Guest Columnist

Racism in Iowa: A statement from faith leaders

Community members gather on the Pentacrest during a Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa City on  Saturday, June 20, 2020. The
Community members gather on the Pentacrest during a Juneteenth Celebration in Iowa City on Saturday, June 20, 2020. The event capped more than two weeks of protests for racial justice in Iowa City. (Nick Rohlman/freelance)

Our hearts grieve with the community of Grinnell and the Black community in our state. We know many people are hurting because of the murder of Michael Williams and the horrific burning of his body. We know many are angry. We know many are scared.

As Iowa faith leaders, we want you to know there are people of faith and no faith from communities across Iowa that are with you. You are not alone. We stand beside you and grieve with you. We offer strength in the midst of rational fear.

Some people were relieved to learn that Michael’s murder was not the result of a brutal act of random racial violence. It is telling where our society is when the norm is to expect a hate crime.

The reality in Iowa is that every Black person in our state lives in a primarily white community. Every Black person in Iowa lives with the impact of racism. Every Black person lives with the fear they or their child could be harmed or killed because they are Black.

This summer in Iowa alone, a Black man walking to his girlfriend’s home was violently attacked by two white men. A Black woman was pulled from her car and viciously attacked by a group of white men. A Black girl remains missing after months with little attention given to her life. And, a Black man was murdered and his body burned.

The landscape of Iowa continues to uphold the long-held prejudices that perpetuate racism and racist behaviors, engendering fear and oftentimes endangering the lives of Black people in communities across the state.

What are we doing to create change so that our Black family members can live in safety and without fear? If we are truly neighbors --- family --- what are we doing to address bias, prejudice, and racism?

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As faith leaders across traditions and beliefs, we are compelled to speak out and to take action for change. As a first step, we call upon every Iowan to look inward and ask: How do my prejudices contribute to racism in Iowa? How do our collective biases and prejudices create communities that are emotionally and physically unsafe for our Black neighbors?

We must work to challenge our own biases and prejudices that stoke racism in our communities creating fear and causing harm.

It is sacred work, bending the moral arc to reach justice, using our own hands and voices to create change so that every Black person is free from fear and every Black child can rise to their best self, living in happiness and safety.

We commit to the real and difficult work of addressing racism in our state and communities. We invite you to join in the work with us.

This statement addressing racism, including racism in Iowa is signed by 263 Iowa faith leaders. Faith Leader signers included bishops, denominational leaders, reverends, pastors, rabbis, imams, faith organization leaders, and congregational lay leaders from cities and towns across the state. Learn more at the Faithful Voices for Racial Justice project of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa at faithful-voices.org

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