CEDAR RAPIDS — A virtual Martin Luther King Jr. celebration hosted Monday by St. Paul’s United Methodist Church challenged viewers to think about ways they can peacefully push for justice.
The celebration centered on a key question: Who is my neighbor?
Who in the community is motivated by faith, is caring and compassionate, community-oriented, a good neighbor and works for justice and equity with people who have been marginalized?
Cedar Rapids students Raafa and Rahma Elsheikh are, and so are community members Diamond Roundtree and Nate Klein.
They all were recognized Monday night with a “Who is My Neighbor” award for their work toward justice and equity.
The service was emceed by Keesha Burke-Henderson, Mount Mercy University’s director of Diversity and International Student Success.
Protest is an every day activity, she said.
“America in particular has a unique relationship to protest,” she said. “We live in the duality of a consciousness that we are a free place to live. There is this imagination of freedom, yet there’s so many things in place we continue to have, and people who are repressed and oppressed.
“Dr. King knew this,” she continued. “He spoke of racism, economic inequality and militarism.”
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Each year, St. Paul’s United Methodist Church, 1340 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids, hosts a service to celebrate the life of the civil rights icon. The service was one of the Martin Luther King Jr. Day events going on Monday around the nation — many of them virtual like this one, due to the pandemic.
The service also was a time to recognize the legacy of Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris with the “Who is My Neighbor” recognition.
The awards were presented by their daughter, Anne Harris Carter, who has served more than 25 years in corporate and diversity roles.
The new Linn County Public Health building was named in honor of Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris in recognition of their dedication and service to health and education in the county.
Percy, the first Black physician in Cedar Rapids, served as Linn County medical examiner for almost 40 years. Lileah was an advocate of lifelong learning and education. The Harrises worked for civil rights and against discrimination and prejudice.
Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh
Rahma and Raafa Elsheikh are seniors at Kennedy High School. Over the summer, they started performing spoken word at Black Lives Matter protests.
They approached the Cedar Rapids school board with their calls for the district to better support Black students and students of color.
Last year, Rahma was one of seven students in Iowa to be selected for the Iowa Department of Education’s state equity committee.
Rahma and Raafa have worked to build up Black Student Unions at each of the Cedar Rapids Community School District’s four high schools and are part of Superintendent Noreen Bush’s Advisory Group to begin new anti-racism efforts.
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“We wake up every day despite the atrocities happening in the world with a positive attitude and an attitude to change the world,” Rahma said.
Diamond Roundtree graduated from Washington High last year and is a freshman at the University of Northern Iowa. At Washington, she was involved in the Sisters to Sisters program, student council and Black history trivia team.
She has served as a “beacon of hope” in the Cedar Rapids community, Carter read from the nomination form.
“She’s a great example of an African American leader who serves and isn’t afraid to stand up for those who lost their will to fight.”
Roundtree said she has always wanted the Cedar Rapids community to thrive and be better.
“Your voice is a weapon and can create the biggest change,” she said. “Martin Luther King Jr. said our lives begin and end the day we become silent about things that matter.
“You can make an impact wherever and whenever you go. Change starts with you, and it starts with the heart.”
Nate Klein is vice president for student success at Mount Mercy University. He advocated for and added a director of diversity and international student success at the university.
Klein takes time to meet students one-on-one to get to know them and help them succeed, and as a supervisor makes sure his team has the resources to succeed. When he was a student at Mount Mercy University, Klein said the director of service learning at the time said that “anyone can be great because anyone can serve.”
“Those words ring truer today,” Klein said. “It’s on all of us to think about what that means to each of us and to understand and respect the human dignity of each person.”
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