Following the harrowing death of George Floyd came a wave of grief, devastation and heartache. For Woodbury resident Walter Dobgima, it was hard to sleep. “I thought it could have been me,” he says, leading him to create a new nonprofit: Woodbury for Justice and Equality.
“As a Black man, I felt if there was ever a time to speak up and create awareness on racism, there wasn’t any better time than now,” Dobgima says. He wrote a message on the community app Nextdoor, calling for the Woodbury community to stand in solidarity with Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC); he received an overwhelming response of community members wanting to show support.
After starting the virtual Nextdoor group in May, Dobgima realized the community wanted more than just a virtual space, but a group with actionable plans.
“Members of this group organized the first ever march on social justice in the City of Woodbury,” he says. The Woodbury March and Vigil for George Floyd took place on June 4, 2020 and had over 300 community members march for justice, alongside a moment of silence, a community vigil and remarks from Woodbury mayor Anne Burt. The following month, Dobgima put together a leadership team to coordinate the group's activities.
Social media coordinator Molly Blankenship says Woodbury for Justice and Equality is already taking off in the community, with over 300 members in the Nextdoor group as of December 2020. “Our mission is to learn about system inequalities and racial injustices,” she says. “[Also] to seek solutions and change the status quo.”
Dobgima says, “We realize that not every community member is at the same learning curve when it comes to the issues of social justice. Therefore, our philosophy will be to utilize a welcoming approach as we educate members on equity gaps in our community.”
The organization held a listening and discussion session in August 2020 to see where the group focus is most needed in the community; the group also took part in the Woodbury Community Foundation’s Back to School Rally and “Reverse” Parade.
“With us being a newer group, it was a way to present ourselves to the community,” Blankenship says.
Since last summer, Woodbury for Justice and Equality registered with the state of Minnesota as an official nonprofit and was awarded a grant from the Woodbury Community Foundation, which Blankenship says will be used toward hosting more community events and strengthening the organization.
Dobgima says, “Possible projects [also] include a ‘neighborhood night out’ for Woodbury police and BIPOC community members to meet; organizing a Juneteenth event for 2021 … [and] organization diversity training for local businesses.”
“Change will not come if we wait on some other person to come address equity gaps in our community,” Dobgima says. “We are the change that we seek and now is the time to act.”