Iowa Griot 20.2

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AFRICAN AMERICAN MUSEUM OF IOWA 55 12th Avenue SE Cedar Rapids, IA 52401 Phone: (319) 862-2101 Toll-free: 877-526-1863 Fax: (319) 862-2105


WHAT IS A GRIOT? A griot (pronounced gree-oh) is the member of a group who keeps the history. The Iowa Griot is the membership newsletter of the African American Museum of Iowa. BOARD OF DIRECTORS Nancy Humbles (Cedar Rapids), President Ben Hoover (Cedar Rapids), Vice President Maurice E. Davis (Cedar Rapids), Treasurer Jamarco Clark (Ottumwa) , Secretary Tonya Scott (Ft. Madison) Anthony Betters, Jr. (Cedar Rapids) Peg Fraser (North Liberty) Ruth Hairston (Cedar Rapids) Dr. Benny Hawkins (Coralville) LaShonda Kennedy (Palo Alto, CA) Judge Kevin McKeever (Iowa City) Scott Olson (Cedar Rapids) Dr. Vincent Reid (Robins) Abena Sankofa Stewart (Ames) Dr. Reginald Stewart (Ames) Reginald Ward (Cedar Rapids) STAFF LaNisha Cassell, Executive Director Brianna Kim, Director of Operations Felicite Wolfe, Curator Sean Donaldson, Museum Educator Diana Henry, Education Assistant Lisa Buckman, Operations Coordinator Jennifer Beall, Communications Associate Carolyn Hendrix, Front Desk Associate MEMBERSHIP & SUBSCRIPTIONS

The Iowa Griot is published quarterly and is provided for members of the African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa. The Iowa Griot is copyright ©African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa. Reproduction in whole or part without the written consent of the African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa is prohibited. By submitting a manuscript or illustration, the author warrants to the African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa that the material does not infringe on the copyright of another party and that the author assumes full responsibility for any such copyright infringement as may arise following publication.

LaNisha Cassell Executive Director


hank you for your continued encouragement and support of the African American Museum of Iowa in the midst of such uncertainty surrounding us all. Like so many organizations and businesses nationwide, the Museum closed its doors to the public in mid March and made the decision to cancel or postpone all planned programs, tours, events, and rentals until we reopened on July 10th. While we have adapted well to social media and virtual programming, we want you back in our gallery and taking advantage of the new Smithsonian traveling exhibit Voices and Votes, and our upcoming temporary exhibit, Unwavering: 21st Century Activism.

360° views of select areas, joining our Facebook community group, and following us on social media. As organizations around the world have had to make difficult decisions about fundraisers and events, the AAMI was fortunate to have been able to produce a very successful Juneteenth virtual celebration. We also have plans to produce a stellar virtual History Makers Gala. In addition to the pandemic, the national protest movement in support of black lives has turned a spotlight of attention on the Museum. As a valuable authority on Iowa’s African American history, the AAMI is well-equipped to respond to the many requests for research tools, historical data, and other important educational resources. As we all seek to adapt to our new normal, the entire Museum team is working to not only meet the needs of our patrons and supporters, we are also diligently striving to meet the growing need of our community by remembering our vision to “build a community that comes together to foster a greater understanding and appreciation of Iowa’s African American history and culture through conversation, engagement, and reflection.” We eagerly welcome you back now that our doors have reopened!

Not ready yet? Consider visiting the Sincerely, still-new digital tour of our exhibit Endless Possibilities, which includes LaNisha highlights of items and links to ON THE COVER

The Iowa Griot is not a scholarly publication. Opinions expressed by featured authors do not necessarily reflect the principles or policies of the African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa, its board, membership, staff, editor or publisher(s). Neither the African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa board, membership, staff, editor or publisher(s) make any warranty, expressed or implied, with respect to the contents of this publication or to goods and services that may be advertised herein. The African American Heritage Foundation of Iowa reserves the right to revise, edit, or refuse any material submitted for publication in The Iowa Griot.

Diamond Roundtree creates an original artwork during Unwavering: Art Creation in Defense of Black Lives. This event was held on June 27 and provided an opportunity for the community to engage in activism through art following the murder of George Floyd.




