During the Summer of 2020, much of America began to see an increase in protests and civil unrest. Like much of the country, Fort Dodge also had a protest. That protest would signify, the beginning of conversations and consciousness regarding racial equality.
It was a Sunday evening in June of last year, when I was tipped off that a protest would be held in Fort Dodge that night. At that time around America, many protests had become violent. I wondered to myself would this be another example of that? Even though I had concerns in that regard, I knew I should go and be the eyes and ears of the public. I went out as a journalist there to do my job, but I also went as a man who wanted to show support in bridging the racial divide.
I went not knowing exactly what to expect, what I found was both refreshing and “difference making”. While out at the protest, I saw young black men and women who had organized the demonstration. I saw white police officers talking and walking with young black protesters in a showing that they were trying to gain understanding. I saw leaders from local law enforcement entities and local elected officials, who were there because they recognized the message associated with that moment. The images I saw were worth well more than a 1,000 words, as a white law enforcement officer held a sign that said “Black Lives Matter”.
(Photo From The Protest : Webster County Sheriff’s Office Sgt. Tony Walter holding the “Black Lives Matter” sign and Fort Dodge’s Zac Nuzum march together in the June 2020 protest).
I saw Charles Clayton, a man who happens to be black but is respected as a leader in the community as a whole. I saw how Clayton was taking a step back and letting the next generation of black leaders lead. As he was allowing them to lead that night, he was providing guidance and you could tell they respected his leadership.
What I could see that very night was people focused on the message. I knew in that moment this was a protest that could represent tangible change. That night I spoke to a young man named Eli Smith, one of the leaders of the protest and his message was exactly what I could see happening.
What followed from the night was a series of strides made by community, who looked to itself to be the change it wanted to see. A vigil was held in George Floyd’s memory, just days later where people from all over North Central Iowa came together. They came together representing different generations, races and various socio-economic backgrounds. Charles Clayton spoke at that event, as did Fort Dodge NAACP President Sherry Washington.
As the months moved on from the summer of 2020, the community began to make progress in finding common ground. In May of this year, Charles Clayton organized a cultural diversity summit that saw over 500 people take part. That summit had elected and law enforcement officials from Fort Dodge and all over Iowa. It also was supported by area businesses like Unity Point Health. Well before the federal government recognized it as a holiday, Fort Dodge Mayor Matt Bemrich made a proclamation that the Fort Dodge would recognize Juneteenth. A Juneteenth celebration was held in Fort Dodge where the community came together. Again it was a mixture of races and backgrounds coming together because they understood what that celebration represented.
Then Friday night August 6th, roughly 14 months following that faithful night of the initial protest a Black Leadership Summit was held in Fort Dodge. Charles Clayton organized the event and spoke at the event. He talked about the progress in the fight for equality that Fort Dodge has made.
Quennel Mccaleb also spoke at the Black Leadership Summitt. Mccaleb is a Fort Dodge native, he talked about his life experiences and how he was ready at one point to move his family out of Fort Dodge. He felt like he would not be able to reach his potential and thrive in the community. Mccaleb said he then got “real” about becoming a leader. Just earlier this year, he was hired from what he called “his dream job” being the Varsity Track Coach at Fort Dodge Senior High. Mccaleb has been working at the Fort Dodge Middle School and in 2020 started a mentorship program called “Dodger Experience”. Mccaleb announced Friday night, he is looking to take his role as a leader a step farther.
Al Womble from the Iowa Black Caucus was invited to speak at the event. He talked about how it is his goal to help foster leadership in black communities across Iowa. A video of Womble’s speech and a video of Charles Clayton’s speech are both below.
(Al Womble speaks at the Fort Dodge Black Leadership Summit.
I think we all know that this movement is one that is a marathon and not a sprint. As I continue to cover the events related to the movement, I feel that the desire for positive change is authentic. It comes off as organic and genuine, as it if it really is about the greater of the “whole” and not the benefit for just individuals. Certainly, work is still to be done and progress is still being made. However, I do think what Fort Dodge as an entire community is seeing is the results of being the change it wants to see.