Ottuwans for Racial Justice

Members of Ottuwans for Racial Justice participate in their weekly peaceful protests across from the courthouse.

OTTUMWA — Upon George Floyd’s death and a crowded rally held at Central Park in early June, Lorraine Uehling created a Facebook group called “Ottuwans for Racial Justice.”

She created it to foster connections, spark conservations about racism and invite people to peaceful protests across from the courthouse on Fridays.

Since its creation, membership has risen to 732 members. Rachelle Chase and Walter Kayesse are among the members. They, along with Uehling and many others, want to continue to fight for racial justice. Racial justice to them is about a systematic fair treatment of people of all races and equal opportunities and treatments in government, in schools, with law enforcement, etc.

“What jumped out to me is that black people have been facing oppression for hundreds of years,” Uehling said. “It won’t stop on its own. I’ve been protesting for several years and can’t do nothing and expect everything to be OK. Everyone regardless of their skin color should have the same opportunity and equal possibilities.”

Kayesse was inspired to join the group and get involved in activism locally after pursuing it at college. There he addressed police brutality and was involved in Showing up for Racial Justice (SURJ) which is a movement that encourages “ordinary people to push for social change.”

Chase hadn’t done much activism. After Floyd’s death she asked herself, “What can I do to make a difference?” Joining the group and getting involved in an anti-racist committee was the way to go.

“It’s a matter of wanting to be proactive and change,” Chase said.

Kayesse, Uehling and Chase said said having the Facebook group and the peaceful protests every Friday is important for many different reasons.

“With the majority of white populations, racism can be easy to overlook,” Kayesse said. “They love to think [having the group and protests] it’s not necessary. But when you take the time to look and see racial injustices are there, it’s like peeling back layers of onions. A, they don’t see what’s there, and, B, they don’t see what they don’t want to see. They might say, ‘It can’t be real, not in my Ottumwa,’ but it’s there. People have shared their experiences of racism in Ottumwa.

“We have to take the blindfold off,” Kayesse added. “They have to see and confront reality.”

Uehling agreed. “It’s important for every person to bring awareness whether you believe racism is happening or not,” she said. “Human beings have to stand up for other human beings.”

“It’s necessary,” Chase said. “People need to be educated. A chance for change is to make an effort to learn and say, ‘I’m going to try and understand what’s happening.’ The group is an attempt to understand what’s going on.’”

One of the major goals of the group is to take the necessary steps toward racial justice and eventually eradicate racism. The Black Lives Matter movement, Chase, said is a step in the right direction toward that.

Uehling said racism can be eradicated thanks to the young people who are making an effort to address racism.

“The next steps for racial justice are looking at the policies, police budgets — having some of the funds go toward education, that’s another step. I’d like to see how we can make more inclusive environments,” Kayesse said. “Those are steps to bringing racial justice to Ottumwa.

“Defunding the police doesn’t mean taking all of the money from the department,” Uehling explained. “It means taking money from militarization of the police and using it for social reform, education on implicit biases and incentives for people of color.”

Kayeese and Uehling also hope to educate people on why “all lives matter” isn’t the appropriate response to the movement.

“I need people to understand that Black Lives Matter doesn’t mean all lives don’t matter,” Kayesse said. “If all lives matter that would include Black lives that’s what I wish people would understand.”

“We’re educating people at the protests, too,” Uehling said. “We’ve had people walk up to us and ask, ‘Don’t all lives matter?’ We say yes, but what happens is people start acting like we are only for Black Lives Matter. This is about caring for one another and doing something that will challenge them to think about how Black lives are being affected.”

— Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

— Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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