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The Human Rights Commission celebrated their 50 year anniversary on Thursday

BY GRETA MEYLE | OCTOBER 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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The Iowa City Human Rights Commission celebrated 50 years of serving the community and marked it by reviewing a campaign focusing on Iowa City residents’ vision for the next 50 years.

Johnson County officials met over bacon and scrambled eggs to reflect on the achievements of the organization, verbalize future goals, present notable human-rights activists with awards, and voice the feedback from their campaign. The campaign “I Have a Dream … for Iowa City” was implemented as a tool to gauge people’s desires for change.

“In honor of the 50th anniversary of the founding of the commission, we wanted to offer a bit different program — a program that looks back over our major accomplishments over the past 50 years as well as engages local residents in a process of envisioning the next 50 [years],” Commission Vice Chairman Harry Olmstead said.

Participants in the campaign were given an “I Have a Dream” poster in which they inscribed their dreams for the advancement of public good in Iowa City. All dreams from the campaign were put on display in the Iowa City Public Library, 123 S. Linn St., and they will be put up in the Senior Center, 28 S. Linn St., in upcoming weeks.

Considering Iowa City’s direction in moving forward, Commissioner Diane Finnerty said her dream involves a future of racial equity.

“Your race shouldn’t be a predictor that you’re going to do bad [in regards to racial profiling],” Finnerty said. “According to recent police statistics, an African American adult is six times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession, but the use rate is similar across all race and ethnicity. These kinds of things have got to stop.”

In the past 50 years of improving the racial, religious, cultural, and other societal disparities in the community, the commission has sparked a number of progressive movements in the Iowa City public realm.

“I think elevating consciousness throughout the city [is the goal of the commission],” said Ed Flaherty, the deirector of Veteran’s for Peace, Iowa Chapter. “I think Iowa City is looked to by other parts of the state of Iowa in leading the way when it comes to women’s rights, transgender rights, racial rights [etc.].”

Established on Sept. 3, 1963, the commission has dealt with a wide range of issues in its 50 years. Beginning by addressing the discrimination of African Americans by landlords, the commission continued to make advancements in various areas of human rights, including proposing a law to protect homosexuals in 1977 and registry for domestic partners in 1994.

The future goals of the commission include continuing to educate the public on illegal discrimination and civil rights as well as advising the Iowa City City Council.

Past Commission Chairwoman Dianne Day said she believes the new campaign will continue the legacy of the commission in future societal undertakings.

“It’s going to be a continuing effort,” she said. “I think it’s our obligation to encourage conversations — and I think saying conversation is better than tolerance. It’s more equal. If we [as a community] become more open to individual differences — if we can change that fear often associated with differences into an adventure, then it will be an adventure.”


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