IOWA CITY — Iowa City Mayor Bruce Teague encouraged students to continue fighting for equity and an end to systemic racism when speaking last week during a virtual Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning hosted by the Iowa City Community School District.
Monday’s Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebrates the life and legacy of the influential civil rights leader, who was assassinated in 1968.
King, born Jan. 15, 1929, would have been 92 years old this year.
Each year, Iowa City schools sets aside a day of learning to honor the civil rights activist.
The virtual event this year featured 50 sessions last Wednesday for high school students. The students learned about everything from the legacy of King to activism, white supremacy, mental health, building a career, diversity in comics and the history of the blues.
Black Lives Matter renews ‘struggle for justice’
The Black Lives Matter protests across Iowa and the nation over the summer “has renewed the struggle for justice,” Teague said Wednesday.
The protests were sparked after of the May 2020 death of George Floyd, a Black man killed while in the custody of Minneapolis police.
“I often wonder what (Martin Luther King Jr.) would say about what he’s seeing happening in our society today. We benefit from his wisdom, writing and speeches,” Teague said.
Demanding change is “vitally important,” said Teague, who participated in marches and protests in Iowa City.
“How do we take our outrage and energy and apply it to making positive change?” Teague asked. “There is so much work to do sometimes it can feel hopeless.”
Mayor urges students to support Black-owned businesses
One thing Teague encouraged students to do is support Black-owned businesses.
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“Systemic racism is rooted in economics. Black business owners have faced discrimination in access to credit and real estate,” he said.
“You can contribute to changing that with a simple choice of where you spend your money.”
He also encouraged students to vote when they are able and to speak and listen “with your heart.”
“We can build a better society one small action at a time,” Teague said. “Martin Luther King didn’t shy away from challenges. He was direct and pointed out injustices in our society, but his tone was always one of hope.”
The momentum of the Black Lives Matter movement was “in the back of everyone’s mind” during the conversations Wednesday, said Gregg Shoultz, Iowa City schools director of online learning, who facilitated the day of learning.
“You can’t escape it ... and it will have a variant on some of the discussions,” he said.
Shoultz enjoyed learning more about the history of the blues from Coralville’s Kevin “B.F.” Burt, who has won major honors in international blues challenges.
He also sat in on discussions led by Iowa City students like Dasia Taylor, 17, a senior at Iowa City West High School.
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After experiencing the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Learning her sophomore year of high school, Dasia asked the district to include more student voices in the planning process and “give students a seat at the table.”
Student calls for more student ‘voices’ in planning
This year, Dasia spoke to peers about how they can be agents of change.
She touched on how students lobbied the school board to implement implicit bias training for teachers.
She talked about how social media was used last year to give momentum to the Black Lives Matter movement.
She encouraged fellow students to find ways they can make a change toward equity.
Dasia is a part of a Social Studies curriculum review committee for the district, removing racist materials from classrooms and incorporating proactive anti-racist curriculum at all grade levels.
Incorporating Black History in to everyday curriculum is “something we’re discussing,” Dasia said. “It will be lobbied for by students like me.”
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