The last time Toussaint Morrison got into an uncomfortable discussion about race, he got erased.
He was at a public forum, moderating a panel discussion about education and the criminal justice system for Twin Cities Public Television. The first lady of Minnesota was there. Morrison had a few questions for her and the team behind the new documentary they were screening: "College Behind Bars."
You can't hear his questions about why so many of the faces behind bars in the documentary are black. You can't hear the arguments from the audience that followed, or the stories people shared about their own lives and losses.
You can't hear it, because TPT's events team destroyed the footage.
It was, to quote a company statement, "unsuitable for promotional use."
So Morrison is going to hold his own forum. This month, and the next month and the next month, for as long as it takes.
He's calling the series the Site Forum. And on this site, he hopes to build a sense of community in the Twin Cities, one uncomfortable conversation at a time.
This time, he's going to get those conversations on camera.
Come down and give it a listen. Make yourself uncomfortable.
"You're going to feel uncomfortable," said Morrison, an actor, artist and longtime forum moderator. "If and when you do feel uncomfortable, lean in to that."
The first forum is planned for Monday evening at Moon Palace Books in Minneapolis. Morrison, a small panel and members of the audience will start the conversation where the last one ended: with a discussion of prison, education and race in Minnesota.
The erasure happened in May at a public screening for "College Behind Bars," which is set to air Nov. 25 and sounds quite interesting.
Instead of sticking to questions about the documentary, or whether Minnesota could bring rigorous college coursework behind its own prison bars, Morrison went off script.
His questions generated some uncomfortable back-and-forth in the audience. Which was uncomfortable for the panelists, including graduates of the Bard Prison Initiative. Which was uncomfortable for panelist and First Lady Gwen Walz, who had invited them to town.
Which was so uncomfortable for TPT's marketing department that they hit delete.
"Discomfort arose for some panelists," the station said in a statement. "[T]hey were expecting to discuss the Bard Prison Initiative (the subject of the documentary), not the larger context of our criminal justice and prison system."
Which is how TPT and the Walz administration learned an important lesson about the Streisand effect: named for Barbra Streisand, whose attempt to keep photos of her house off the internet sent everyone on the internet scrambling to look at photos of her house.
Now Streisand's house is on Wikipedia.
And the Great TPT Erasure turned an obscure forum that attracted zero media coverage at the time into the subject of a Minnesota Public Radio investigative report and a lively GOP talking point about government transparency and media accountability.
Prison reform is one of those rare policy unicorns that bring liberals and conservatives together. There are too many people in America's prisons, Republicans and Democrats agree. Locking up people costs Minnesota $41,000 per inmate per year, and our prison population keeps rising, even as the crime rate drops. It ruins lives and it wastes your valuable taxpayer dollars.
Minnesota is a state where 80% of the population is white and almost half the population behind bars is not. That's a conversation worth having and worth hearing.
Gwen Walz, a teacher, has advocated on the thorny, thankless topic of prison education for years. That day in May, she was probably hoping to keep the discussion focused on one bright corner of a huge, grim issue. One program. One thing that might help. One chance at a happy ending for some of the people caught in the system.
She got yelled at by a room full of people she probably agreed with, which sounds unfair and uncomfortable.
But when the discomfort passed, she still had power, the microphone, and an entire television network at her back.
The audience had stories about how it feels to visit a parent in prison. Stories unsuitable for promotional use.
The story of race in America, Morrison said, is more like a song.
"When you look at any type of African beat or hip-hop music, the beat is lineal. Every song, the beat picks up wherever you were last listening," he said. "It's not cyclical. I think in a lot of dominant cultures, they want the bow at the end, they want to know there's a solid ending and everything is wrapped up."
But this uncomfortable conversation, "it's never wrapped up," Morrison said.
"It doesn't work like that."
The first Site Forum starts at 6:30 p.m. Monday at Moon Palace Books, 3032 Minnehaha Av. For more information, visit facebook.com/events/440061269961260
Follow Jennifer on Twitter: @stribrooks