Locals ponder social justice

BY BEN MARKS | APRIL 06, 2015 5:00 AM

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Activists, community leaders, and others gathered April 4 to start a conversation about social justice in Johnson County.

The event, called Building Communities, was organized through the University of Iowa Department of Communication Studies.

“The purpose was to get organizations that might not necessarily see the connections between each other to come together and through collaboration work more effectively,” graduate student Bailey Kelley said.

Kelley, the main organizer and host of the event, said she came up with the idea for a discussion about overlapping needs among different social-justice organizations in November 2014.

Around 30 people attended, representing such diverse organizations such as Domestic Violence Intervention Program, Johnson County Affordable Homes Coalition, the Salvation Army, and the Iowa City City Council.

“There’s a lot of really great activism and community work happening already within specific communities, so it’s important for us to recognize and support the initiatives which are going on,” said Kendra Malone, the diversity resources coordinator for the UI Center of Diversity and Enrichment.

Malone said the thing that stood out to her during the event was people’s desire to help.

“The people in the room have a really strong desire to be supportive and build relationships among communities and groups that they don’t necessarily belong to,” she said.

Visiting communication-studies Assistant Professor David Supp-Montgomerie, who helped organize the event, said communication among the groups is the key.

“People need to talk to each other in order to solve problems,” he said. “It’s the kind of cliché, the sum is greater than the parts. If individuals are separated, feel alienated, not connected, then you don’t have a good community.”

Because communication was emphasized during the event, the organizers planned the event in a way that allowed many different people to mingle and share ideas, something that attendees, such as Iowa City City Councilor Jim Throgmorton, said they appreciated.

“I thought it went very well,” he said. “It was an innovative approach toward engaging complicated topics.”

Although the turnout was good, he said, he also called it “selective,” noting a lack of lack of older people, Latinos, disabled persons, or people from different communities.

“It’s so easy to conflate the county to Iowa City, but they’re not identical,” he said. “North Liberty isn’t Tiffin, and it isn’t Iowa City. Especially when a university project is involved, it’s pretty easy to hold the event at the university, and community members often can’t get to wherever events are.”

Malone said a lack of diversity isn’t just limited to this conversation.

“Being in a person who lives in Iowa City, which is a predominately white community, I’m often faced with being in rooms with people who are good-intentioned but have a lot of racial privilege,” she said, often leading to them to dominate the conversation without realizing it.

However, she said, she believes the event was a good start to the conversation, and she’s excited to see where it goes.

Raven Maragh, a first-year graduate student and attendee who appreciated the event, said working together makes the most sense.

“I think it’s easy to have your passion and be in an enclave, but learning about other people’s passions and learning how to collaborate is a good idea,” she said. “We all have the same goal; we’re all trying to help.”

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