Community members unite to discuss election

By Karen Colbenson

Post-Bulletin, Austin MN

The election of the country’s first black president is bringing a sense of empowerment to groups of people across southern Minnesota, particularly the young, Latino population.

At a post-election gathering held Thursday at Coffee House on Main, many members of the Austin community shared their thoughts on the results of the election, as well as their hopes for the country. Hosted by the Welcome Center and the Austin Human Rights Commission, people of all ages, races and backgrounds attended the gathering. Jeb Middlebrook, an Austin native who has gained national attention as a rap artist with anti-racist messages, was the special guest.

Students from the Jovenes de Valor (Honorable Youth) group at Austin High School mingled with community members. Members of Minnesota SOL (Strengthening our Lives), the St. Paul-based politically-active youth group that focuses on civic participation in the Latino community, also attended the gathering.


Through weeks of knocking on doors and passing out voter registration cards, SOL was able to register 425 Hispanic voters in the area. According to SOL director Felipe Illescas, there are 48,000 eligible Hispanic voters in Minnesota. In 2006, 22,000 of them voted.

"We need to have our voices heard," said Illescas. "We want to increase the power of all minorities. By voting, that’s a way of demanding the things we need."

Illescas said many in the Latino community believed President-elect Barack Obama was a "great representation for the minority."

"Everybody sort of felt a connection there that they wanted to support — that and his policies," said Illescas. "Many were more vocal in this election and they saw the results of that. It gave them a feeling of power, and they will be more active."

Liliana Silvestry, executive director of the Austin Welcome Center, said the gathering was the first in a series of community events to be held over the next year.

"We want people to have a place to exchange experiences and talk to each other," said Silvestry. "People will find out that they have more in common than they may think."

Communication is the key to building bridges, according to Middlebrook.

"This is a universal message — it’s not Democrat, it’s not Republican. When it comes down to it, we all want the same things for our friends and families."


For more information, go to

Minnesota SOL

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