Unwavering: 21st Century Activism

Voices and Votes

Due to the pandemic, our Juneteenth festivities looked a little different this year. Like many organizations, we took one of our favorite events of the year online. While this format presented new challenges, it also allowed us to engage with more people than ever before. As virtual Juneteenth celebrations from across the country were highlighted, our event received national coverage. Thousands of participants tuned in to view performances, family-friendly activities, and a virtual trivia night. We are grateful to all took part in the virtual festivities, especially at a time where the importance of the history behind Juneteenth has become more widely recognized. The event was made possible by generous support from our sponsors Alliant Engergy and Collins Community Credit Union. Videos from the event are available to view at

Following the murder of George Floyd and the resulting national protests, the AAMI team recognized the need to provide a space for community reflection and engagement. This need led to the event Unwavering: Art Creation in Defense of Black Lives. Through this program, participants were invited to engage in activism through art, creating pieces that they could take home or donate to be used in the upcoming exhibit Unwavering: 21st Century Activism. In preparation for this exhibit, the AAMI also collected signs from recent protests and asked community members to share their experiences with activism. The writings of these community members will be compiled by AAMI intern and University of Iowa PhD student Jennifer Miller into an art installation for the new exhibit.

The AAMI partnered with the Czech Village/New Bohemia Mainstreet District and the National Czech and Slovak Museum of Iowa to host the Smithsonian traveling exhibit Voices and Votes: Democracy in America through August 15.

VOLUNTEER SPOTLIGHT her internship went virtual and she is worked on oral history transcriptions and writing exhibit text. “The African American Museum of Iowa welcomed and introduced me to the knowledge and experience needed to continue/pursue a career in the museum community. The museum worked around my busy schedule of being a senior, student athlete that was currently in track season. My work included working with newly donated material. I worked by myself, with guidance from curator, Felicite Wolfe, in moving through the process of selection, sorting, and creating new archival materials.

A recent graduate of Coe College’s history program, Tieranny Keahna interned in our curatorial department this spring. Due to her interest in archives, Tieranny was processing a large archival collection. After the museum closed due to COVID-19,

Since the pandemic, Coe College, like many other schools have been forced to continue the remainder of the semester online. The museum made adjustments to allow me to continue my internship from home. I appreciate the museum’s flexibility and in allowing me to continue my learning experience from home during these unique times.”



Did you know that we have an online summer program for kids? Each Wednesday through August 12 we premiere a new History Adventures video on Facebook and YouTube at 10 AM. Through these videos, kids can learn about important figures in African American history. Each lesson is taught by our summer education interns and includes a hands on activity. Visit to see the videos we’ve shared so far, as well as links to other educational content that younger history scholars can enjoy.


Learn how the AAMI team has adapted to working during a pandemic.

Felicite Wolfe, Curator

creative ideas to build interactives and put my own spin on it. I will orking from home be collaborating with our Educator during this time to get a teacher’s perspective. I’m is in a word – finding images that are powerful and challenging. Getting compelling, free or low cost to use, and used to a new norm free to publish or securing permissions with my co-worker to use for our purpose. husband and a precocious eight-yearold is forcing me to be flexible when by Adding to all of this the great unknown nature I’m a control freak! My work day that we are all dealing with now. Will has become shortened due to my new this exhibit be able to be built and open surroundings, so I have been spending on time? Will the subcontractors I my time on smaller tasks, including work with, from the graphic designer taking care to make sure my interns and printer to the painters, laborers, have enough virtual work, answering and warehouses be available? What will emails, and attending virtual meetings. be functioning to provide the materials Most importantly though I’m finishing to open? It remains to be seen. All I can up work on our next temporary exhibit do right now is write and create and entitled Unwavering: 21st Century know that whatever happens it will be Activism. ok, the exhibit will be up at some point, the AAMI will open, and visitors will The exhibit is still scheduled to open come again. in mid-September, so I am currently condensing all of the research I’ve Sean Donaldson, Educator done in the last few months into panel text. Of course, I always wind ovid-19 raised new up having too much information (is challenges for the AAMI there such a thing?). There are always Education Department. so many avenues to take and more to Typically, a lot of our time find out – it’s hard to know when to is spent guiding tours, stop myself. This past week I’ve been running programs across trying to determine how everything the state, and engaging in meaningful will physically fit in the gallery. I have discussions with all of you. With a very basic design software that I use everyone encouraged to stay home, we to layout all of the pieces i.e. panels, worked to find alternate ways to offer object cases, photo murals, interactives. these opportunities to all of you. I always think I have so much space until I start filling it! The trickiest part of Over the last few months, we have building an exhibit is being able to take been learning the logistics of online the mounds of research, boil it down programming. How do we record to a few paragraphs, and writing it in a quality content? How do we make sure way that is engaging and informative. it sounds okay? How do we make that Couple that with designing engaging content engaging through a screen? As interactives and visuals, and it’s a we’ve learned this, we’ve also worked process! Each exhibit is a new learning to put these things into practice – experience for me. I look online for keeping quality programming available





“All I can do right now is write and create and know that whatever happens it will be ok, the exhibit will be up at some point, the AAMI will open, and visitors will come again.” to you, our patrons. Not only does this approach solve challenges for our current situation, it also prepares us for a brighter, more accessible future as an institution. In-person programming brings us together, encourages us to think, and fosters meaningful conversations we might never have otherwise.

