Editor’s note: This guest column is a slightly edited version of an email from Mary Wilcynski to Cedar Rapids Mayor Brad Hart, in reference to disagreements between city officials and the Advocates for Social Justice.
I know how challenging it has been to be in this leadership role since the very beginning of your mayoral term. From potential floods in 2016 to the “newbo evolve” debacle in 2018 to a global pandemic this spring, the challenges have been immense. I certainly understand how difficult and how cumbersome your service as mayor has been, and I admire you for your continued efforts.
Unquestionably, one of the most meaningful challenges and the one packing the most potential for significant and substantial change is that of equity in our community, the challenge that is before you and the City Council right now.
I watched the 57-minute video of the meeting with the representatives of the Advocates for Social Justice and the city representatives Friday, June 26.
It was hard to watch, Brad. Please understand I am not trying to purposefully insult anyone, but if I were still teaching at Coe College, I would use that meeting as a classic example of racial suppression and a white power grab. I really would. The meeting was attended by some of the strongest Black voices in our community and those strong Black leaders were pleading with the city officials to use their research, to use their leverage, to use their knowledge and become equal partners in the fight for equity in Cedar Rapids.
The city’s response was to let those advocates know that the city was in control and holds all of the power. The city would decide the make up of the committee, and the timeline and the agendas. The city was pleased to announce that some of the Advocates would be called to serve on the committee. In fact, the Advocates might be very happy with who the city had decided to select from that group.
My stomach hurt watching those influential and intelligent people be “put in their place” by the powerful governmental officials (who, save for one, are all privileged white men).
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The response needed was for the city officials to say, “Let us walk with you as we pursue this oversight committee. Let us be involved in the research you have been doing. Let us form the committee based on who you want and allow us to add a few advocates of our own. We appreciate all of the work you have done up to now. Let us join with you and move forward.”
I can imagine as you read this, you are angry and frustrated and feel very misunderstood. Please know that I am not trying to make anyone angry or frustrated. I know how incredibly difficult it is to truly understand the concept of white privilege. I have read dozens of books and articles and research reports to try to gain a working understanding of the concept, and I have been involved in lots of seminars and workshops and training sessions to put that information into action steps.
We all want our community to be safe and equitable and thriving for all members. The city leaders have a remarkable opportunity right now to truly share power and control with the Black leaders in our city and begin our hard work toward being that city that allows everyone the chance to reach their potential. While agreeing to the seven demands is a step, it is time to provide room for those Advocates to be equal partners in the harder steps moving forward.
Mary Wilcynski served as a co-chair of Cedar Rapids’ Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Task Force. She has been involved in the social justice movement while serving in leadership roles with the Cedar Rapids Community Schools.