Club Kazi holds city’s first major Juneteenth festival

BY LUKE VOELZ | JUNE 27, 2011 7:20 AM

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Though slavery was abolished in the United States almost 150 years ago, LaTasha Massey is using its memory to aid the lives of foster children — whose lives, she said, are often shackled by an uncertain future.

“Kids get really traumatized in a foster-care situation,” she said. “Anyone would.”

Massey founded Club Kazi — first-time sponsor of Iowa City’s annual Juneteenth festivity to celebrate the end of slavery — in 2007 with the aid of fellow social workers. Members of the club, whose name means “to work” in Swahili, bring resources to foster children through partnership with local social-service providers.

Club members hosted a Mercer Park gathering on Sunday to celebrate Juneteenth, the anniversary of the announcement of the end of slaver in Texas in 1865. Though the club ran workshops like the 2010 Save Our Children Conference, Sunday’s Juneteenth celebration marked the group’s first free public gathering.

Massey said while the public recognition helps the club’s goals, freeing children from trauma is sometimes an uphill battle. Though a 2011 Children’s Defense Fund survey recognized more than 6,500 Iowa children in foster care the year before, only 967 were adopted.

“There’s a history of African American people in [social-service] systems not going very well,” Massey said. “People step back because they don’t want the Department of Human Services in their home.”

Massey said many of Club Kazi’s projects focus on recruiting foster parents in Iowa by training funding potential caregivers outside the child’s family — known as “suitable others” — many of whom lack the financial means to be foster parents.

This aid helped the state’s foster service, Iowa Kidsnet, recruit 20 new foster families — and develop a new foster family recruiter position — over the last four years.

“All we can do is try to bring people out there in contact with agencies they wouldn’t have access to,” Massey said. “We don’t want people to say, ‘There are no opportunities to do this.’ ”

But a simple lack of resources is also at fault, said Johnson County Supervisor Rod Sullivan. He said funding for social services has decreased since he and his wife became foster parents, having hosted 35 children during the last 13 years.

“The need is tremendous,” he said. “And it’s not getting any better. Plain and simple, it’s a matter of state and federal budget priorities.”

Sullivan said most of Johnson County’s social services run through Massey’s efforts in Club Kazi.

Juneteenth fairgoer Jimmy Scroggins, who hopes to pursue a career in the FBI or CIA, said working alongside Club Kazi helps him understand different social classes his career will center on.

“This is all about giving back to the community,” said Scroggins, who has worked with Massey in the past. “Helping them become more aware of who they’re living with and the different things they bring to the community.”

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