© 2023 Iowa Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Combating Systemic Racism In Iowa

Rep. Ras Smith, D-Waterloo, speaks at a press conference at the Iowa Capitol on June 2020.
Betty Andrew speaks at the Iowa State Capitol in support of restoring voting rights for Iowans with felony convictions.

The events of this summer have shed light on systemic racism and police violence but these problems are not new and neither is the work being done to combat them. The fight for racial equality in this country has been ongoing for centuries. On this episode of Talk of Iowa, three Black Iowans who are serving in three very different leadership roles talk about the issues Black Iowans are facing today.

Betty Andrews is the State Area President Iowa-Nebraska NAACP Conference of Branches. Her primary focus is criminal justice reform.

“The criminal justice system is not just one system, it’s several systems with an ‘s.’” Andrews said. “I wanted to make sure we brought those systems together with advocates so they can understand the pieces of the puzzle and understand why African Americans tend to be charged at a higher level but plea down – to accept a level of conviction where white people may be charged at that level initially.”

John Pemble
IPR File

Also on the program is State Representative Ras Smith, who represents Waterloo and other parts of Black Hawk County. Smith has served two terms in the statehouse and is currently running for reelection unopposed. He is Chair of the Iowa Legislative Black Caucus, which is five members strong.

Rachel Rockwell
Rachel Rockwell

We also hear from Rachel Rockwell who works for the Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation, as Program Officer for the Creating Safe, Equitable and Thriving Communities Fund, also known as the SET. The SET fund focuses on preventing and intervening in youth violence. Cedar Rapids has already experienced nine homicides in 2020 a record. At least four of the victims were young Black men aged 20 or younger. At least four of the people arrested in those crimes are teenagers.

This is "Iowa Week 2020: Listening to Black Voices." All week long we’ll hear stories, voices and ideas from Black Iowans.


· Betty Andrews, state area president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP Conference of Branches, Des Moines

· Ras Smith, State Representative, Black Hawk County

· Rachel Rockwell, Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation

This program originally aired on 10-20-20.

Charity Nebbe is the host of IPR's Talk of Iowa
Katelyn Harrop is a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa
Katherine Perkins is IPR's Program Director for News and Talk
Matthew was a producer for IPR's River to River and Talk of Iowa