WILLMAR — Usama Dakdok’s first visit to Willmar was a quiet and private affair last month, but his second visit was anything but that.
Two very different crowds gathered Thursday evening at the Kennedy Elementary School, where the Egyptian-born pastor of the Straight Way of Grace Ministry came to deliver his message that Islam is dangerous. It’s a message he’s been delivering to communities in Minnesota and other states for more than a decade.
Outside the school, well over 200 people joined under the message “we are better together” to celebrate Willmar for its cultural diversity. The diverse crowd, including many from Willmar’s Somali community, came in opposition to Dakdok, but focused on their message: Willmar is an inclusive and welcoming community.
The Rev. Dane Skilbred, Vinje Lutheran Church of Willmar, and Aden Hassan, imam for the Islamic Society of Willmar, joined in celebrating the city’s “welcoming resolution” in a formal address to the crowd. An interfaith group including leaders from ISAIAH, a coalition of faith communities, and the Islamic Society of Willmar helped organize the gathering as a prayer vigil.
“We are here for the right reason,” said Bonnie Hauser, semi-retired after serving as an elementary instructor in the Willmar Schools. Hauser told the audience that she was proud to be a Willmar teacher, where children of different ethnic and faith backgrounds learn together.
“This is what I know my community could be,” said Jessica Rohloff, a lifelong Willmar resident and a community organizer.
Najib Aqib, a member of Willmar’s Somali community, didn’t grab the megaphone, but he was among those who joined to support the prayer vigil. He said he moved to Willmar in 2005 and has found it to be a very welcoming community, and that is why he came to the event.
“This is the best place to live,” he told the West Central Tribune.