Walking the Green Path: Growth Beneath the Surface

Rebirth of soil

Fall harvests mark a point of both emptiness and hopefulness.  While the ground is cleared of produce, an ongoing effort continues underground to prepare for what’s ahead next spring. The rebirth of soil, in the dying and decomposition, is a necessary part of our understanding that next spring, as our soil reappears from under the cover of a winter blanket, we will see life again.

A much different kind of decomposition has been feeding my own soil as a businessperson these past months.  I continue to feel fruitful and productive and can smile at the accomplishments of a business that I, my family, and the Butter staff and customers have nurtured over these past ten years.

And yet, I’ve been aching for something that could feed my soul and give me the fuel I need to carry on in a business that at most times is all-consuming and in a world that has been particularly cruel and hate-filled.

Perhaps because of this very aching, the experiences I have needed, have found me, and perhaps because my own personal soil had been readied, I’ve found myself turned-over, fed with a new set of nutrients that promise a new growth I can’t even imagine.

Small things have taken root.

There are the stories of the young black residents of Nicollet Square, hopeful and faced with immense challenges as they build a stable future for themselves, working side by side with us as interns and as staff at the café.  There is a witness of a Latino man whose incarceration left him with nothing but a need for grace and love.  Our risk to take him into our care and support at the café as he seeks to rebuild his life has stretched my understanding of reconciliation.

A young woman sees the welcome and generosity and hospitality that I demonstrate with my staff and asks that I be an adult who embodies love for my customers as well, forcing me to reexamine who I am.  And a young black man, steps into my line of sight, upsets my sense of privilege and power and ability to be a fixer, drawing out my fears and implicit white bias that causes me to Stop. And. Feel.

I attended a conference with 450 people of faith on a beautiful fall weekend recently where issues of racial justice were presented, and we were called to face the injustice of white privilege and power.  I was ready to hear the words that challenge me to give away the power that allowed me to stereotype that young black man.

I needed to be reminded that the same gift of time and energy that I invest into the black residents of Nicollet Square can and must be given to each and every black person I come into contact with.   While at first, this can feel pretty daunting, exhausting, and even improbable, I’m faced with the knowledge that I have grown so much because of each of the experiences I’ve had sharing my business with a diverse group of young people over the past four years.  My sad realization that it is indeed my white privilege that lets me choose which young black males I will be generous and gracious too.  I need to keep dying this kind of privilege, to let it decompose in the soil of my soul, and be reborn in a new growth where all of the lives I come into contact with do matter to me.

And so I walk this particular garden path as an apology and to make amends.  I am sorry that I continue to fall back on to the safety net that keeps me from feeling the true pain of implicit white bias and privilege.

It is my hope that choosing to be located here on the corner of 37th and Nicollet was the best way for me to learn that lesson.  It may also be the best way for me to be in a place to continue to learn and grow.  It will be my warm welcome and gratitude for the presence of a young black man, coming out of his way to seek the kindness of a coffee shop owner that can and will be the path to the kind of world I wish to live in.

Growth is often unseen, slow, hidden, and overlooked.  We seem surprised when the seed we planted has “suddenly” sprouted, grown and produced flowers and fruits.  But for those who work the soil tirelessly as farmers and gardeners, that steady and sometimes not so steady growing is continuously present.  We just need to pay attention and take the risk to get our hands a bit dirty. If you are walking this path, I am glad to share it with you.

Walking the Green Path is a series of stories by Daniel Swenson-Klatt, the owner of Butter Bakery Cafe, about what it’s like to run a small business focused on sustainability and building community.

Daniel Swenson-Klatt is a writer, community activist, and owner of Butter Bakery Cafe located in South Minneapolis.

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