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The Best Of John’s Journal From 2021-22/ No. 2: Speaking Out, Sparking Conversations

Posted: Thursday, July 14, 2022 - 10:55 AM


Lakia

Lakia Manska (front row, right) with her fellow state speech qualifiers from Morris Area High School: Aarav Devkota, Alexis Lhotka, Zachary Dietz, Samuel Jordan, Hailey Lesmeister and Emily Hamm.

Lakia Manska

Lakia Manska.

I often tell people that we don’t need to worry about the next generation. I know this because I spend so much time with high school kids. Today’s story is a perfect example of that. After a racist social media message was sent to a player from Minneapolis North during the state tournament, Lakia Manska reacted with grace, heart and fearlessness.  

Here's the story, originally posted on April 17 …

Lakia Manska is a busy senior at Morris Area High School. She’s a three-sport athlete, a member of the National Honor Society, a two-time qualifier for the MSHSL state speech tournament, a dancer and more. She’s also fearless.

At this week’s Class A state speech tournament, Lakia (pronounced “lu-KY-uh”) will compete in Original Oratory. The state meet will be held at Eastview High School, with Class AA competition on Friday and Class A on Saturday.

Lakia is one of seven Morris Area students who qualified for state. The others are Aarav Devkota, Alexis Lhotka and Zachary Dietz in Discussion, Samuel Jordan in Extemporary Speaking and Hailey Lesmeister and Emily Hamm in Duo Interpretation. Lakia and Aarav are team captains.

Lakia’s skills as a writer, a thinker and a force for good reached a wide audience recently after she wrote an editorial that was published by the Stevens County Times in Morris. It spread very quickly online throughout Minnesota and beyond. You can read it here: https://www.stevenscountytimes.com/opinion/time-to-change/

Her essay was in response to an ugly incident during the boys state basketball tournament. After Minneapolis North defeated Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta in the state semifinals, a student from Chokio-Alberta sent a vile, racist social media message to one of the North players. (https://www.mshsl.org/about/news/johns-journal/johns-journal-i-worry-these-are-my-kids-these-are-my-kids )

“It just broke my heart,” she said. “It’s horrible.”

Lakia, who is Black, was adopted by Stacie and John Manska when she was three weeks old. She has two older brothers: Lukus, 22, is in the Army in South Carolina and Logan, 26, is a teacher and head boys basketball coach at Lake Crystal Wellcome Memorial.

The social media message was sent late on Friday night of the state tournament, and by Saturday morning it had been publicized. Lakia said gathering with her friends to cheer for the Morris Area/Chokio-Alberta Tigers in Saturday’s third-place game at Concordia University in St. Paul was difficult.

“The whole year we’ve been watching this boys basketball team and the energy has been so explosive and crazy,” she said. “But you could tell we were all thinking about, ‘How excited should we be today without it being insensitive?’ It was a whole different atmosphere there.”

As she has gotten older, Lakia learned that she felt better if she wrote about things that were emotional for her. So after returning home from the state tournament, that’s what she did.

“I needed to vent,” she said. “And I was so upset and confused and sad. I ended up writing this paper. I read it to my mom one night and thought that would be the end of it, or maybe I would send it to a couple teachers and see if they wanted to talk about it at school.”

At the same time, one of the editors at the newspaper was searching for a way to begin a discussion of what had taken place and asked if Lakia would like to write something. It was already written.

Lakia’s words are powerful.

Wearing “Morris Tigers” across my chest felt like a betrayal. Some of my closest friends were on the team, yet I felt a pang in my heart each time I clapped. My body was in the gym, but my mind wandered. I felt nauseous. 

John Kleinwolterink, who is a music teacher and head speech coach at Morris, has a son on the basketball team. After the social media message was made public, his first reaction was, “ ‘What are we going to do about this?’ Then we have kids like Lakia who say, ‘This is what needs to be done, this is what I’ve experienced, and we need to address it.’ ”

Lakia had emailed her essay to Kleinwolterink, and he broke down in tears while reading it.

“I didn’t know all the things she had been through because of who she is,” he said. “If I could have, right then I would have grabbed her and hugged her.

“We need to do better. Our community needs to hear these things. It starts the conversations that have to happen and the change that has to go with it.”

I have been called a monkey. People have used the n-word to devalue me as a human being. My successes have been taken away because how can a black girl truly be successful? I understood what those boys were going through. Those boys fought their way to the state championship, yet they were made to feel they did not deserve it. 

Lakia, who plans to study English education at Minnesota State University Moorhead, said the reaction to what she wrote has been nothing but positive.

“I was surprised at how many people reached out and asked questions,” she said. “People from the Morris area asked how they can fix things around here. It’s crazy seeing how many people I know and people I don’t know talking about it. It’s cool to know it started a conversation.”

Before writing, Lakis reached out on social media to Minneapolis North assistant coach Trent Witz. She sent him a private message that read in part, “I am from Morris and just wanted to apologize and say I am absolutely disgusted by the message your team received.”

Lakia has had many wonderful moments during her high school career. She was a member of the girls tennis team that was the first in school history to play at state last fall. Her first year on the team was in eighth grade, when the team consisted of just a few girls and they lost every competition. But the girls worked hard in the following years, capped by their trip to state.

“That was definitely the highlight of my high school career,” she said. “That is probably the closest I’ve ever been with anybody, and we still talk every single day.”

Lakia and her speech teammates are focusing on Saturday’s state tournament. She has been a member of the speech program since eighth grade; last year she placed fourth at state in Original Oratory. Just like with the tennis team, the friendships made in speech are special.

“I really like the group of friends that I’ve made there,” she said. “There are about 16 of us on the team, and we talked about it on the bus ride home from (section speech in) Albany. It’s such a fun environment. I can tell my confidence speaking and writing has gotten so much better over the last five years.”

Kleinwolterink said, “I don’t think anybody could write as clear of a storyline as she does and explain to others what she wants to say. She is a smart kid and she’s talented. She’s involved, she knows what she wants to do and she’s driven, that’s for sure.”

Her Original Oratory presentation this year is titled “Getting Comfortable with the Uncomfortable.”

“I’m talking about uncomfortable conversations and why we don’t like to have them but why we need to,” she said. “Mental health, race, politics, all these different things. I struggled coming up with a topic but I talked about it one day in one of my classes, the importance of having discussions even when they’re not comfortable.

“I was definitely not a confident kid, not for a long time,” she said. “Now I’m pretty fearless.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at jmillea@mshsl.org  


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The Best Of John’s Journal From 2021-22/ No. 1: A Coach, A Mom And A Kidney