116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
Kirkwood Community College and Alliant Energy are hosting a screening next week at the Paramount Theatre for “13th,” a 2016 documentary film about the history of racial inequality in the United States.
After the film, there will be a question-and-answer session panel featuring Izaah Knox, executive director for Urban Dreams; Daniel Pledge Johnson, CEO/president of Children of Promise Mentoring Program; and panel moderator Kevin Gannon, a Des Moines history professor who contributed to the documentary.
The film focuses on the U.S. prison system and the disproportionate number of Black people who are incarcerated. The title, “13th,” is in reference to the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which outlawed slavery except as a punishment for crime.
Gannon said he was invited to participate in the documentary because of his expertise in racism in North America during the 18th and 19th centuries, and how decisions made during that time still affect people.
“We are the products of our history,” Gannon said. “Decisions that are made, and structures of inequality that are built, they don’t come down in a day, but they can be taken down.”
Gannon said he hopes the film and the event inspire people to find ways to take action in the community, because while racial inequality is a national issue, Gannon said he believes it starts in local communities.
What: Viewing of “13th” followed by Q&A with Kevin Gannon
When: 6 p.m. Feb. 23, with Q&A starting at 8 p.m.
Where: Paramount Theatre, 123 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Details: Participants may attend the Q&A session via Zoom, but the documentary will not be livestreamed. The documentary is available on Netflix or on YouTube at youtu.be/krfcq5pF8u8. It’s also embedded at the bottom of this article.
“What’s important to realize is, if you’re interested in making a difference here … you don’t have to rediscover fire,” Gannon said. “There are already people doing this work, there are already people involved. It’s a matter of making connections with folks in your community who are advancing this type of justice work.”
Iowa prisons have one of the highest racial disparities in the U.S., according to a report published in 2021 by The Sentencing Project, a nonprofit organization that aims to change the way Americans think about crime and punishment.
The 2021 report used 2019 census data to determine how many Black people were incarcerated per every 100,000 Black residents in each state, and compared that to the number of white and Latin American people incarcerated.
In Iowa, Black people were incarcerated at a rate of 2,084 per every 100,000 residents, while white people were only incarcerated at a rate 225 per 100,000 residents, and Latin Americans at 327. Iowa had the sixth highest rate of Black imprisonment in the country.
“This is still a state that hasn’t really asked the tough questions about incarceration, about policing,” Gannon said. “It seems like an overwhelming problem, but everybody has agency and power to unravel that problem, and I hope people use that agency.”
Gannon said he hopes the event can reach those who, because of their experiences, aren’t as familiar with racism and racial disparity.
“I hope that the film impacts those of us who are white and helps us realize that our experiences are not universal,” Gannon said. “That’s the group that I want to see really impacted and asking questions and being uncomfortable. Sometimes it’s OK, and sometimes it’s necessary, to sit with discomfort for a while.”
The Gazette is a media sponsor of the event.
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