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African American Leadership Society Launches in Quad Cities

The newly-formed African American Leadership Society aims to overcome health, economic and academic disparities in the Quad Cities.

An organization aimed at addressing racial disparities in the Quad Cities launched Wednesday. The African American Leadership Society has big goals – to help people of color, particularly kids, overcome years of discrimination and disinvestment.

It was a packed house at the Waterfront Convention Center in Bettendorf Wednesday for the launch event. Dozens of local elected officials, business leaders, philanthropists, faith leaders and teachers gathered together, bolstered by the sounds of two different gospel music groups.

The newly-launched group intends to address sweeping and persistant disparities in the lives of black children in the Quad Cities. 

According to the United Way of the Quad Cities, which is the parent organization of the AALS, black residents in the area fall behind whites on a slate of economic, academic and health metrics.

Fifty-six percent of African American preschoolers in the Quad Cities are living in poverty, compared to just 15 percent of white preschoolers, and nearly half of African American households in the area are led by a single mom.

Rev. Dwight Ford of Grace City Church is one of the chairs of the organization's steering committee. He says these sorts of disparities should not be tolerated.

"I want to be honest with you, I am prepared to spend the rest of my life working to change the things I cannot accept. These numbers we cannot accept," Ford said.

The newly-formed AALS is working to address these gaps, by pulling in volunteers, donors and mentors. Rev. Mason Parks of New Journey AME Church is a member of the group.

“We are not our circumstances, we are not our past, and we definitely are not our mistakes. Helping these young men understand that they don’t have to be what people think, what people say or what people expect them to be based on their culture and their surroundings,” Parks said.

Randy Moore is now the president of Iowa American Water Company, after growing up as a "latchkey child" in poverty. Without a father at home, he says he was left on his own much of the time while his mom worked as a maid for a wealthy white family. He says mentors helped him find his way, and he's eager to help other kids in similar situations.

"This African American Leadership Society has a tremendous opportunity to not just be, to not just exist, but to provoke and to promote and to make change happen," said Moore, who is also serving as a chair of the organization's steering committee.

Tracy White with the United Way of the Quad Cities helped launch the group, and says it's important to remember that not everyone in the community enters life on equal footing; inequalities persist across lifetimes and generations, and White says it will take concerted action to counteract them.

"For every girl who feels different because of her hair or because of the color of her skin, for every mom who’s living in poverty but only wants the best for her babies, for every returning citizen that just wants a second chance, for every African American boy that just wants to live in peace and dream, for every person that just wants to live their best possible life, I will fight for you," White said.

To get the organization moving, the AALS has set goals to recruit 100 new donors, volunteers and mentors within its first 100 days.

Kate Payne was an Iowa City-based Reporter