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Iowa's Lifelong Civil Rights Leaders Elevating Youth Movement Sparking Change

Iowa's Lifelong Civil Rights Leaders Elevating Youth Movement Sparking Change
Iowa's Lifelong Civil Rights Leaders Elevating Youth Movement Sparking Change

DES MOINES, Iowa — Since joining the Iowa State House of Representatives in 2007, Ako Abdul-Samad says helping bring about systemic change in Iowa wasn’t a question of if but when.

“The game changers have made it possible now for us to implement some systemic changes and systemic solutions,” said Abdul-Samad.

The game changers are young leaders like Justyn Lewis of Des Moines, who recently helped lead thousands in downtown marches rallying against police brutality and racial injustices. “I was in a dream. It was unbelievable and extremely encouraging just to see the masses of people of all races,” said Lewis.

Lewis and countless others like him are what Abdul-Samad and president of the Iowa-Nebraska NAACP Betty Andrews have worked so hard for. “They are now starting to move from protest, to power, to policy, to practice,” Andrews said.

Abdul-Samad sees a lot of himself in this new generation. In the 1960s he was a high-ranking member in the Black Panther political party. Like today’s marchers, the Black Panthers challenged police brutality and racism. He says back then America wasn’t ready to look in the mirror. “That’s what we are doing now. We are seeing the reflection of America. We are seeing the lies being told,” Abdul-Samad said.

The passion in protests across the state has helped inspire Gov. Kim Reynolds to sign a bill that limits the use of police chokeholds. Lewis said, “Now that people are yelling and shouting down, ‘No, we want change,’ and to see leaders take some action, it is encouraging, but the work is not done.”

Des Moines is also on the cusp of an anti-racial profiling ordinance. Abdul-Samad and Andrews stood back watching proudly Monday as the youth gathered inside the Iowa State Capitol building and urged the governor to consider an executive order to restore voting rights for convicted felons.

“They are standing on our shoulders and the thing that makes me proud is I’m glad I am one of the shoulders that they are standing on,” said Abdul-Samad.

Leaders new and old say that this time the revolution will be televised. Abdul-Samad said, “A revolution started the birth of this country and democracy, so we’re looking at change.”