But we can’t always be at in-person programming, even on topics that are particularly meaningful to us. Our hope is that through our recent work learning and practicing recording, editing, and publishing, we have honed the skills necessary to continue to do this when we can be together again. This will enable our friends who cannot join us to participate from afar, during or after our gatherings. It will also build an archive, allowing us to publish content again as its pertinence arises. In addition to working on our virtual and distanced programming during this time, we have been working to accomplish a vision that we have been chasing in recent months and years. As you may know, a staple of our resources are our traveling trunks. These trunks include lesson plans for teachers and the materials needed to lead them. While these trunks have lots of relevant, engaging plans, many of them are limited in how many grade levels they reach. In addition, some of these trunks have fallen out of date in relation to classroom standards. With the intensity of our normal schedule, it is tough for us to find the time to expand these trunks to reach more students and update them to current criteria. Since we have not been running quite as many events, we have begun a modernization and expansion process of our traveling trunks. The goal is that in the not-so-distant future, our trunks will meet all grade levels, enabling African American history to be a staple in every classroom across the state. Our plan also aims to further the accessibility of our trunks, offering streamlined lesson plans in an online database that all teachers across Iowa and beyond can easily access from their computers. While this digitization portion is a slightly slower process that requires a different expertise, we look forward to a time when our expanded and current lessons are so easily and readily available to teachers. We in the Education Department miss you all, but we want you to know that we are working to bring more educational programming to you in more accessible ways and are eagerly awaiting a time when we can safely and healthily come together again to foster meaningful conversations in a spirit of learning that will expand our

on applications for various funding resources, and more - all without leaving my house.

Brianna Kim, Operations Director

There are certainly perks to working from home. My new “coworkers” include my husband, dog, and one year old daughter. The museum building has exactly five windows, and they’re all in the Celebration Hall. My home “office” (guest room) has three! I get to snuggle with my dog while working on my computer, and my daughter makes frequent appearances at meetings. When the weather cooperates, there’s more opportunity to pop outside during a break. Best of all, I get to spend more time with my family. There are challenges as well. My daughter is a daredevil and a whirlwind of energy who needs constant supervision. My husband and I take shifts and flex our schedules to meet her needs - my laptop gets lots of use while she sleeps! There’s also less interaction with the team and our dedicated volunteers. We’re finding creative ways to stay connected through virtual meetings and group chats, but I miss the camaraderie and fun we have together in person. There’s also the uncertainty of how long this will last and what impact it will have on our finances.

ull-time remote work seemed intimidating four months ago but has become oddly normal. As soon as we knew longterm remote work was a possibility, we immediately took action on finding a remote access solution that would work within our budget and allow our team to have the full resources they needed to do their jobs from home. I am now able to do most of my work from home, going into the museum once a week to take care of critical functions like preparing the deposit, approving invoices, checking on the well-being of the facility, and saying hello to the collection. Discovering and learning how to do my job in a new way has been an unexpected but fun challenge. I’ve created budgets, reconciled bank accounts, maintained our financial management system, coordinated with accountants on our annual financial review, evolved our volunteer orientation into a virtual experience, prepared plans and documents for our reopening, researched and worked

The word I keep coming back to is “adapt.” How can I adapt to working from home all the time? How can I adapt our procedures to maintain normality? How can I adapt to focus my work both on time-sensitive pandemic-related tasks and keeping up my normal work flow? How can I adapt my work-life balance when they’re happening in the same place at the same time? How can the museum adapt to a new normal when we are able to reopen? I’ve been on the museum team for seven years and adapted through leadership changes, coworkers coming and going, the 2016 flood, and even a position change. I’ve got this. I’m also fortunate to have a wonderful team of coworkers who are all dedicated to the museum and our mission to preserve, exhibit, and teach the African American heritage of Iowa. We’re all adapting right now, learning how to fulfill this mission in a non-traditional way. I look forward to welcoming the community back into the museum building and am proud of the work that our team is doing to adapt to this unprecedented situation.

“The word I keep coming back to is ‘adapt.’” understanding of the past and inspire our future.






