A Hastings diversity initiative announced its rebranding and a series of speaking events last week, marking an effort to help residents learn ahead of shifting demographics.

THRIVE — the rebranded initiative that hosted the city’s equity lab events and various other diversity-focused events in the last year and a half — will bring speakers on topics ranging from racist events in the city’s history to gender nonconforming people later this year.

“This initiative really works to try and hear those voices and hear the concerns that we haven’t heard before,” said Kelsey Waits, a Hastings School Board member and member of THRIVE’s steering committee.

The community is doing well in being an equitable environment, but “there's always room to improve,” she said. Waits emphasized that the initiative isn’t trying to fix a problem, but instead is focused on recognizing how Hastings and Minnesota are growing more diverse.

The initiative’s members have shifted efforts to become more community-centric, rather than a “top-down” approach where city or school officials lead, she said.

“Last year, when we were getting this kind of set up, the committee was really composed of [city and school officials,]” Waits said. “Now we have more community members sitting on the committee … it’s important that we follow what the community is ready for and what the community wants.”

The initiative's events aim to help people openly have discussions surrounding diversity, said Lee Stoffel, the city’s communications coordinator and a member of the steering committee.

The group’s earlier events, such as discussions surrounding unconscious bias or cultural differences, were well attended and have sparked some community-led, non-THRIVE events, she said. That gives them the signal that residents are willing to learn from the events.

“We’re really hoping this is an initiative that has a lot of community involvement,” she said.

In May 2018, the Hastings City Council and School Board signed a joint proclamation that led to THRIVE being formed.

The proclamation originally sparked from discussions surrounding the way Hastings demographics will shift to become more diverse in the future, Stoffel said. The main shifts are in the Hastings schools and in people that are moving to the community, she said.

Early on, there was pushback from some community groups over the initial diversity proclamation, who took issue with the inclusion of gender identities in it. Seven local churches’ — The Harbor, Calvary Christian, St. Elizabeth Ann Seton, Cornerstone Bible Church, River of Life and New Life Evangelical Free — pastors penned a letter in response.

The initiative’s members have had discussions with them in efforts to come to an understanding, Stoffel said. Ultimately though, THRIVE is focused on equity for everyone, she said.

“In the end, we're not going to shy away from what we’re doing,” Stoffel said. “This doesn’t have to be a fight, really what it is is fostering a welcoming community.”

Future THRIVE events

  • The changing demographics of Hastings — 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20 at Pleasant Hill Library

  • Safety and Faith in Intimate Relationships and Families — 6:30-8 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 11 at Pleasant Hill Library

  • "Sundown Towns" Author Visit — 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 6 at Hastings Middle School auditorium

  • Transgender 101 — 6:30-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 12 at Hastings Middle School auditorium