CEDAR RAPIDS — When Tayyab Gichki moved to the United States from Pakistan, he was surprised at the diversity he saw in Iowa.
Visitors to the public library Saturday might have experienced a similar shock seeing the three dozen or so groups and organizations represented at an event that aimed to illuminate the diversity of Cedar Rapids.
The inaugural Community Cultural Celebration and Expo took place Saturday in the Cedar Rapids Public Library as a collaboration between the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission and the library.
“We’re trying to do things that help prevent individuals from discrimination,” said LaSheila Yates, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission. “It’s hard to do that as people don’t understand differences, and they aren’t exposed to different cultures.”
The event brought together several area organizations that hosted interactive tables for visitors to learn about a topic. Gichki, 26, and other Pakistani students studying at Kirkwood Community College visited with people about their home country.
Yates said the event didn’t just focus on ethnic or racial diversity, but was open to “all types of diversity,” such as sexuality and religion.
Other organizations represented included the African American Museum of Iowa, the Catherine McAuley Center and the Cedar Rapids Pride Fest.
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“I think this is necessary,” said Scott Shoemaker, a member of the Cedar Rapids Pride Fest board of directors. “I think we get kind of compartmentalized and we move in our own circles. It’s really interesting for me to look around the room and see ethnic groups represented and the organizations I wasn’t really aware of. I was looking at these beautiful Guatemalan art pieces, and I didn’t even know there was any significant Guatemalan presence in Cedar Rapids, so I think it’s great.”
Participants also had an opportunity to hear from a variety of speakers and take part in workshops. Visitors who stopped by the public library commons could see performances throughout the day.
The Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, along with Mayor Ron Corbett, unveiled its newest traveling exhibit on the history of the Civil Rights Movement in Cedar Rapids. Yates said there’s no set schedule yet for the exhibit, but entities can request to have the exhibit taken to their location for a period of time.
Heidi Hartke, librarian with the Cedar Rapids Public Library and an organizer for the expo, said recent incidents nationwide reflecting intolerance, including threats to Jewish sites and shootings targeting ethnic minorities, created a need for the library to host the Community Cultural Celebration and Expo.
Randy Schaffer, a 62-year-old Cedar Rapids resident and congregant of Temple Judah, said representatives from the synagogue felt it was important to share their faith and culture because of instances of desecration in Jewish cemeteries and synagogues across the country.
“I think the more people know about one another, then the less reason there is for there to be hatred or ambivalence,” said Lena Gilbert, chairwoman of the caring committee for Temple Judah. “How can you decide you dislike a group of people if you don’t know anything about them?”
Hartke said organizers intend to make the Community Cultural Celebration and Expo an annual event.
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