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Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice Acceptance Remarks

Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice Acceptance Remarks

President and CEO Teree Caldwell-Johnson was the recipient of the 2023 Cristine Wilson Medal presented by the Iowa Commission on the Status of Women. Here are Teree’s inspiring remarks:

What do you do

When you’ve done all you can do

And it seems like it’s never enough?

Tell me, what do you give

When you’ve given your all

And it seems like

You can’t make it through?

 

Well you just stand

When there’s nothing left to do

You just stand

Watch the Lord see you through

Yes after you done all you can

You just stand.

 

Stand…Six decades ago Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., issued his resounding call for racial harmony that set off decades of American’s push and pull toward equality and justice. King began his speech by decrying economic disparity, quality of life issues, police brutality and voter rights.

He brought his remarks home with the sermonic delivery of his dream of social and economic equity with a harmony that has transcended racial and ethnic lines for the past 60 years.

Now I am not MLK, nor do I have his oratorical prowess or his cadence of good preaching, but today I stand on both his word and his promise and challenge you to do the same. The coincidence of the alignment of today’s event with the commemoration of the 1963 March on Washington should call us, demand us, it should double dog dare us all to stand.

Stand on the shoulders and in awe of those that came before us.

Stand for and uphold equality and justice in all forms and all places.

And…

Stand in the gap for the marginalized, the unseen and the unheard.

Standing on the Shoulders

Today I stand in awe of the 2023 Hall of Fame inductees…and the hundreds of worthy and notable awardees whose names shape a list of Iowa trailblazers and way makers that is second to none.

I also stand on the shoulders of Cristine Wilson and the 35 distinguished medal recipients whose body of work and simple eloquence of example have set the tone, paved the way and raised the bar for us all to use the human, social and political capital at our disposal to advance the cause of equality and justice in our respective spheres of influence.

There is no question that today I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors brought to this country in bondage on a slave ship that docked at Port Comfort, Virginia, in the year 1619.

Today I stand on the shoulders of giants – giants who were not “slaves” but who were enslaved.

Giants who were both bought and brave – sold and strong.

Giants who embody what it means to be resilient. A resilience that paved the way for many shining examples of Black brilliance to emerge – indeed a level of bold and brave Black brilliance that transcends both time and circumstance.

A brilliance that allows us to stand tall and without apology claim our rightful place in history. A history of our people, our contributions and our culture that cannot be rewritten, recanted, revised, retracted, reworked, revoked or erased to assuage White guilt and shame, advance White privilege or mitigate White fragility.

While painful and often uncomfortable for others, I will always stand on the shoulders of my ancestors and on the back of history and its ability to illuminate and acknowledge the pain of persistent inequality and injustice.

As I stand before you receiving the Cristine Wilson Medal, I stand to uphold the notion of equality and justice in all forms and all places and spaces where it must exist. From the hallowed halls of our federal, state and county governments to the respective daises of our city councils and local school boards, I am here to announce that our Kumbaya moments not longer exist.

We Must Continue to Stand for Equality and Justice

In the face of eroded voting rights nationwide and after the striking down of affirmative action in college admissions and women’s reproductive health and abortion rights by the Supreme Court, I – indeed we – must continue to stand.

Amid growing threats of political violence and hatred against people of color, Jews, and the LGBTQ+ community, the issues today appear eerily similar to those in 1963.

Bottom line, there is an undercurrent of the undoing of progress and a backward movement being experienced in Iowa and other states across the nation.

Our elected officials are taking a different approach to justice and equality that in no way aligns with those things we have fought for our entire lives. Further, they are now backing it up with legislative action, policy and rules that are both regressive, unequal, unequitable and unjust.

To stand and uphold the notion of equality and justice is being mindful of who we elect or better yet – standing for election yourself. It is showing up at state hearings, city council and school board meetings and standing your ground regarding the banning of books, the erasure of Black history, and bills passed that promote vague and suppressive language focused on Racism, Sexism, Diversity. We can and must do better…for you see – our very future as a people and a democracy hinge on it.

Speak for Those Who Have No Voice

As the child of educators and civil rights activists I have an obligation to uphold the struggles of the marginalized, the unseen and the unheard. Both professionally and as a community volunteer I have centered my work in a way that gives me a seat at the table, a voice in the conversation and a vote in the decision making. Let me remind you there is NOTHING LIKE PRESENCE IN THE ROOM!

