Meeting the Humans of Cedar Rapids

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Maya Gönlübol, guest columnist

Throughout my time living in Cedar Rapids, I’ve seen community in the humans that have surrounded me. In 2008 when the flood hit, Cedar Rapids transformed into a unified body of individuals. Our city has had the opportunity to become something wonderful and the gift of a new beginning, and Cedar Rapidians took that and flew with it.

Today, although we might not want to acknowledge it, Cedar Rapids has lost some of that sense of community. Eight years after we were pushed and inspired to work together, our neighborhoods are disconnected. Our young people have been engaging in acts of life-threatening, sometimes life-ending, violence. Most of all, we have forgotten what it means to really talk about and accept these problems as being real and what we need to do to fix them.

Humans of Cedar Rapids is a team of five high school students studying at Iowa BIG, a high school centered on project-based learning. My eyes were really opened to what was going on around me when Humans of CR did our first neighborhood walk through. We picked Wellington Heights to start the street interviews, and I began to see a pattern in what people were saying. Most of the interviewees said that Cedar Rapids is a good place at its core, but there’s a lot we have to fix, and there’s a lot we turn away from because it’s hard to face a problem and try to solve it.

Some of the problems people share with us in their stories are ones that have no real solution. The purpose of Humans of Cedar Rapids is to give a voice to those people who wouldn’t typically have the opportunity to be heard in the larger community. Our team takes time to listen to these members of our community as they authentically express their real human experiences.

I’ve learned a lot about our community through Humans of CR. I’ve learned that Cedar Rapids is full of amazing people and we have more in common than we realize. I’ve learned we have a unique city which is rich and vibrant. I’m hoping this project will give our readers a sense of what I see in Cedar Rapids. I see a city full of culture, perseverance, and personality, one that sometimes stumbles, but will continue to grow.

Community isn’t just a word in the dictionary. Community is something that surrounds us and if we engage with it we will all learn that we’re more alike than different. This project is just one component of connecting our community, but it is the humans that call Cedar Rapids home that are most important to completing it.

Humans of Cedar Rapids hopes to continue to grow, but we need your help. If you or someone you know would be interested in sharing a story, send us a message through

• Maya Gönlübol is a Junior at Washington High School. She is an artist and this is her first year at Iowa BIG but plans to attend and continue this project next school year.

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