For more than four decades, the Westminster Town Hall Forum has invited lauded national-level speakers to lead thought-provoking conversations in a downtown Minneapolis church. Now, since we’re in for another divisive election year, leaders of the forum feel its mission of challenging audiences to evaluate current issues through an ethical lens is more important than ever.
On Thursday evening, the forum kicks off its spring 2024 season, under the theme "Seeking Truth," with Peabody Award–winning journalist and Minneapolis native Michele Norris, who will talk about race and identity in America.
The Westminster Town Hall Forum is Minnesota’s largest and longest-running speaker series.
All forums are free and open to all, both in person and via livestream. Each one begins with a musical performance and ends with a reception. Usually, there's book-signing with the speaker after the program, too.
Since its founding in 1980, the forum has been held in the sanctuary of Westminster Presbyterian Church; and until recently, it’s mostly been moderated by Presbyterian ministers, though the forum itself is secular.
Equipped with a civic-minded improv background, Tane Danger joined the forum as director in late 2020, and then added the role of interim moderator a few months ago following the retirement of the church’s senior pastor, the Rev. Tim Hart-Andersen. That means he now pulls double duty behind the scenes and in front of audiences, working with an advisory board to choose themes and speakers, raising money to fund forums, guiding conversations with speakers, and more.
Danger moderated his first forum in November, during which comedian, actress and social commentator Nancy Giles spoke during a program called “Humor and Storytelling in the American Experience.”
At the beginning of the upcoming forum with Norris, more than a dozen members of the community will read excerpts from her latest book, “Our Hidden Conversations: What Americans Really Think About Race and Identity.” The lineup includes local activist and radio personality Sheletta Brundidge, Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, and former Minneapolis Mayor R.T. Rybak, to name a few.
Danger said it will be a “dramatic and engaging way to hear part of this book brought to life on stage” and will help frame the conversation that follows with Norris.
“Our Hidden Conversations” is based on Norris’ six-word Race Card Project and features nearly 1,000 stories from people of all races, socioeconomic backgrounds and political ideologies. She recently spoke to the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder about what she’s learned since she launched the project in 2010.
Norris told reporter Charles Hallman: “One of the lessons for me is that our definitions of race sometimes are too narrow. We think about it in kind of a Black-White construct, a civil rights binary. A big lesson for me is that we’re having a conversation about race based on the headlines and the flashpoint in the news cycle. The conversations that people are having in their homes are sometimes tethered to that (in) some way, but loosely, much different and much more reserved.”
Meanwhile, in a conversation with Downtown Voices, Danger echoed that talking about race and identity isn’t something that’s just for one group of people.
“I’m excited about this forum because it’s a critically important conversation and one that I think everyone will be able to find themselves in,” Danger said.
For the rest of the spring “Seeking Truth” series, the Westminster Town Hall Forum has lined up legendary tech journalist Kara Swisher on March 19 and world-renowned Chinese economist Keyu Jin on April 18, both of whom will also draw from their own books.
Swisher has covered technology news for national publications for over a quarter century. She also hosts a pretty popular podcast on HBO’s “Succession.”
Danger said there’s probably no one more knowledgeable than Swisher to talk about technology and how it’s worked its way to the center of global commerce and democracy.
Jin is an expert on the two largest economies in the world, the U.S. and China, and during the “China: Beyond Socialism and Capitalism” forum, she’ll share her view on how China may engage the U.S. as a superpower in the future.
Danger called Jin “a powerhouse of information and knowledge,” who’s taught him something new every time he’s heard her speak.
“All three of these speakers are going to give the audience a lot to think about and a lot of new information,” Danger said.
On Thursday, doors open at 5 p.m., music starts at 5:30 p.m. and the program with Norris begins at 6 p.m. Westminster Presbyterian Church is located at 1200 S. Marquette Ave.