Minnesota Humanities Center

A Vision Trust of Black Men

Posted February 6, 2023

In October of 2022, MHC partnered with Robin Hickman-Winfield of SoulTouch Productions and The Ordway Theater to form A Vision Trust of Black Men. Robin’s vision is a group of Black men committed to uplifting the Black community and embracing the legacies of Black Veterans. In February 2023, The Ordway will be presenting the Broadway production of A Soldier’s Play, providing an opportunity for the Vision Trust to come together to explore the issues raised in Charles Fuller’s play, encourage their communities to see a performance, and widen access for those audiences. But the Vision Trust is more than audience development, as told by two of its members, Alex Tittle and Dr. David Hamlar. 

My name is David Hamlar. I am the son to two wonderful parents and brother to two loving sisters who have committed their lives to making the best for themselves and the communities to which they belong. 

My dad was a Navy man; he and his four bothers served in WWII. My mom served at home but her two brothers deployed in the Navy and Marines respectively. I do not remember much discussion about the military growing up except that they served. Duty to our country – despite what we witnessed on the contrary as fair country – was paramount. I rationalized it was the “Golden Rule”. I realized early on that I cannot control that which I could not, but surely did what I could. How I reciprocated and treated others was my choice. 

So fast forward to 2023 – I am currently serving on the Board of the Minnesota Humanities Center. I studied the basic sciences, achieving my Doctorates in Dentistry and Medicine, rising to the position as a Two-Star General the Minnesota Air National Guard, being an Assistant Professor at the University of Minnesota, and above all else having two granddaughters, two loving children of my own, and a wife who enabled me to do all of this – but there is more work to do. 

MHC allows us, and me specifically, to reach others at a level that is beyond, and often more lasting, than the scientific, Socratic-interrogative style that is rather cold and calculated. My assumption is that it is more efficient when treating disease. Wrong! Of course, as a surgeon, an operation employs a relatively brief interaction with a specific outcome. But when you think of healthcare, what is essential and most valuable, is a patient’s compliance with the recommended treatment. If patients do not understand, do not trust, and do not buy-into what you are “selling” then you can imagine the expected outcomes. In other words, connecting with patients, people, is probably the most important aspect of any relationship. 

When introduced to the Vision Trust I sensed that connection immediately. I recollected my military service. I recollected receiving the Veterans’ Voices Award, and the values placed upon that recognition by the MHC. I was reminded of the trust that I held growing up within my community, and how vital that was to my development. I was reminded of my present family who sacrificed so much in my absence. But there is still more work to do. 

With all of the disparities driven by systemic racism that affect our Black community, my hope is that the conversations we have started, and will be having, through the Vision Trust will make a difference. We cannot legislate; we cannot purchase; we cannot command; and we cannot hope that these issues rectify themselves. It will take intentional, focused discussions to change the hope into the realization of the results we can achieve. 

We had great leadership by Robin Hickman-Winfield who led the discussion of the assembled group of everyday Black men whose only commonality was the military in which we served. There was a sense of brotherhood. We found a collective bond about the military experienced expressed in that play that was preceded by the movie, “A Soldier’s Story”. The CEO of The Ordway, Christopher Harrington, described the context for presenting the play and how he hoped “community” would rally around this effort, specifically the Black military community. 

I’ll conclude this writing by mentioning the spirit generated by the people in the room. Just ordinary people who have purpose. The CEO of MHC, Kevin Lindsey, allowed participants to speak their minds, tell their story as to what brought them here that night. There was no preconceived agenda. You could hear the passion in Reverend Babington-Johnson’s voice as he spoke to the needs of the Black community. You could hear the experience and knowledge of a fellow Veterans’ Voices Award recipient, Alex Tittle, a retired US Army Intelligence Officer. I felt as though I was part of the Saint Paul neighborhoods playing ball as Steve Winfield talked about the “family” that was disrupted by highway construction destroying the Rondo neighborhood. 

The group soon came back to the immediate topic at hand. How can we generate interest around the Vison Trust? We agreed there had to be a commitment, an intentional journey based on community, and above all else continue the conversation about creating and sustaining our neighborhoods, our cities, our state, our nation, and our world to be better than we found it. 

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Dr. David Hamlar Headshot
By: Dr. David Hamlar

Dr. David Hamlar practices medicine in Minneapolis, was a recipient of the Veterans’ Voices Award in 2016, and is a current MHC board member.