is it like for people of color and people in minority groups to practice law in Minnesota or live in Minnesota; to find housing, community, entertainment," says Saavedra.

Saavedra says the site will also profile legal professionals of color who moved to Minnesota. "The reader of the Web site will be able to look at the Web site and say this looks like me or this is similar to my experience. And through that personal connection we can open the door for people of color," he says.

Minnesota Court of Appeals Chief Judge Edward Toussaint is one of those profiles. Toussaint grew up in Chicago. After graduating law school at DePaul, he moved to Minnesota where his father, uncle and cousins lived.

"I've only been here since 1975 and I didn't have high school or college law school experience with my current colleagues and they accepted me within the profession and that acceptance allowed me to thrive and I don't think that's a story unique to me; I think that's a story unique to Minnesota," says Toussaint.

Judge Toussaint says while Minnesota is not perfect, he says people outside the state should know that Minnesota is a changing environment, and one welcoming to people of all ethnic groups and cultures.

The creators of the Web site acknowledge that while there is misperception about Minnesota, they can't deny the reality that minorities remain a small proportion of the state's population. According to the 2000 U.S. census, whites comprise 88 percent of the state's population.

However the creators say the Web site will give a balanced view that, even if small, there are vibrant communities of color in Minnesota and those communities are growing.

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