Southeast Side documentary sparks debate


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Prejudice exists in Iowa City, panel and audience members said Wednesday night — both ethnic discrimination and discrimination against those in low-income housing.

A film screening of issues surrounding Iowa City's Southeast Side sparked discussion and debate among community members.

Members of the community crowded into the Iowa City Public Library to view a 50-minute screening of the film Black American Gothic.

The film, written by Carla Wilson and sponsored through the Project on Rhetoric of Inquiry, highlighted the issues of class and ethnicity in Iowa City.

"I really wanted to feel like I was a part of my community," Wilson told the audience of her efforts to embark on the project.

Across the nation, researchers and community members have seen a great movement of people from large urban centers to areas similar to Iowa City. In Johnson County, U.S. Census figures show the black population has grown by 70 percent in the last decade.

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Wilson said people move and stay to feel connected and have a better life in the Iowa City community through better jobs, housing, and education for their children.

"I want to give the residents on Broadway a voice," Wilson said. "A lot of people were talking about the residents … but not talking to them."

It's been a contentious topic in Iowa City, where location of affordable housing, a youth curfew, and police substation on the city's Southeast Side have sparked debate. And if anything, the movie didn't portray the full extent of the issue, said one audience member.

"I think it's difficult to get white people in Iowa City to really talk about what they think is happening," said Donald Baxter, 52, who has lived in Iowa City for 10 years. "I would've liked to see them try harder to get native Iowa City residents as part of the documentary. The representation wasn't fleshed out. There's some real hatred going on here that I've perceived. Perhaps they tried to dial that back. It's definitely there."

Wilson isn't the only one showcasing the voices of the Southeast Side.

Numerous University of Iowa graduate students both in groups and individually are conducting research into the subject.

Robert Gutsche, a second-year journalism Ph.D. candidate, said it's all about the mental borders that society builds in regards to a city's areas.

"What's so interesting is the space of the Southeast Side doesn't really exist," he said of the perceived definitions of the area, which doesn't actually have certain borders.

He is working with English graduate student Raquel Baker at the Iowa Center for Public Affairs Journalism to develop a class in which to explore and share more stories of Southeast Side residents.

"Not everybody who comes out here from Chicago is bad, and not all have bad intentions of messing [the city] up," said Zieda Washington, a resident of the Southeast Side who was featured in the film, during the discussion.

Iowa City Housing Administrator Steve Rackis was a part of the panel following the film and addressed concerns several audience members had in regards to Section 8 housing.

"The notion that Broadway and Cross Park are nothing but vouchers is another myth," he said.

The Broadway area contains only 4.5 percent of the 1,214 housing vouchers in Iowa City, according to Housing Authority's annual report.

Sue Freeman, the director of the Broadway Neighborhood Center, said Iowa City has several challenges it needs to address on the issue about ethnicity and the Southeast Side and the film can be an aid.

"I think, I really hope the film will be a catalyst for discussion," she said. "I really want people to talk to their neighbors."

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