I have made a conscious decision to center my work on the education pursuits and academic achievement of all students in the Des Moines school district.

The countless success stories of the immigrants and refugees also move me as they anchor and move to prosperity through the service-enriched housing model of Oakridge Neighborhood.

And since 2017 I have researched and examined the health and wellbeing of individuals of African descent and worked to create the One Economy framework for asset building and wealth creation aimed to eliminate the racial wealth gap.

Proverbs 31:8 calls us to:

Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are deprived and dispossessed.

Indeed, the Bible commands us to be a voice for the voiceless, a stabilizer for the marginalized and a loud and crashing cymbal for the unheard.

I am reminded of a song we sang as little children – This Little Light of Mine – I’m Going to Let it Shine. Today, I challenge both the young and the not so young to be reminded of these lyrics – everywhere I go – I’m going to let it shine, in everything I do, I’m going to let it shine – Jesus gave it to me – and I’m going to let it shine – let it shine let it shine let it shine.

The soul of our state and our nation hangs in the balance and the challenges us to use our political muscle, indeed our civic and social capital, NOW to move the needle on equality and justice.

As I accept the 2023 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality and Justice today my message is simple – NEVER FORGET TO STAND!

 

 

Oak Studio – A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, Powered by Wellpoint

Oak Studio | A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, Powered by Wellpoint

Welcome to Oak Studio | A Best Buy Teen Tech Center at Mainframe, open to ALL metro-area teens ages 13-21! Drop in any time. It is free to use the equipment and resources available. Adult mentors are available to assist if you need.

A member of The Clubhouse Network, Oak Studio is loaded with cutting-edge technologies – including tools to help youth explore music and vocal production, audio engineering, digital media, robotics, drones, augmented and virtual reality, 3D printing, graphic design, sewing, engraving and more! Within the space, teens are able to participate in collaborative and individual projects, training and workshops.

In addition, Oakridge was awarded the opportunity to join Best Buy Foundation’s Career Pathways program. Career Pathways is available to tech center teens who will have the opportunity to vie for one of six internships in a STEAM field. 

Hours

Monday – Friday    1:00 – 6:00 pm

Location

Mainframe Studios

900 Keosauqua Way

LL01

Des Moines, Iowa

 

Contact Us

To participate or volunteer

Derek Frank – Teen Tech Center Coordinator

Emmet Phillips – Career Pathways Facilitator

teentechcenterdesmoines@gmail.com

Meet Najamo Abukar

Meet Najmo Abukar

Resident Najmo Abukar is a shining star participating in Oakridge Neighborhood’s youth programming. But before joining in Oakridge’s afterschool program full-time in 2018, Najmo was quiet and introverted. Her younger brothers were active participants in the youth programming, but she would not consistently join in. Some arm twisting by friends, a staff member who was also her middle school science teacher, and the very persistent Oakridge youth department lead Vernon Johnson convinced Najmo to become involved and commit to regularly participating.

Now, Najmo, the oldest of five children who came from Africa when she was an infant, demonstrates confidence, leadership and discipline in all aspects of her life. She is driven, ambitious and motivated. She earns nearly all A’s at Roosevelt High School. She works over 30 hours a week as a cashier at Walmart to save for a car and to assist her mother with household expenses; with her first paycheck, she bought her brother a phone. She is also a tremendous help to the Oakridge staff, assisting with high school tutoring sessions. She has joined several educational groups to help bolster her college resume (“College is a must,” she says), including the 4-H Urban Youth Leadership Academy and Investing in My Future.

She was also selected for the Oakridge Summer Youth Employment Program. She aspires to be a nurse, doctor or surgeon, so her summer employment experience last year placed her at UnityPoint, just across the street from Oakridge Neighborhood. “I want a career where I can make a change in the world, where I can help spread hope,” she says.

With young people like Najmo poised to lead the way, we all should, indeed, have hope in the future.

Taking Their Shot

Taking Their Shot: Pair Takes Aim on Home Court

Oakridge Neighborhood resident Peter Ngo was drawn to my attention by the managing editor of an area television station. He’d received a call from Peter, saying the station only covered news from Oakridge Neighborhood when something negative happened. He wanted the newsman to know there were all kinds of great things going on here all the time, like the basketball workshops he had recently launched that numerous Oakridge youth were all about.

