For years, Joshua Booth hid his face and his name from his website. Booth is the owner of Diamond Label Films, a wedding photography and videography company. His work is beautiful — expansive videos and pictures that convey the joy and emotion of the events he’s capturing.
But he hid his name because he’s still a Black man in Iowa trying to get a job.
Born in Chicago and raised in Freeport, IL, Booth and his wife moved to Iowa in 2004 when their son was born. But finding a job was hard, Booth said his wife got hired, but no one wanted to hire him. In 2011, he was arrested and given probation.
After that, finding a job was even harder. He went to school and studied Computer Programming at the University of Iowa and began shooting music videos and weddings. Booth became his own boss. He didn’t have to worry about anyone hiring or firing him. He could just do the work he loved — telling stories through video. And he’s good at it. Diamond Label Films was shooting 60 weddings each summer. He also began working with Flow Media, a marketing company based out of Cedar Rapids, shooting video for corporate clients and nonprofits.
In March, when the pandemic hit, people canceled their weddings and Booth was out of work. He spent most of the spring at home with his kids planting a garden. But as protests spread across the country in response to the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, Booth was back behind the camera. But instead of a wedding, where people come together to celebrate love, he filmed a whole community coming together to demand justice.
He went out to area protests in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, compiling interviews and video footage. The video is, like all Booth’s videos, bright and expansive and filled with emotion.
A Black woman holds a sign that reads “Black Life Matters.” She waves the sign, yelling, “Enough is enough.” Her voice is powerful but also sounds like it’s tired from having to yell so much. In another moment, white men on motorcycles try to run down protesters, while shouting, “All lives matter.” The police escort them away. He highlights the voices of Black Iowans, who talk about systemic racism and the violence of over policing.
He posted the video on his Facebook page, writing, “Myself, family and friends have had so many unjust interactions and hate against us in this country. Seeing this unity really triggered an emotion I’ll never forget. I hope that people can sense the pain and hurt in this video as well as the need for change.” The video has over 5,000 views and 400 shares.
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After that video, Booth knew what he wanted to do next. “I wanted to make videos that would focus on Black talent, Black businesses and Black artists,” he told me. Soul Cry is the name of his new project. Right now it’s a Facebook page where he posts his original videos highlighting Black people in Iowa. He hopes to expand the project and tell the stories of all Iowans. But for now, because of this moment of revolution, he’s focusing on Black people.
One video shows Janessa Carr, a mother of six children, alone in a dark room, performing a spoken word poem about her fears as a Black mother raising her sons. There is no accompaniment, just Carr’s strong voice. “What is really Black boy joy?” she asks throughout the poem. She tells her sons she loves them that she sees them as beautiful in a world that will never see them that way.
He’s telling the stories that are not often told in a state that is 90 percent white and where the media and newsrooms are almost entirely white.
When I ask him what we are missing, he tells me that Iowans like to think they’re nice, but there is a unchecked racism that’s everywhere in the state. He tells me how at weddings people always assumed he was the help and the white assistants were the videographers.
He points to the comments section on the Facebook pages of The Gazette and KCRG, where people say blatantly racist things. His son and his girlfriend are being bombarded with racist slurs through their social media. He recently had a man, a local business owner, sending him racist rants through Facebook messenger. “And everybody was telling me to call the police because he made threats to me. And I was just like, I don’t know how to tell them that I can’t, because I’m more worried about what this guy could do if he loses his job. And he’s right here in the Iowa area. So, I just had this moment where I felt like I had to take it. I’m sitting in my car driving just like having this moment where I realized that I in fear and I can’t do anything about it.”
Here is what he wants me to know: The hate that we don’t choose to see, believing one thing about ourselves, while we say another. And the stories of beauty that we miss when we don’t highlight the Black people and businesses in our community on a regular basis.
So these are the stories he is going to tell, the ones we are missing. And in telling them, start to change our community.