Minnesota Mother of Adopted Black Sons Protests Floyd Death
It was a cloudy afternoon on the last day of May in Ottertail, Minn., when Marcy Ugstad decided that she had to do something.
Across the nation, protests had grown over the death of George Floyd, the Black man who died in Minneapolis after an officer kneeled on his neck for 8 minutes and 46 seconds.
She watched on TV as millions marched, from big cities to small villages in every state.
Ugstad, a woman of faith who lives in this town of 572, about three hours northwest of Minneapolis, had always believed that racism was a sin.
And like many Americans, she cried seeing the video of Floyd and felt the raw anger that was growing across America, one that reflected generations of pain and discrimination.
In her heart, she believed that Black lives matter.
But she needed to show it.
Ugstad, 65, invited friends from her church to join her in a protest by the Otter Tail Lake.
In this conservative, mostly white town, all told her “no.”
A mother of two adopted Black sons, Ugstad tried to persuade her friends and neighbors, but to no avail.
“A lot of people don’t feel it is their responsibility to make a change,” said Ugstad. “People feel you need to take care of yourself, and that’s it.”
So that Sunday, she went to the lake alone, save for her 21-year-old son, Jesse, who is Black.
Mom held a homemade sign that read “I Can’t Breathe" on one side and “America Repent" on the other. She pulled a red wagon behind her that held a metal rooster and an American flag.
The rooster, a Biblical symbol, stood for “me remembering that I am not always right, and I need to be confronted,” explained Ugstad. “That is something we all need to know. There is no one that doesn’t need to repent.”
Jesse took photos and a video. Two days later, he posted a photo and the video to Twitter to his 11,100 followers.
“It’s Pentecost Sunday and I just need to say this to a lot of us,” Marcy Ugstad said in the video. “We need to do some repenting. Our country needs it. We have a lot of people hurting. It’s time to get serious.”
To date, the tweet has received more than 221,000 retweets and 1.7 million likes, the video has 1.7 million views, and the family has received messages of support from across the world.
“I’m so proud of her,” said Jesse Ugstad, who gained several thousand followers after he posted. “She stood up for herself. She stood up for her sons. She stood up for true Christianity.”
Jesse, a census worker, had of late been speaking to his mom a lot about race and racism.
As one of only a handful of Black people in town, he’s felt the sting of unusual looks and second glances. Watching police shootings and viral videos of racism across the nation, he’s felt the anger, too.
But in those like his mom, Jesse also sees hope for America, especially for fellow Christians.
“Christians can have this mindset that color doesn’t matter — that Jesus doesn’t see color,” said Jesse. “It’s very insidious, because it allows racial prejudices to fly on the down-low that are never addressed.”
“I’m pretty sure if Jesus didn’t see color,” he added, “we wouldn’t be different colors. We would be the same color.”
Marcy, who works as an online chemistry and physics teacher, now wants to organize further anti-racism work in her community. Most of it, she says, begins with uncomfortable conversations.
“People need to listen to one another,” she said. “People need to be humble. I am not Martin Luther King, Jr. I am not an orator. But I am a person, I have my faults, and I can talk to other people about how we can do better.”
Her Sons Give Her Grace
For Marcy, the journey to understanding the Black Lives Matter movement was one long in the making.
Already a mother of four white children, she and her husband — a business owner — adopted Jesse and his brother when they were newborns.
Growing up in small-town Minnesota as the white mother of Black sons made her question her own prejudices and privilege, she recalled.
“I was brought up by my dad to believe that everyone is American,” she said, “and that is what we are first, regardless of race or heritage.”
“But what I’ve learned is that people experience that differently because of the way they look.”
She paused. “I’m lucky,” she added, “because of my sons.”
The boys are the only Black people most in her community know.
Because of that, Marcy said, she’s learned to be forgiving and patient in her conversations.
“People need to have grace,” she added. “My sons have given it to me.”