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The Only Black Pastor In Town Wasn't Invited To A Black Lives Matter March

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

When organizers in Lake City, Colo., a small, mostly white town, held a Black Lives Matter march, they didn't invite the town's only Black pastor, Brendan McMillan. He spoke with reporter Laura Palmisano from member station KVNF about how it felt to watch the march go by his house and what he hopes people learn from it.

LAURA PALMISANO, BYLINE: When the Baptist Church in tiny Lake City, Colo., needed a pastor a couple of years ago, Brendan McMillan took the job and moved there with his wife and seven children.

BRENDAN MCMILLAN: I would say overall, the town has been very receptive of our family. And the reason is that when it comes to ministry and the role that I believe God has asked me to do, then race doesn't matter.

PALMISANO: Not everyone in Lake City is white, and some here were proud when about 50 of the town's 400 residents turned out for a Black Lives Matter march in June. But nobody invited McMillan, despite other faith leaders being asked to attend. He says it sounds like a potential "Saturday Night Live" sketch.

MCMILLAN: And at first, it's quite comical. But I would say that, yeah, my feelings were hurt just a little bit. But more so, I would chock that off as exposing some of the areas that might be problematic in Lake City or mountain towns' blind spots.

KALEB CHAMBERS: We made this march as an act of solidarity. But we also did not do our best to reach out to Black people in the community.

PALMISANO: Twenty-one-year-old Kaleb Chambers was one of the organizers of the march.

CHAMBERS: In avoiding tokenization of, like, our Black population, we avoided connecting with them and building relationship. And that ended up being pretty hurtful.

PALMISANO: McMillan says he received heartfelt apology emails from the organizers. But he still hasn't spoken to them.

MCMILLAN: There is a little bit of awkwardness still there, but that's to be expected. And so hopefully, those things begin to fade, and we can actually start talking about what happened.

MCMILLAN: McMillan says the incident hasn't changed how he feels about Lake City.

MCMILLAN: There's more to this community and this town than this issue that has arised (ph). Is it something that we still need to address? Yes. And I feel honored if there was courage to be able to do that. Yet at the same time, I still love Lake City just as much as I have when I first got here.

PALMISANO: He says he feels fortunate to live in this scenic mountain town.

For NPR News, I'm Laura Palmisano in Lake City, Colo. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Laura joined KVNF in 2014. She was the news director for two years and now works as a freelance reporter covering Colorado's Western Slope. Before moving to Colorado, Laura worked as a reporter for Arizona Public Media, a public radio and television station in Tucson. She's also worked at public radio station KJZZ and public television station KAET Arizona PBS in Phoenix. Her work has aired on NPR, the BBC, Marketplace, Harvest Public Media, and on stations across the Rocky Mountain Community Radio network. Laura is an award-winning journalist with work recognized by the Society of Professional Journalists, Colorado Broadcasters Association, and RTDNA. In 2015, she was a fellow for the Institute for Justice & Journalism. Her fellowship project, a three-part series on the Karen refugee community in Delta, Colorado, received a regional Edward R. Murrow Award. Laura also has experience as a radio host, producer, writer, production assistant, videographer, and video editor. She graduated summa cum laude from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.