St. Louis Park, Minn., is a pretty normal town. Affectionately called “SLP” or “Park” by its residents, it is a suburb of Minneapolis-about 10 to 20 minutes from downtown-but not the typical homogeneous “suburbia” often associated with suburbs. With about 45,000 people and a strong Jewish population, it has its nicer areas, it has its not as nice areas, and it has its wonderful (in my opinion) public high school, St. Louis Park Senior High.
In recent years, however, St. Louis Park, Minn. has been struck by tragedies that are anything but normal. Just a few weeks ago, a senior at Park High, Evan McManus, and his father, Damian, went missing hiking in Colorado during Spring Break. The search was called off on April 9, and members of the SLP community lost a family member, a friend, a teammate, a co-worker, and a boyfriend/husband. This was unexpected and came as such a shock to all. Yet, as heartbreaking as this tragedy is, it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface. Last year, Carly Christensen, a freshman at Park, passed away from the flu, two fourth grade students were buried in a landslide while on a field trip at a regional park, and Reuven Rahamim, a small business owner whose son Sami graduated from Park in 2013, was killed by a former employee. The year before that, another student, Derrick Keller, succumbed to leukemia, a revered coach, Joel Koch, died of an aneurysm, and Park senior Andrew Dudley was hit and killed by a car while riding his bike. As unbelievable as it sounds, there are still more that I could mention, but I’ll stop here.
To all of these tragedies, but especially the most recent ones that keep adding to the list, members of the community have responded with many displays of solidarity and declarations of support, from holding vigils, to flying orange colored balloons (orange is one of the school colors), to painting the senior wall in memory of the deceased. One of the most notable demonstrations by students and those on the Internet is the use of the phrase “SLPstrong” on social media networks.
This can accompany a picture, a note in a tweet, or simply stand as its own message, and I’m guilty of using it from time to time. Along with so many of my peers from home, I’ve posted and tweeted “SLPstrong” just like I’ve used “Boston Strong” in things marathon- and Boston-related. On a surface level, I’m tempted to be cynical and say that we only use these terms to feel better about ourselves and to prove somehow that we are all a part of this hurting community. This may be true, but isn’t that the whole point of the phrase? To say in a simple way that we’re all together and supporting those who are aggrieved by the loss? There isn’t much I can do to support my hometown when I’m 1,400 miles away here in Boston. I can’t attend any vigils, I can’t fly orange balloons in my yard, and I can’t paint the senior wall. But I can show my solidarity in a small way and contribute to the sense of strength that those affected by loss need to feel.
And I do think it means something. It means that I, like the many others who have graduated from Park, am still bound to my hometown even years out of school and that I still feel a connection to that community. It means that I hurt for the students and the families just as much as I would if I were still physically present there, and it means that I have pride for my home and faith that the community will overcome the hardship.
Maybe it’s cheesy, and maybe the use of that phrase doesn’t result in any tangible outcome or relief to those affected, but it makes a difference in its own way. Seeing hundreds of people use “SLPstrong” and thousands use “Boston Strong” illustrates the support and faith that so many have in the community, and it shows those directly affected by the tragedy that they are not alone. A Facebook page for the McManus men was created as soon as the news got out, and it has grown to over 6,400 members. Family members and close friends have posted how much the support of the community (and beyond) means to the family-even though so much of it is only through social media-and how much it gives them strength at a time when they feel incredibly alone.
“SLPstrong” is not a grand gesture that will bring relief to the affected members of tragedies in my unoffending hometown. It is, rather, something that connects my peers and me to the place in which we grew up and allows us to show our support for a pretty normal town, 10-20 minutes from Minneapolis with 45,000 people and a strong Jewish population, which has been struck by more than its fair share of abnormal tragedies.
Editor’s Note: The views presented in this column are those of the author alone and do not represent the views of The Heights.