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Pastors to start NAACP chapter

A Grand Forks pastor and retired truck driver announced this week he and others are trying to start North Dakota's first chapter of the NAACP. Only North Dakota and Vermont, among all 50 states, have no chapter, according to the NAACP's Web site....

A Grand Forks pastor and retired truck driver announced this week he and others are trying to start North Dakota's first chapter of the NAACP.

Only North Dakota and Vermont, among all 50 states, have no chapter, according to the NAACP's Web site. Minnesota has more than a dozen chapters, centered in the Twin Cities, Duluth, St. Cloud and Rochester. Montana has a handful and South Dakota has three.

Formed in New York City in 1909, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People has formed the main vanguard in the American civil rights movement.

The Rev. Henry Passmore says it's been long needed in Grand Forks County, where he's lived for 35 years.

"I had really intended to put one together years ago, but I got really busy and it sort of got away from me," he said.

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He served in the U.S. Air Force, which brought him to the base 15 miles west of Grand Forks in 1972. He's lived here ever since.

After leaving the military, he became a pastor and helped start a Southern Baptist congregation, The House of Prayer in Emerado, N.D., which he has led since 1980. He lives in Grand Forks.

"If you watch the treatment of people in the area, it's not what it should be," he said.

Other African-American pastors in the community are helping him start the chapter, including the Rev. Ronald Cooper, pastor of New Beginnings Christian Center, which uses the same building as Passmore's congregation. "He does the morning and I do the evening," Passmore said.

Ronnie Goodrun, a minister in Gospel Outreach Ministries, led by Bishop Michael Cole, also are on board with the effort.

A meeting will be held at 7 p.m., Feb. 23, in the Alerus Center to sign up members of the new chapter and explain and discuss it.

Discrimination against African-Americans does happen in the Red River Valley, although white people may not notice it, Passmore said. "They don't see it through the eyes that we see it."

Just days ago, a woman told him about her workplace. "Just three people of color work there and she says they get racial name-calling all the time," he said. "The establishment won't do anything about it. So I want to address that."

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Matsemela Diop, director of multicultural student services at UND for 11 years, said it's about time for an NAACP chapter here.

"There's been a lot of talk and discussion about it over the years, but it hasn't went beyond the talk at this point," Diop said. "I think it's a great idea, because the NAACP represents everybody, not just black people."

Grand Forks County actually has the largest percentage of African-Americans in the state, according to numbers provided by Richard Rathge, director of the North Dakota State Data Center in Fargo.

In 2005, the state had just under 5,000 people who identified their race primarily as "African-American,", or well under 1 percent of the population. In the Grand Forks metro area, which includes East Grand Forks and Grand Forks County, including the Air Force base, there were 2,040 African-Americans in the 2005 survey, or 2.3 percent of the total population of 89,000, Rathge said.

In the Fargo-Moorhead metro area that includes Cass and Clay counties, there were 3,104 African-Americans, which is 1.8 percent of the total population, Rathge said.

In 1970, Grand Forks County had 1,004 African-Americans, which was 1.6 percent of the population, Rathge said.

Diop said the number of African-American students at UND has remained at 115 to 120 for the past five years, which is up from about 90 students in the 1990s.

He questions whether UND has made much effort to recruit African-Americans from urban areas.

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Diop said he, too, as an African-American, sees discrimination in Grand Forks, even though it's not as overt as racial discrimination in the South, Diop said. "Here in the Midwest and 'white Canada,' as this area is referred to, it's very covert, with this whole North Dakota nice thing.

"They won't use the 'N' word to your face, but when they get in packs or groups, they do that."

He's experienced hostile stares in restaurants if he's with a white woman, Diop said.

"At some of these places, you go and people drink, and stuff really comes out then."

Passmore said he's had trouble getting financing for business ventures from his bank, despite doing business there for 35 years. "We've had quite a few people of color attempting to start businesses and the support . . really just stinks, to put it point-blank," he said. "African-Americans have more difficulty getting a loan."

Young black people have trouble getting jobs here, he said.

A membership in the NAACP is $30 for adults and $25 for youth, he said. It takes 100 adult members and 25 youth to form a chapter, he said. He's confident he will see those numbers at the Alerus Center. He welcomes any and all to join. Passmore owned and operated P&R Trucking for 17 years, running his own rig over the road during the week, pastoring his church on Sunday. And he's helped put his two children through college. Many people in this area don't realize there are third-generation families of African-Americans settled here, he said.

"That's what we want to do on the 23rd is try to get the whole masses out and address and put things in perspective," Passmore said.

Diop acknowledged that "something like the NAACP coming to this area may rub some people. They might see it as people of color forming an organization to be against white people. But that's not it at all."

Grand Forks Mayor Michael Brown, told of Passmore's plans, said he welcomes it.

"That certainly would be something we would be interested in because we do promote diversity in our community. And that makes us stronger and better as a community. If there is an unmet need that certainly would help fill it."

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