Let's Talk Human Rights Blog - July 2018

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    In this month's "Let's Talk Human Rights" blog:

    • The passing of Governor Ray by Kim Cheeks
    • What Does Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) in the Justice System Really Mean? by Monica Stone

    The passing of Governor Ray

    As I heard the news of Gov. Robert Ray’s passing and the impact he made on the Southeast Asian community, it reminded me of one of my closest, dearest, friends.

    Her family arrived in the United States, sought refuge in Iowa in the 70’s, while I was in elementary school. She and her brothers and sisters, due to not knowing their ages, were placed in whatever grade the schools thought they would fit. What the Des Moines education system didn’t know, or didn’t consider, was that my friend spoke four different languages - one being English. We became close friends in that 4th grade year.

    After the summer ended, and the next school year began, I learned she advanced two grades and went on to middle school. We wouldn’t see each other again until 1989 when fate brought us together to work at the same state agency. We vowed not to lose touch again and have remained connected since then.

    After approximately a year, she was promoted to another agency, and I later moved to another department, as well. She calls me, and I call her, when we have questions about certain issues about life, families, and our jobs, and work through them together. Our families, hers Asian and mine African American, have experienced many trials and triumphs, and our bond has lasted more than 30 years.

    Thank you Governor Ray for your leadership, your vision, and your compassion to humanity. Without you, I probably would’ve never met her and gained another sister/friend.            

    Kim Cheeks
    Photo courtesy of Sone Xaykose

    Written by Kim Cheeks, Office on the Status of African Americans

    What Does Disproportionate Minority Contact (DMC) in the Justice System Really Mean?

    You can read the statistics. You can read the news. But until it hits home, it can be hard to fully understand.

    When I started working at the Department of Human Rights, I discovered that another member of my team attended the same high school as me at the same time.  We had not known each other back then, but it turns out, she did a much better job of staying in touch with people from high school. I was STUNNED to learn from her that each of the African-American males who had been in my circle of high school friends had been, or was currently, in prison. 

    I was a “band-geek”, so nearly all of my high school friends were also in band. These were kids who had it together enough to be at marching band practice at 7 a.m. every day and show up for football games and contests on evenings and weekends. They memorized music and drills. They had families who were involved in school activities. They had been my friends.

    These are people who were on a path to be so much more. They were a budding comic/baritone player who always had a hundred jokes; a trumpet player who introduced me to pineapple on pizza; a tenor sax player with whom I would talk endlessly on the phone until my Mom limited my phone time (for the young people out there – this was in the old days before cell phones and texting; people actually talked on the phone back then and most families shared just one land-line).

    What does having such significant levels of DMC in the justice system really mean? The whole story isn’t told until you examine the multi-generational toll disproportionate levels of incarceration has taken on individuals, communities, families and economies. It means too many people who won’t fulfill their dreams. It means families forever broken. It means boys who had it in them to be great neighbors, husbands, fathers, employees, and leaders becoming the last thing they should be – prisoners. I knew these wise-cracking, junk-food loving, endlessly chatty boys and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that they should have been destined for goodness, not destined to be just another number.

    While about 3% of our general population is African-American, Iowa’s adult correctional system population is nearly 25% African-American. There is a pathway to change. You can be a part of that change - start by learning more at http://bit.ly/Iowa2018DMC.

    Written by Monica Stone, Deputy Director, Iowa Department of Human Rights

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