December 2020 — “Every step toward the goal of justice requires the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke those words 60 years ago during the height of the Civil Rights movement. In a year rocked by George Floyd’s death, that statement is every bit as resonant and urgent today.
Edina’s own Rachel Adegbenro is one such Hometown Hero. The 2020 Edina High School grad found herself at the tail end of a term as president of the EHS Black Student Union (BSU) when Floyd died May 25. Although less than a week remained in the semester (and her high school career), Adegbenro jumped into action.
“I decided to put on a drive to bring supplies to the people who were affected,” she explained. In concert with her BSU colleagues, Adegbenro organized a campaign that ultimately collected two truckloads of food and other donated materials for residents and activists in hard-hit neighborhoods of Minneapolis.
“Rebecca Sorensen saw us doing this and was inspired to work with us to do something to raise awareness right here in Edina,” she said. Sorensen, a community booster and member of the City’s Arts & Culture Commission, approached Adegbenro about finding creative and tangible ways to amplify the important justice and solidarity messages the BSU was trying to convey.
Adegbenro is quick to share credit for the resulting art exhibit, titled “Seeds of Change.” In addition to Sorensen, “my two friends Anna Devine and Phoebe Taiwo were with me from the very beginning, and probably put in just as much time as I did.”
With this devoted team in place, Seeds of Change moved from dream to reality in a matter of mere weeks. Amateur artists (and a few professional ones) from Edina High School, an area activism group called the Good Samaritan Peace Frogs, and the community at large collaborated on a series of hand-painted signs with Black Lives Matter messaging.
Consistent with the large number of contributors, artistic styles and imagery varied wildly. Slogans, however, all shared the same underlying message. Favorites included "Stand Together with Equality and Justice,” “Be the Change,” and “Black Lives Matter … More Than a Hashtag.”
Adegbenro herself contributed two signs. “One mural was a Black fist – the BLM fist – which is something that I feel represents the movement very well. It symbolizes unity and power and shows how we’re fighting for something better.”
Volunteers then weatherproofed the artwork and affixed stakes to put the pieces in 30 flowerpots dotting the highly trafficked West 50th Street in downtown Edina.
As the face of the project, Adegbenro had the opportunity to address a crowd during the official Seeds of Change launch event, held outdoors July 12. She anchored a list of speakers that also included Mayor James Hovland and state Rep. Heather Edelson.
In her remarks, Adegbenro called Seeds of Change a significant step in the right direction. “There’s so much more that needs to be done to fix systematic and individual racism … but here today, we have made a big difference.”
In recognition of their vision and the deft execution of Seeds of Change, the City of Edina Human Rights & Relations Commission (HRRC) named Adegbenro and her co-organizers joint recipients of the City’s annual Tom Oye Human Rights Award.
“The HRRC was so impressed with how Rachel, Rebecca and the Edina High School Black Student Union brought so many members of the community together to present Seeds of Change,” said HRRC Chair Cat Beringer. “The art exhibit was a space for healing and reflection, and many were sad to see it go when the summer was over.”
For her part, Adegbenro is hopeful that the community dialogue sparked by Seeds of Change will continue – that in hindsight, the exhibition will be remembered as a true seed for change. “We need these conversations, so that people can become more educated on [racism] and learn to remove their own biases.”