St. Paul’s Rondo Brothers to discuss their lives at upcoming MSUM event

Alumni Russel T. Balenger, Readus W. Fletcher and Lewis Scott will return to discuss their time at the university and their lives since. The fourth of the Rondo Brothers, Carl Griffin, was scheduled to appear at the event but died earlier this month. His great-nephew, Juron Griffin, an MSUM 2022 graphic communications graduate, will speak on Carl’s behalf.

By Megan Sirek (MSUM student and Forum intern)
February 23, 2023 

MOORHEAD — Minnesota State University Moorhead is scheduled to host the Rondo Brothers in celebration of Black History Month at 7 p.m., Monday, Feb. 27, on the Gaede Stage at the Roland Dille Center for the Arts.

Unfortunately, the group will be one brother short. Kristi Monson, director of communications at MSUM, notified The Forum on Tuesday, Feb. 21, that Carl Griffin had died sometime over the weekend.

Griffin and his great-nephew Juron Griffin worked tirelessly to bring the Rondo Brothers together to share their stories for the betterment of all who heard them.

Despite Griffin’s death, and weather permitting, the three living Rondo Brothers — Russel T. Balenger, Readus W. Fletcher and Lewis Scott — will continue with this event and honor this work. They will gather to share the incredible work of MSUM’s first Black students, whose impact can still be felt in this community and worldwide.

Topics of conversation will include St. Paul’s Rondo neighborhood and the impact of its destruction, their experience at MSUM and in the surrounding area, and their lives since graduation.The four men grew up in the Rondo neighborhood before the community was partially destroyed during the construction of Interstate 94. All four attended MSUM during a difficult time for America’s young people in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

These men’s college years intersected with the civil rights movement and Vietnam War. During this time, MSUM and surrounding colleges were also realizing their responsibility to serve minority students.

While a student, Griffin worked with MSUM President John Neumeier and Dr. James Condell to encourage more African American students to attend the university. In the wake of Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination, Griffin urged the campus and surrounding community to support the civil rights movement.

Soon after, Project E-Quality began. The project provided financial support on a needs basis for minority students to attend MSUM. The local community raised much of the funds. Griffin was a part of the steering committee and started a Cultural Exchange Center, and co-founded the Afro-American Friendship Organization.

When Griffin began his time at MSUM in 1967, only seven African American students were enrolled at MSUM. By August 1972, 200 minority students were enrolled in MSUM, Concordia and NDSU combined. The majority of those minority students were enrolled at MSUM.Griffin also worked on the student papers at MSUM. The MisTic was MSUM’s first paper but was closed down after coverage of the Vietnam War and the use of profanity. The Mystic, the student’s following paper, was not supported by the school and could not survive. The Advocate, MSUM’s current paper, began on Sept. 23, 1971, where Griffin was part of the original staff. Griffin was also the first African American reporter at The Forum.

Since graduation, the Rondo Brothers alumni have gone on to serve the community they were raised in. Scott returned to St. Paul schools as an educator and administrator. Balenger helped found “The Circle of Peace” movement. According to their website, the campaign seeks “to end violence and promote racial healing.” He also served as a member of the St. Paul City Council, and Fletcher served in various capacities for the city of St. Paul for over thirty years.

Griffin is behind the Rondo Brothers of Moorhead Project, organizing these alumni to tell the stories that MSUM will be able to learn from and celebrate during this event.

(Reprinted with permission)