116 3rd St SE
Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
CEDAR RAPIDS — Linn-Mar High School senior Kayla Purchase and staff member Janessa Carr are being recognized Monday with the Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris “Who Is My Neighbor?” award for the ways they are following in the footsteps of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. by doing “courageous” work in their community.
Senior Purchase and Carr, student assistance counselor at Linn-Mar High, have been chosen because they “exhibit care and compassion and seek justice for all,” said Jonathan Heifner, associate pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, which hosts the event every year.
“When we look around our own community and recognizing people who are doing the day-in, day-out courageous work, we get excited and all need to be reminded people are still fulfilling the dream (of King) that captured so much of our attention and hopes,” Heifner said.
The presentation begins virtually at 6:30 p.m. Monday and will be available to view at stpaulsumc.org.
Pastors Stephanie and Keeyon Carter, of Wellington Heights Community Church, will give the keynote address and a short video prepared by Victoria Fernandez, librarian at the Iowa City Public Library, will be shared documenting redlining and its lasting effects in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City.
‘Who Is My Neighbor?’
Purchase was selected for her work toward racial equity and efforts to help her neighbors after the Aug. 10, 2020, derecho.
She was nominated by her next door neighbor, Denise Bridges.
When the derecho hit, Bridges watched the student clear trees to make a path through their neighborhood and raise money for people who needed a hotel room.
“It’s not often you find someone thinking of others before themselves,” Bridges said.
In May 2021, Purchase helped lead a social justice rally at Linn-Mar High School and told about her experience as the only Black student in her fourth-grade class. Purchase doesn’t want younger students to experience the bullying she did growing up in a predominantly white school, she said.
Purchase also volunteers at her church, Greater Works, as a praise and worship leader and directs the youth choir.
Carr was selected for the “Who Is My Neighbor?” award for her work toward building a better community in Marion.
The award “makes me feel like I’m supposed to be here in Marion and that change is happening,” Carr said. “I hope Marion can be a place that openly accepts people of color and people with different gender identities. I’m raising my kids here, so I’m invested in Marion.”
She attends Wellington Heights Church, where she volunteers as a worship coordinator, and helps students facing inequality at Linn-Mar High School through the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity.
The Marion Alliance for Racial Equity, which Carr co-founded in 2020, is a community-based organization working to amplify the voices of people of color and dismantle systems of oppression so all people can feel a sense of belonging and thrive in Marion.
Carr also is a staff leader of the Linn-Mar High School Social Justice Club, which is for any student who has felt marginalized, including students of color, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer students.
She was nominated for the “Who Is My Neighbor?” award by fellow Marion Alliance for Racial Equity member Ana Clymer.
In a nomination letter, Clymer described Carr as an advocate, woman of great faith and resilience and a passion for supporting children and families and equity work.
“Janessa’s commitment to justice, equity and peace is rooted in the belief that all are created in the image of God and have inherent value and dignity,” Clymer wrote. She “is caring and compassionate in the many ways she shows up in her work, in her community and in her family.”
Redlining still felt
Also Monday, a virtual panel moderated by Anne Harris Carter, the late Harris’ daughter, will discuss redlining and the history of housing in Cedar Rapids.
“There is a perception that redlining is something from the past that we’ve moved on from, but we want to tremble those waters,” Heifner said. “We may not have redlining policies clearly practiced today, and yet the aftermath still is felt.”
The panel discussion will be virtual from 1 to 2:30 p.m. at stpaulsumc.org. Panelists include Tonyamarie Adams, Cedar Rapids Realtor and neighborhood building assistant at Matthew 25; Cedar Rapids City Manager Jeff Pomeranz; Kitty A. Amaya, chief of programs and compliance at the U.S. Department of Housing’s regional office in Kansas City, Kan.; Betty Johnson, community volunteer and First Light Christian Fellowship member; and Clint Twedt-Ball, executive director of Matthew 25.
About Percy and Lileah Harris
Dr. Percy Harris was the first Black physician in Cedar Rapids and served as Linn County medical examiner for almost 40 years, as well as president of the Cedar Rapids chapter of the NAACP and chairman of the board of directors of the Jane Boyd Community House. He also served on St. Luke's Hospital's board and on the Iowa Board of Regents.
Lileah Harris was an advocate of lifelong learning and education. She also served on the board of the NAACP, was a member of the Cedar Rapids Human Rights Commission and served on the board of the Cedar Rapids Symphony Guild, now Orchestra Iowa.
The program Monday is hosted by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in collaboration with Coe College, First Light Christian Fellowship, Mount Mercy University, NAACP and Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church.
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