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Strangers Meeting Strangers seeks to mend social disconnection

A white woman in a jean jacket and pastel dress sits across from a Black man in a black shirt and pants at a table made out of an oak barrel. They are both sitting on stools and are smiling at one another.
Participants at a 2022 Strangers Meeting Strangers event in the Twin Cities. (Photo courtesy of SMS)

Strangers Meeting Strangers is creating opportunities for social reconnection post-pandemic and post-uprising here in the Twin Cities.

Strangers Meeting Strangers [SMS] is a movement started by Liban Kano, a military veteran who says his own disconnection inspired him to bridge community upon his return from the Air Force three years ago.

“Loneliness, desperation, and ambition; those three words kind of summarize the past three, four years of my life. I was in the military for a very long time," said Kano. "I spent 10 years on active duty, so without that uniform, I was really conflicted with ‘who am I?’  I had associated who I was with the military. And, in that, I was desperate to find community… a sense of belonging. The words [Strangers Meeting Strangers] came to me as I was writing, and asking, what do I need to do? How do I find my direction?”

He says Strangers Meeting Strangers began with asking people to join him at Crave Rooftop where his friend was hosting an event. He said 25 people showed up. And while he knew most of them, he says he realized there wasn’t a lack of interest - just a lack of opportunity. 

“It was really, really powerful for me to see that. And from there, I started organizing monthly live events.” 

Kano says after a few of his events, he was offered an artist residency with the Minneapolis gallery Public Functionary. He says this helped him expand his production and capacity around social experiments. 

“Public Functionary helped me to really explore the idea of bringing people together in a different format. One of the most interesting ones was, ‘Strangers Meeting Strangers X Love is Blind,’” said Kano.

Love is Blind USA is a mainstream show that explores the concept of blind dating. Contestants test their connections without the bias that comes from physical impression. The goal of the show is to find a connection strong enough to move forward with a proposal, all before seeing their love interest. Kano says he used Love is Blind as inspiration for one of his largest gatherings.

“We literally had two strangers dating in front of 160 people. And we had like six couples. I think one of them may still be dating,” said Kano. “In this residency, I was able to identify and discover that there is a way of bringing people together. And by really being able to do the things that I personally wanted, which was to connect with people, I started noticing that others wanted the same thing. And I think we're really helping people to create the opportunities.”

Strangers Meeting Strangers often curates events around themes and holidays. It’s organized panels, dinner talks and dances. Up next Kano says SMS will host a four-part town hall series.

“I was really taken by a YouTube video that I saw called Big Debate South Africa. South Africa had been really dealing with apartheid and social conflicts, and all of that. And they used large town hall gatherings for community talks. And normally, town halls are organized by the government or some type of an official, and then it facilitates the opportunity for the community to gather. Well, I thought, why do we need to ask? We deserve an opportunity to come together and talk.”

The first SMS town hall is April 21 at Theatre in the Round in Minneapolis at 6 p.m.  The event will include conversations about enhancing community spaces, fostering employment, empowering youth education, and strengthening community health. 

Kano says if you can’t make this one, you can follow Strangers Meeting Strangers on instagram to get involved with future events. He says he is excited to continue sharing what has helped him fulfill his desire for belonging.

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