Dr. Sharon Collins received her medical degree from Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and has been practicing for nearly forty years. She is a board-certified pediatrician who has emphasized to her patients the importance of a nutritious diet and lifestyle habits that would optimize their health. Between 2012 and the present, Dr. Collins lectured on ways to include validated natural therapies to enhance treatments of illness and chronic disease, and began fellowship training with the Metabolic Medical Institute of Integrative Medicine (while maintaining her busy pediatric practice). In 2014, she established Collins Wellness Center LLC, and ended her association with Pediatric Center. Dr. Sharon Collins encourages her patients toward Proactivity, Purpose, and Discipline, Restraint and Intention. Okpara Rice joined Tanager Place of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, as executive director in July 2013, and assumed the role of Chief Executive Officer July 2015. Okpara is the first African American to hold executive office at Tanager Place in its more than 140 year history. He brings leadership experience to Tanager from his work at the Jewish Child Care Association in Pleasantville, New York, the Mercy Home for Boys and Girls in Chicago, the Youth Campus in Park Ridge, Ill and Starr Columbus in Columbus, Ohio. He is active in the field and his community and currently serves on a wide number of boards

and advisory committees locally, regionally, nationally and internationally. Most recently he was appointed to Governor Kim Reynolds’ Children’s System State Board, formed to innovatively create solutions for youth in Iowa. Okpara also led the more than 60-year old Association of Children’s Residential Centers as its first African American Board President. Judge Odell McGhee was born in Liberty, Mississippi. After finishing junior high and high school in the Chicago Public School System, he attended the University Of Illinois and transferred to Cornell College, Mount, Vernon, Iowa, where he received a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Secondary Education and Math. After graduating from Cornell College in 1974 he attended the Drake University School of Law and received a Juris Doctorate Degree in 1977. Judge McGhee is licensed to practice law in the local, state and federal courts. He was elected to the board of the National Bar Association and was president of the Iowa National Bar Association for over ten years. He was elected regional chair of the National Prosecutor Association and chaired several committees. He has served several terms on the Executive Board of the Iowa State Bar Association and on several special committees (Grievance, Bench Bar, Jury Instructions, Minority issues, and Criminal Law) of the Iowa State Bar Association and on the Executive Board of the Polk County Bar Association. Judge IOWA GRIOT


McGhee was elected Vice President and President of the Iowa Judges’ Association in 2011 and served on the Executive Board for five years. He was the first African American to be elected to the Executive Board and the first to be elected president. Fred Mims was a staff member of the Iowa Athletics Department for 38 years, having served as assistant baseball coach, athletic counselor, Assistant Athletics Director, and from 1989 until his retirement as Associate Athletics Director. His responsibilities included NCAA, Big Ten Conference and institutional rules compliance and student athlete support programs. He also supervised the Iowa Wrestling and Baseball programs and the department’s mental health program. Mims was asked to serve as Interim Director of the University’s Center of Diversity and Enrichment for the 2014-15 academic year. Mims has been an active community member, having served as the first minority member of the Iowa City Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors; Mid East Council on Chemical Abuse (MECCA) Board of Directors (now Prelude); Hawkeye Area Boys Scout Council; Iowa City Human Rights Committee; and Johnson County Neighborhood Center Board of Directors. Mims currently sits on the Board of Directors for GreenState Credit Union, (the former University of Iowa Community Credit Union) and chairs their Audit Committee; he is currently a Judicial appointee to Iowa’s Sixth Judicial District Correctional Services Board of Directors

The 2020 History Makers Gala will be held as a virtual event. Details will be available soon at


Plan an enjoyable visit by following our new health and safety guidelines.

Learn more and see up to date info at

1. Please limit your group to six people or fewer and stay six feet apart from other visitors. 2. All visitors over the age of two must wear a face covering. This requirement does not apply to individuals who are unable to wear a face covering due to a medical condition. 3. Practice good hygiene by cleaning your hands often and avoid touching your face. 4. Follow the “one way traffic” directions inside our galleries. 5. Please do not enter the museum if you have COVID-19, have been in close contact with a confirmed case of COVID-19, or are awaiting COVID-19 test results. 6. If you have any of the following symptoms, please do not enter the museum: cough, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, fever, chills, repeated shaking with chills, muscle pain, headache, sore throat, and/or new loss of taste or smell. If you appear to have any of these symptoms, you will be directed to leave.



Guidelines are subject to change. Please go to for current policies and hours of operation.

55 12th Avenue SE Cedar Rapids, IA 52401 (319) 862-2101


You mean the world to your world. SUPPORT THE MUSEUM From prevention to treatment, our heart care team is here for you. Heart disease and stroke risk often have no signs or symptoms. St. Luke’s Heart Check is an easy and convenient way to assess your heart and vascular health – and it could be a life saver. The cost for all five tests plus a consultation with a St. Luke’s heart care expert is $195. Heart Check Upcoming Dates Tues., Feb. 18 | Wed., Feb. 26 Thurs., Mar. 26 Please call (319) 369-8129 to schedule or visit to learn more.

People are amazing. We’re here to help keep them that way.

During this difficult time, your support is more important than ever. Make a tax-deductible gift today by visiting blackiowa. org/donate. If you would like to learn more about planned giving or supporting our endowment, please contact Executive Director LaNisha Cassell at

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