Few travelers on path to equity

Few travelers on path to equity

Gazette Column
What’s most disappointing is how few came to participate. There were three things I wanted to do Thursday night. I could have watched Jon Stewart bid his final farewell to Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show.” I was tempted to gather with political friends and family to watch members of the GOP presidential field face off in their first televised debate. But I chose to attend a local meeting at the Coralville Public Library. Specifically, I sat with about 15 people as Kingsley Botchway, Iowa City Community School District’s relatively new equity and staffing director, provided an update and outline of the district’s equity plan. Then I listened as about half of those gathered offered concerns and feedback. It was both an uplifting and sobering experience. While most news reports (and…
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Let’s not forget the ladies

Let’s not forget the ladies

Gazette Column
Thanks to Schoolhouse Rock, I can no longer read the preamble to the Constitution. I must sing it. “We the People … in order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquillity, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.” As a child, I was quite addicted to the various Schoolhouse Rock videos that aired on Saturday morning television. In fact, “Conjunction Junction” and “Three Is a Magic Number” can be found in my playlists. Still, it wasn’t until they were repackaged in the late 1990s that I realized some of their more subtle lessons. In the “Preamble” video there is a line…
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Time for some more ‘real talk’

Time for some more ‘real talk’

Gazette Column
Suicide rates for young black children have nearly doubled over the last two decades, even as rates for white children in the same age group have declined. That statistic is more disturbing with understanding that, historically, suicide rates in the black community have been significantly lower. In other words, this marks the first time that suicide rates among blacks of any age group have exceeded those of white counterparts. The realization was an exceptionally bitter pill for Linda Topinka, a Cedar Rapids licensed social worker who also is a founding member of the African American Family Preservation and Resource Committee. The group formed in 2006, primarily to address racial disparities in social welfare organizations and foster care, but has since expanded its focus in Linn County. She serves as the…
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Iowa advocates push for police oversight, accountability

Iowa advocates push for police oversight, accountability

Gazette Column
This column would have been less difficult to write earlier in the week, before Baltimore was engulfed in flames. But it wouldn’t have been as important. On the surface, Bob Babcock and Felicia Jones have few similarities. Although they both are residents of the Quad Cities, they represent different generations. Babcock leans on a wealth of hard-earned life experience, and now is of the age when the past often intersects with and gives clarity to the present. Jones still is figuring out the world, testing how she fits and what type of difference she can make. On Saturday, April 25, the two stood together at Rock Island Township Hall, a computer presentation as their backdrop, leading a small but engaged group of Quad Cities residents through possible solutions to what…
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Carly Fiorina gives GOP an opening

Carly Fiorina gives GOP an opening

Gazette Column
Merit-based pay structures are key to lifting women up and closing leadership and pay gaps. That’s what Carly Fiorina, former Hewlett-Packard CEO, told the Iowa Women’s Leadership Conference this week. “If you focus on a pay-for-performance system— a true meritocracy where people are recognized, paid and promoted, not on how long they’ve been there, but what they produced — women will rise to the top — not because women are better than men, but because they have half the human potential,” she said. Fiorina is expected to join the 2016 fray as the Republican Party’s only female candidate. It’s good optics for a GOP that has been ostracized for statements and policies that marginalize women, even if many pundits already have written off a Fiorina candidacy. Even with her anti-abortion…
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Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Has UKIP arrived in Iowa?

Gazette Column
A significant (and I believe growing) number of Iowans no longer fit neatly into the two historic political categories that have dominated American politics, and they are owning it. While there have always been political outliers — those who align with the majority of one platform or the other, but are holdouts on specific topics — the current shift is different because people are self-identifying differently. At political events in 2008 and 2012 it was not uncommon to meet Iowans who described themselves as a specific brand of party supporter. For instance, “pro-choice Republican” or “pro-gun Democrat.” Even while differentiating themselves from a larger political perception, Iowans continued to claim a party brand. Recently, however, some of those who previously identified “centrist Democrat” or “moderate Republican” have dropped the party…
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Goodbye, Sunshine

Goodbye, Sunshine

Gazette Column
Hillary Clinton, CR Schools provide murky bookends Few times in history has a time period devoted to awareness of a cause been bookended by two high-profile examples. Yet, that is exactly the case for this year’s Sunshine Week observance. Hillary Clinton’s private email server provided a kickoff gift to the 2015 observance that was simultaneously welcomed (for its ability to raise awareness) and abhorred (for its overt distain of the basic principle of open government). And, even as that national debate raged, Eastern Iowa residents were provided a close-up example of a public body operating in darkness. On Wednesday, the Cedar Rapids Community School District announced Brad Buck, currently the director of the Iowa Department of Education, as its next superintendent. The announcement followed a three-month, closed door search and…
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All about that race (no trouble)

All about that race (no trouble)

Gazette Column
Decades ago, when our family came to Iowa, I found the Hawkeye State uncomfortable. Not only did our oldest daughter and I have twangy southern accents that had people asking us to repeat slowly drawled words and phrases — “High-Ah-Wah-Tha, Eye-Oh-Wah” was, in retrospect, one of the more accent-challenged place names for our first home — but it was strange to suddenly be surrounded mostly by people who outwardly looked a great deal like me. Growing up, I don’t remember any calls for diversity. But that’s probably because my hometown was an imperfect mix of cultures and skin tones. The situation was, of course, not to everyone’s liking. There were residents there, just as there are here, who chose to judge others on appearance. Fortunately, my family, led by my…
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Pew research important in diversity issue

Pew research important in diversity issue

Gazette Column
From an anecdotal standpoint, this is something many already felt. The Pew Research Center has released a new “Local News in a Digital Age” report based on their findings in three U.S. media markets — Denver, Colo., Macon, Ga. and Sioux City. While the entire report is worth the time you’ll spend with it, and perhaps even more compelling due to the Iowa connection, the section on diversity bolsters many ongoing local discussions as well as initiatives by advocacy organizations. Late last month, I published a column detailing inaugural diversity discussions in North Liberty. It was during the meeting that Chad Simmons, executive director of Diversity Focus, discussed what communities need in order to thrive. Specifically, he lamented a lack of local outlets for news and information that reach minority…
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Ferguson, Iowa City more different than similar

Ferguson, Iowa City more different than similar

Gazette Column
Disproportionate contact is symptom of bias, not a diagnosis When officials in Ferguson, Mo. held a news conference to respond to scathing federal allegations of racism and a public safety system driven by profit, the police chief didn’t appear and the mayor entertained no questions. That visual alone should serve as a major clue the situation in the St. Louis suburb is quite different from concerns expressed in Iowa City and other local municipalities. Still, it is difficult not to dwell on the similarities. In its investigation into the Ferguson Police Department, the U.S. Department of Justice reported disproportionate law enforcement contact with African Americans: “Data collected by the Ferguson Police Department from 2012 to 2014 shows that African Americans account for 85 percent of vehicle stops, 90 percent of…
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