Marion’s social justice activists call for action and unity

The Marion Alliance for Racial Equity hosted its first event of the year, focusing on the theme of unity

Marion Alliance for Racial Equity co-founder Janessa Carr speaks at a Marion Unity rally at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection on Saturday. The rally was organized by the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Turé Morrow, founder of We Are CR, hosts the Marion Unity Rally on Saturday at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Linn-Mar High School student Marissa Wren reacts to the crowd on Saturday as Turé Morrow, founder of We Are CR and host of the Marion Unity Rally, invites the public to welcome Wren at the rally at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection . (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

Linn-Mar High School graduate Taeja Miller Grundy speaks at a Marion Unity rally at the Lutheran Church of the Resurrection on Saturday. The rally was organized by the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity. (Jim Slosiarek / The Gazette)

MARION – The city has changes to make to be more fair and welcoming to people of color, speakers said at a rally hosted by the Marion Alliance for Racial Equity on Saturday.

The rally gathered several dozen people lined up outside the Lutheran Resurrection Church near Butterfield Park. Speakers included members of the Marion Alliance, local religious leaders and students from Linn-Mar High School.

Marion Alliance co-founder Janessa Carr, who spoke at the rally, told The Gazette that the purpose of the event was to promote unity and understanding in Marion – while drawing attention to the ongoing inequity issues.

The Marion Alliance for Racial Equity was formed in July 2020 following nationwide protests against police violence and systemic racism. This was the first event organized by Marion Alliance this year. The group has worked with the Cedar Rapids Advocates for Social Justice and the city’s Community Equity Task Force, but Carr said the rallies are an important way to get the message out to the public and keep the pressure on local officials.

“It’s a unique way to check where we were a year ago when we started,” she said. “And we are also the ones who continue to hold the city accountable and let them know that we are here and that these things matter to us.”

The group has made six demands – most but not all focusing on the town of Marion – in 2020: establish a Citizen Policing Review Board, decriminalize marijuana, increase diversity and inclusion in municipal services , open doors to facilitate voting, hire a police mental health liaison and for the resignation of Linn County District Attorney Jerry Vander Sanden. Vander Sanden, a Democrat, was elected countywide in 2010 and has since run unopposed.

Last August, Marion City Council formed a community equity task force. In October, the board approved an agreement between the police and Foundation 2 to integrate a crisis counselor into the department.

Several speakers on Saturday called for more action.

Joshua Milam, a Marion resident and pastor at New Bethel Baptist Church in Manly, said the government had made overtures to support social justice reforms but failed to listen enough or engage advocates like the Marion Alliance .

“Yes, they gave us a seat at the table, but they don’t want us to have a say,” he said. “But I came to tell you tonight, that will change.”

Tamara Marcus, co-founder of Advocates for Social Justice and candidate for Cedar Rapids City Council in District 3, encouraged participants to be politically active and engage with local authorities. She urged the crowd to continue to appear at community events like the rally, to join organizations in the area and to run as a candidate.

“Today I hear Pastor Milam talking about MARE’s interface with the local government. Imagine how different this process would be if you had board members who already supported your vision, ”she said.

Four students from Linn-Mar High spoke about the discrimination they faced at school. The students said they were treated with racist insults and ostracized by their white peers.

Despite the issues that speakers have stated that Marion still faces, Carr told the crowd at the start that she hopes for unity and improvement.

“As a black woman, if I thought it was horrible, I wouldn’t be here,” she said. “There is hope, and there is potential here at Marion. We are stronger together than apart. “

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