After a tumultuous year that highlighted divisions within the community and the nation at large, Iowa City is kicking off a weeklong series of events celebrating the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., while also challenging community members to address existing issues and tensions.
A series of free, city-sponsored events will kick off on Friday, with family night swimming and roller skating activities, followed by a youth conference on Saturday and a Day of Service on Monday that begins with a Color of Unity March. Events hosted by the University of Iowa will continue throughout the week.
Robert A. Lee Recreation Center (220 S Gilbert St, Iowa City) — Friday, Jan. 12 from 5 to 8 p.m.
Grant Wood Elementary (1930 Lakeside Dr, Iowa City) — Friday, Jan. 12 from 6 to 7:45 p.m.
RaQuisha Harrington, Iowa City Recreation Program Supervisor for Special and Underserved Populations, said the goal of devoting a weekend of activities to honoring King’s legacy was to draw together many different people and to send the message that everyone is welcome.
“In the past, these events were always heavily attended by people of color, as if Dr. King was only fighting for people of color. And that’s not what he was doing,” said Harrington. “Knowing the work of Dr. King and his goals and message — that collectively we all can do so much better if we support each other — the whole point is to say, this is all of our community and we need to celebrate that, and we need to talk about what’s going well and what’s not. The only way we can do that is to all come together.”
Robert A. Lee Recreation Center — Saturday, Jan. 13 from 12 to 6 p.m.
The Change Makers Youth Day Celebration, a free event for kids in grades 5-12, aims to nurture and empower the next generation of change makers. It kicks off with workshops, discussions and art activities at noon on Saturday, followed by a basketball skills challenge and music event at 4 p.m. Snacks will be provided.
Harrington said the goal is to give kids a forum to speak about living in Iowa City and address racial and social equity — including whether they feel supported and have access to information and services, but also talking about ways to take ownership of interactions with authority figures, like teachers or law enforcement. Harrington said there will be opportunities for roleplaying and advice for diffusing situations, as well as information about how to report instances of conflict.
“When students are having difficulty with an authority figure, there are people in the community — parents, teachers, community members or other adults — to help them follow up,” Harrington said. “Oftentimes, we get reports from students where they say they don’t have an opportunity to follow up with an adult, to explain or to let the teacher know that, for example, you called me out in school in front of my peers and that embarrassed me. Often, the teacher has no idea that what they did affected the child and it just becomes a bad situation and affects the learning environment.”
She said many students also don’t know that there are ways to file reports to make sure that an incident is investigated.
“With racial tensions in school, students might post it on social media, but don’t report it, and the equity director can’t follow up on that if there’s not a report,” she said.
High school students, including some who organized a recent sit-in and a unity march in downtown Iowa City, will help to lead discussions and will speak on behalf of their peers at a town hall discussion Monday.
The youth workshops and discussions will be followed by the basketball challenge and a series of music performers, including singers and rappers, Harrington said.
Faith Academy (1030 Crosspark Ave) — Monday, Jan. 15 at 9 a.m.
On Monday, the inaugural Color of Unity March will be led by the 2018 grand marshals, Iowa City Council members Kingsley Botchway and Mazahir Salih. Community members are encouraged to line up at Faith Academy starting at 9 a.m. The procession will set off at 10 a.m. and will end at Grant Wood Elementary School, where people are encouraged to take part in the Volunteer Day events and a community town hall. A bus will be available to transport people back to their vehicles.
“Every year we try to put something on to celebrate and honor the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King,” said Royceann Porter, one of the organizers of the unity march. “We always have the Day of Service activities going on, but this year we wanted to do something different to celebrate cultural diversity and inclusion.”
Porter said the idea of a Color of Unity march isn’t unique to Iowa City. Other towns across the country have hosted similar events, and the idea of celebrating and calling out diversity appealed.
“The true color of unity is when you don’t see color, but see each person as an individual, created by God. And that’s what we want for our community and why we created this event,” Porter said.
“We want people to participate and learn and know that we need to love one another and, in order for us to get through the hostility, we’ve got to have these hard conversations,” Porter added. “Raising the awareness of commonalities through differences, that’s what we need.”
Porter said everyone is welcome and invited.
“We want people of all colors, all backgrounds, everybody. A lot of times people look at this as an African American event, and it’s not,” Porter said. “We want all people to remember where we come from. We want to continue to educate all about the civil rights movement, and never forget the lessons that were learned. We need our youth to know where our nation has come from so the injustices of the past are not repeated.”
Grant Wood Elementary — Monday, Jan. 15 from 10 a.m.to 1:30 p.m.
Grant Wood Elementary — Monday, Jan. 15 at 12 p.m.
Harrington said the Volunteer Day event will have an indoor block party feel and people are encouraged to come when they can. The town hall meeting will start at noon.
“People have said they want to help, but don’t know where to start,” Harrington said. “This is a great opportunity to pull people in and let them know about some of the initiatives that are going on in our town.”
There will be opportunities to volunteer and help assemble care packages for those experiencing domestic violence. There will also be resource tables set up and entertainment such as a bounce house.
Bethel A.M.E. Church (411 S Governor St, Iowa City) – Monday, Jan. 15 at 2:30 p.m.
Following the town hall and Volunteer Day events, Iowa City’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church will host its annual Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day Community Celebration, which includes community guest speakers, musical selections, praise dancers and refreshments. The event is open to the community.
Various Locations — Monday, Jan. 15 to Friday, Jan. 19
The University of Iowa will also host a weeklong series of events, starting with a day of service on Monday for students, faculty and staff. Other events include a keynote address by Che “Rhymefest” Smith, a forum about race and equity in the face of white supremacy, a film screening and more.
Porter said that after recent racially charged events, the activities celebrating King’s legacy have taken on increased significance. She cited the recent arrest of an Iowa City business owner who was charged with third degree harassment after repeatedly asking a customer if he was a muslim or a terrorist. Residents on the southeast side of the city also recently woke up to newspapers wrapped in white supremacist flyers.
“It’s just time to sit down and have some discussions about what we are dealing with, because racism does exist right here in our backyard. It’s here in Iowa City,” Porter said.