The editor was intrigued. So was I. So, one day this summer I made my way to Peter’s apartment, where he lives with his dad, mom and five younger siblings, to get the lowdown. I was welcomed by 22-year-old Peter, and explained why I was there. He was gracious, kind, welcoming…and tall. He looked like a guy who might know a thing or two about basketball.

Since that first meeting Peter’s goal of developing an ongoing basketball clinic for area youth has started to blossom. What began as outdoor practice with a handful of youth on the basketball court at Oakridge this summer has evolved. Today nearly 60 students are practicing at various times throughout the week, some Mondays and Tuesdays after school at Edmunds Elementary School, some Saturdays and Sundays for more extended sessions just down the street at the gym at First Methodist Church.

Keeping Peter motivated is his righthand man and best friend since grade school, Mamoud Bayoh. Mamoud exudes positivity and encouragement. The pair met over basketball all those years ago, and today are partners working to evolve their current initiative into a sustainable program, a traveling league for area youth. It’s a model that has a unique twist: students come to basketball practice AND can get a free haircut, all in one, thanks to the barbering skills Mamoud brings to the table.

Hoops and Hopes

Peter was born in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. The Ngos moved to the United States in 2005, joining family that was living at Oakridge. Peter did not know English, so was bullied at school in those early years. He says it taught him how to stand up for himself at a young age.

Peter and Mamoud crossed paths one summer attending a church camp, around 5th grade. They started playing basketball every day. Mamoud had already been introduced to basketball fundamentals through league play, but Peter was new to the sport and his style of play was “more street ball,” laughs Mamoud. Peter recognized that his buddy was besting him by consistently making some pretty complicated shots, which frustrated him. He started asking Mamound for advice, and Mamoud in turn began to teach Peter basketball fundamentals.

The pair played with Kingdom Hoops in junior high then joined the basketball team at North High School. Junior year, Peter transferred to Roosevelt High School, and Mamoud quit basketball after the death of his father. His artistic bent led him to ultimately go into barbering – complete with house calls!

In the meantime, Peter started his basketball career at Roosevelt with all kinds of bad attitude, he says, due to the rough start he had growing up. But sometime that junior season, he had an epiphany that if he didn’t change, he wasn’t going to get anywhere. “So I focused on my grades and I focused on my school life,” he says.

The change in Peter didn’t go unnoticed; many people told him how inspirational his pivot was from being “one of the baddest kids in school with attitude to one of the humblest kids.” His game also improved. “I always had work ethic,” he says. “When I started out everyone was better than me. But I surpassed their expectations. My mother always told me with hard work you can go anywhere; she ingrained that in me.”

Peter was awarded a basketball scholarship to Mount Mercy University, but when the pandemic hit, remote learning wasn’t for him, and he decided to return to Des Moines. Today he is employed at Amazon, while working to launch his youth basketball organization with input from his pastor and others who’ve initiated similar efforts. 

Basketball for 'a Better Future, a Better Chance'

The impetus for the new venture? Peter’s siblings.

“I need to help them find a better future, a better chance,” he says. “If you can enlighten a kid they can go far in life. Basketball can have a huge impact.”

Academics is an important component of the dialogue with the students, too. “We have them write essays,” Peter says. “And if they don’t do their essay, they don’t get to join practice.” Pretty motivating for a team of kids that asks for more practice, when practice is over. “We know we are doing something right when the kids are having fun and want to keep doing it,” Peter says.

This fall, girls and boys in grades 3-8 learned basketball fundamentals and are now participating in area tournaments. Peter and Mamoud hope that if they can raise enough money, the students will be able to participate in a competitive traveling league. Ultimately the duo aspires the have their own practice facility, and to provide a source of income for their efforts.

But in the short term, they are more concerned with the basics, like providing the kids with basketball shoes, backpacks for their gear, cones, shot clocks and the like. So far the parents of the players have really pulled together to try to help provide, Peter says.

For more information, check out some practices on YouTube at @brickzlegends8600

Mamoud’s barbering skills can be seen on Instagram at @kmb_hussle

Oakridge Neighborhood: Serving Our Refugee and Immigrant Neighbors

Oakridge Neighborhood: Serving Our Refugee & Immigrant Neighbors

Over 70 percent of Oakridge Neighborhood’s residents are refugees and immigrants, a community of people gaining stability while preparing for the next step in their life’s journey. We are uniquely suited to providing our neighbors not only quality housing but also supportive programs, essential services that help them succeed and become economically independent in their quest to enjoy a secure and happy life.

Learn more here.