Growing up in Eastern Iowa, but specifically Iowa City, the progressive ideals of the community have always been touted as a positive. Iowa City’s acceptance of the LGBTQIA+ community was and is something to be commended.
The achievements of Dr. Christine Grant and Title IX are ever so important in continuing to improve the equity between genders. The Stead Family Children’s Hospital is a monument to the great work our health care providers do, and The Wave at each home football game is a symbol of the care and compassion of our community. Iowa City is also a UNESCO City of Literature and is home to a vibrant arts scene. I am proud of many of the things Iowa, and more specifically Eastern Iowa, represents.
In 2001, I left Iowa City to attend the University of Kansas where I competed in track and field. The primary reason I chose Kansas over Iowa, Nebraska, Iowa State and others was Coach Stanley Redwine, a black man. As an 18-year-old black man, I thought it important to find a coach who would look out for my best interests and see me as more than just an athlete. I finished my time at Kansas as a two-time All-American and school record holder in the indoor 800-meter run and signed a shoe deal with Nike. After running professionally for a few years, my career ended, and I returned home.
When I came home in 2011, Iowa City had changed. Diversity had and continues to increase. When I left in 2001, black students accounted for only 8.5 percent of the Iowa City Community School District student population and now accounts for 20.5 percent, according to educateiowa.gov. White students accounted for 80.4 percent of the student population in 2001 and now make up
55.2 percent. The demographics of our communities are changing, as are the demographics of the state. With these changes, there seems to be something missing, a commitment to uphold the values we say we believe in.
The Iowa City Community School District has not kept up with the demands of changing demographics. Black students are falling behind while white students excel. We ask our students of color to assimilate rather than mold our ways to be inclusive. Data on the ICCSD website point to large disparities in office referrals and suspensions of black students. The way we dole out discipline, or not, is inequitable.
The University of Iowa, a nationally ranked institution, has a long history of failing to meet the needs of minoritized populations on campus and specifically students of color. The inability of the university to hire and retain faculty of color and people of color in key leadership positions is well documented. This is not to say individuals do not care. I believe many people care and are doing their best to make change, but institutional change does not come easy.
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Iowa City has challenges as well. While many things have changed, I could not help but notice, before social distancing, that even though the city’s demographics indicate increased diversity, downtown remains homogeneously white. I speak only for myself, but even I, who grew up in Iowa City with white people and a white mother in a white neighborhood, at times feel out of place. For me, something is missing.
Sports are supposed to be the great equalizers — allowing everybody an opportunity to compete through hard work and dedication. A sports cliche is that talent takes you only so far and hard work takes you the rest of the way. That view of sports aligns with our beliefs about America. Hard work and dedication will pave the way to success and our right to pursue happiness. But as current and former student athletes at Iowa have shared their experiences with racism in the past few days, in an attempt to be seen and heard, we have all been made aware that this isn’t true. Systemic racism exists not just in our community, but in our sports departments.
For too long, people of color, specifically black people, have been overlooked. The black athletes I coach at the high schools have expressed feelings of being unwanted and unheard. I wonder how many others feel the same.
Maybe instead of seeing the vandalism as destructive, we should all take a step back and see it as a message from unseen Iowans who want us live up to our values and are making sure our voices are heard. From what I know of Nile Kinnick, I think he might have wanted that.
Iowa City and Eastern Iowa, the place I call home, we can do better. We need to show that black lives matter.
Jeremy Mims is an Iowa City native. He attended City High School before accepting a scholarship to run at the University of Kansas. Jeremy has a BA in sociology from the University of Kansas and an MA in sport and recreation management from the University of Iowa.