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Vigil Reminds People To Continue Fight Toward Equity For Black Iowans

Kassidy Arena
The speakers talked about continuing the fight toward equity for Black Iowans at the Black vigil in Des Moines last night. "We're going to continue to do this. This group of people you see here, we're not tired, no, we're jaded," Reverend Rob Johnson (second from left) said.

"When I say Black lives, you say 'matter!' Black Lives!"

Rev. Rob Johnson bobbed his fist as more than one hundred people responded the way he instructed last night at a vigil in a Des Moines park to support central Iowa's Black community.

The vigil was meant to serve as a reminder to people to continue acknowledging the struggle of Black Americans and to work to fight inequities. Many speakers talked about former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin’s guilty verdict in the murder of George Floyd.

Johnson was one of them. He’s the director of the advocacy organization No Justice No Peace.

“Dr. King said let freedom ring. Freedom has not rung yet. And that is why we are still fighting. We did not see justice, we saw a glimpse of accountability. But freedom has still not rung yet," Johnson clarified.

State Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, D-Des Moines, added: “That was not justice, that was a step to going to justice. Because unless you have accountability, you cannot have justice. And that was a step to accountability.”

The speakers also included Rev. Jacquelyn Ford of St. Paul AME, Luana Nelson-Brown of the Iowa Coalition for Collective Change, Buffy Jamison of the Iowa Queer Communities of Color Coalition, Connie Ryan of Interfaith Alliance of Iowa.

Al Womble, Chair of Iowa Democratic Black Caucus, emceed the event.

"When somebody asks you what time it is, I want you to say that the time is now to do the right thing," Womble told the audience before he introduced Justyn Lewis of Des Moines Selma.

Lewis listed names of Black Americans who were shot by police officers: Daunte Wright, Ma'Khia Bryant, Anthony Thompson Jr.

Kassidy Arena
Justyn Lewis, of Des Moines Selma, encouraged listeners to take action against injustice Thursday night at a park in Des Moines. "Justice didn't take place at Derek Chauvin's trial, accountability took place. That's what was supposed to happen," Lewis said.

"The perception of us is always twisted to justify our deaths. So I want you to remember these three names," Lewis said.

The speakers from the different faith and advocacy organizations encouraged Iowans to stay involved in holding those with authority accountable.

Adbul-Samad said some ways of doing that is contacting lawmakers. He said there is some legislation that concerns him and the other speakers, like the "Diversity bill," which bans diversity training in schools and government.

"Once we begin to understand our differences, then our similarities have substance. But the problem that we have is that we don't want to talk about our differences," Abdul-Samad said.

He said he is also concerned about the "Back the Blue bill," which punishes reductions to police budgets.

"Additionally legislation that's inherently anti-LGBT have been pushed through multiple times just this year, and again, it's very much a part of what we're talking about here today," Jamison said, mentioning the "Bathroom bill," which bans transgender students from using bathrooms aligned with their gender identity. "Because the LGBT community is Black. The LGBT community is Latinx. The LGBT community is all of us."

The speakers reiterated communities of all races, ethnicities, socio-economic class and identity need to come together to support one another in holding those in power accountable.

Kassidy was a reporter based in Des Moines