By Mackenzie Steinberg, Research and Development Communications VISTA, Search Institute

One of the reasons I decided to apply to be an AmeriCorps VISTA member at Search Institute is its commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Here at Search Institute, our vision is that all young people have what they need to thrive. All young people. We embrace diverse perspectives, experiences, ways of learning, and forms of wisdom. We strive to understand systems of access, opportunity, justice, and power in order to eliminate barriers, recognize strengths, and meet the needs of all young people.

For us, all means all, regardless of citizenship status. That’s why I was upset to learn about recent events in Worthington, Minnesota, regarding “undocumented youth” and their relationships with adults in the community.   

Search Institute’s current work focuses on developmental relationships, particularly between youth and adults. Our research shows that young people do better when they experience strong, positive relationships in all parts of their lives. Ideally, all adults in a school, from bus drivers to social studies teachers to the principal, would intentionally build developmental relationships with young people so that they have that much more access to a better quality of life.  

The small town of Worthington in Southwest Minnesota has seen tremendous growth in its immigrant population over the past two decades, growing from 16 percent foreign born in 2000 to approximately one-third foreign born in 2016. This growth is substantially greater than most other non-metro areas in Minnesota, according to The Washington Post

As with many small towns in Minnesota, this huge change evokes mixed reactions from the predominantly white long-time residents. A recent article from The Washington Post titled “Immigrant Kids Fill This Town’s School.  Their Bus Driver Is Leading the Backlash” captures the range of opinions from Worthington residents.  Many residents are not happy with the influx of immigrant youth because of higher taxes and overflowing public schools.

One key community member really stuck out to me. Don Brink is a 71-year-old Vietnam War veteran school bus driver who shuttles this ever-changing and diverse population to and from school. Brink has expressed his opinion to the media about the youth in his community on multiple occasions, telling the Minneapolis-based City Pages newspaper that he “hopes for another ICE raid” to “get rid of the illegals” and that he doesn’t greet the “strange kids I’ve never seen before.”

In contrast, a small handful of Spanish-speaking teachers often go above and beyond for their immigrant students by staying late, arriving early, and even purchasing much-needed groceries for their students, nurturing strong bonds between the students and adults. These teachers are nurturing relationships with these students that not only meet their needs but also welcome them into the community. Yet these teachers can only do so much to offset the harmful effects of the prejudice they experience they step on Mr. Brink’s bus each morning and afternoon. 

Most immigrants in this town, many of whom are unaccompanied minors, have come to Worthington to seek oasis from extremely difficult circumstances in their home countries. Many have incredible stories of bravery and sacrifice that led them to Minnesota in hopes for a better life. They arrived with disadvantages in terms of creating developmental relationships with important adults due to language barriers, separation from family members, and a lack of opportunities due to poverty. They do not deserve those challenges to be exacerbated by hostility and prejudice from closed-minded individuals like Don Brink, who refuse to welcome them or respect their dignity.

Every child deserves to learn, grow, and develop relationships that can help them be and become their best selves. Far too often, communities fail their poor and immigrant children of color as well as others who are disenfranchised. To be sure, there are many teachers, social workers, advocates, and others who go beyond the call of duty to welcome them, support them, advocate for them, and open up possibilities for their futures. However, those efforts are undermined when others do not share those commitments to welcome and support all—really all—young people to be and become their best selves. 

We can—and must—do better.


7 Comments on “Developmental Relationships: When Prejudice Undermines Relationships

  1. Thia

    Besides the increased loneliness new students feel when singled out by their bus driver who is intentionally unkind by not greeting the “strange kids” he’s never seen before, his is a chilling example to all the students who witness his interactions.
    My teenage son said it well when he said “everyone ‘s not the same but we all have the responsibility to just be kind to everyone”. We can do that.

  2. Kathy Hanley

    What a great article- thank you! You are so right that these kids and families needs support. This is asset building at its best. We are big Americorps fans as well. Thank you for sharing these thoughts and for the reminder that we all need to be culturally competent; not to mention, just plain kind!

  3. Dr. DeBora Mapp

    Thank you for your message and work as an AmeriCorps VISTA member. I was an inaugural VISTA member at the University of Kentucky more than 40 years ago where I worked with a segregated school that was closing its doors.

    I have two resources that would be useful to the students you work with as they become acclimated to the USA and the biased individuals who confront them. -. If interested, please inform me.
    Dr. DeBora Mapp

  4. Richard B Hamilton

    Also, what is the impact of the bus driver’s behavior on the non “strange” kids on the bus. I suspect it is not very positive in many cases for their becoming their best selves.

  5. S. Currier

    I believe something is missing in this story and knowing the bias of the Washington Post and reading their article identifying Mr. Brinks as a Pig Farmer (what about Vietnam Vet), I have a feeling a lot was left out.
    I was post WWII baby. I am first generation American. My parents came legally to this country. They were very impoverished growing up. Many of the children on both sides died as my grandparents and parents (children at the time) crossed Eastern Europe escaping the Jewish Pogroms in Russia where Jews were indiscriminately killed for no other reason than their religious beliefs. Even today Jewish Holocaust survivors in Russia live in unheated homes with no electricity, no water, and no heat and hardly any food. In fact, anti-Semitism is on the rise. I was raised watching the horror of the Nazi newsreels on what real concentration camps did to Jewish people. I saw thousands of naked bodies of Jewish people being bulldozed into open pits. Whenever I hear our leaders or radical groups verbally or physically attacking those with opposing views and calling them Nazis, I am gravely concerned with the direction this country is taking. Shutting down free speech and free expression is truly the first steps towards fascism. Reading the Washington Post article is also disconcerting. I think we have other very serious problems that need to be addressed in addition to accepting those illegally entering our country.
    In 1986, I worked as a relief nurse in Ethiopia during the famine that took the lives of so many people, especially children. My husband and I sponsored and opened our home to the sister of our camp physician who was denied a college education in her home country. We had to assure the Government back then that she would never be subsidized by them. My husband and I paid for her clothes, her food, her healthcare, and her schooling. She could hardly speak English when she arrived (age 20). Today she is a nurse practitioner and president of a healthcare service providing agency. She is married and has three children (one is our godchild). This is what people in our country who complain about immigration should do. We weren’t rich. Are any citizens sponsoring these young children. Who are the families sponsoring or caring for these children. Maybe we should elevate these individuals instead of focusing on the few against their being in this country.
    I now run a nonprofit agency that works in the jails, the community and the schools teaching social and emotional learning skills. We have taught developmental assets to a very diverse group of children and youth for over 11 years with much success in helping them identify their gifts and talents and working with them to cultivate these gifts in order to reach their full potential.
    I’m not seeing in this article any information why Mr. Brinks holds these views. Maybe this Vietnam Vet has suffered quite a bit. Maybe he, like so many other Veterans, have been denied the very same consideration as those illegally entering our country. I know so may veterans suffering from PTSD. What is his story? I’m not apologizing for his behavior but something here is missing. Empathy is a big part of what we teach in our programs and is a Developmental Asset. Do we only teach one-sided empathy now?

  6. Janice Hostager

    Hello Shelly,
    Your comment has been posted. We need to approve comments before they are posted to weed out spam and promotional posts. Our apologies for the delay.