I Can & I Will
No Limbits: The Freedom of Independence
Black or white
To Hell and Back
Not a DOubt
Making my mark by marking myself
As you are
We don't Need your Permission
Create Your Fabulous
Breaking the Basics
Bend The RUles
You. Are. Art.
You for You
What are you?
One thing I can say for sure is that I am beyond stoked for spring this year. After virtually an entire year of being stuck at home, this spring has felt different than any other I have encountered in my 19 years of life. This spring truly reflects the reawakening that it is traditionally associated with. Although nothing has really changed when it comes to staying at home, vaccines are slowly being integrated into our lives. This means that people, including myself, are ready to get out of the loungewear that plagued the fashion scene of 2020. Don’t get me wrong, we love a good athleisure moment, but, on behalf of the fashion industry, we are ready for a change.
That being said, here are 6 trends you should be wearing this spring and how I would style them!
Lastly, I felt it’s important to say that I am a huge advocate for wearing what makes you happy. All of these trends are a combination of anticipated styles to come out of fashion week this spring that make me happy! My hope is that you will find this blog post inspiring or you use it to create your own style. ALSO! The majority of the pieces in these outfits are thrifted which hopefully is a good reminder that you don’t have to buy a whole new wardrobe each season to keep up with the trends. :)
On Tuesday, March 16th eight people were shot and killed in what is now known as the “Atlanta Spa Shooting”. The victims were identified as Xiaojie Tan, Delaina Yaun, Hyun Jung Grant, Yong Ae Yue, Suncha Kim, Soon Chung Park, Paule Andre Michels and Daoyou Feng. Of those eight individuals, six of the victims were women of Asian descent, leading officials to believe that these victims were targeted due to race and gender. Many large news organizations are not calling it for what the act is, a Hate Crime. A Hate Crime as defined by the FBI is a “criminal offense against a person or property motivated in whole or in part by an offender’s bias against a race, religion, disability, sexual orientation, ethnicity, gender, or gender identity”. While this case specifically is gaining a lot of attention, it is important to realize that this is one of many Asian-Hate Crimes that have occurred within the last year.
Struggles and violence against the Asian American community are often overlooked. The model minority myth has been a way to hide anti-Asian racism by using the stereotype that Asian Americans are successful and non-problematic in contrast to other minority groups. Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, Hate Crimes against Asian Americans have gone up by 1900%. Violence and racism towards the Asian American and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) community has been occurring at large scales, but the media has just now started reporting on it.
Asian Americans have been denied services.
Their businesses have been avoided.
Asian American children were murdered in the grocery store.
An Asian woman had acid thrown on her.
Businesses were robbed and destroyed.
A Vietnamese grandmother was robbed and assaulted.
Older Asian Americans have been targeted and assaulted.
Many have also been killed.
Those are just a few of the over 2,800 incidents that have been reported. With the rise of these incidents, it is important to make ourselves aware of what is going on in our country regarding these racial attacks and support those within the AAPI community.
How Can You Help Support the AAPI Community?
Report Hate Incidents
The National Asian Pacific American Bar Association (NAPABA) is a group of AAPI attorneys, judges, law professors and law students, created a list of resources that explain Hate Crimes and hate incidents and how to report them to law enforcement. There are also community organizations in which you can report these incidents to such as;
Stop AAPI Hate
The Stand Against Hatred
Learn About the Asian American Experience
Follow for Information on the AAPI Community
Sign The Petition:
Petition to hold the media accountable for covering these stories by @asianamericancollective
Mental Health Resources
AAPI to Follow to Diversify Your Feed
Organizations/Accounts to Support:
Definition of Hate Crimes
Anti-Asian Hate Crimes rise 1900%
Doc Martens - everyone knows the name and recognizes the yellow stitching holding the shoes together. It’s unique how a pair of shoes and an iconic brand can bring generations together to bond over a commonality. As many of us recognize Doc Martens as a timeless piece to include in our daily modern wardrobe, it’s fascinating to know that the boots were originally designed as a functional work boot to be worn by factory and postal workers. It wasn’t until around 1970 that the boot started to form a revolutionary part of dress and human behavior. Punk culture and dress started by a group of working-class individuals that came together to divert from the norms of society. Doc Martens were a way of expression and rebellion from the typical wardrobe and united people to form a group of solidarity. In a Textiles and Apparel course, I learned how styles from subculture groups of society are taken to create mainstream fashion trends.
The originality of wearing work boots as a fashion statement was viewed by others and adopted, which created a long-lasting trend. Doc Martens are admired for their durability, quality, and overall aesthetic. I can’t scroll through Instagram or Pinterest without seeing a pair styled with an outfit. What’s unique about these boots is they can be styled with almost anything, which is rare to find a shoe that is so flexible and trans-seasonal. Following the trend of sustainability in the fashion industry, investing in long-term pieces of clothing can be a great way to lessen the number of products you buy. I invested in my first pair of Doc Martens recently after many years of admiring them and I’m excited to share all the versatile ways to style/wear them.
In times of COVID, is a shoe really worth buying if it can’t work with a sweatsuit? My favorite thing about my Doc Martens is wearing them with sweatpants and a sweatshirt while still looking put-together! Wear this to the grocery store, to run errands, or on a walk.
Many people think boots are only meant for the cold weather, although Docs are great all year round. Pair with a dress, skirt, sweat pants, or leggings. It always manages to tie together an outfit during any season.
Trends come and go, but Docs will stay forever. Regardless of the newest trend, these shoes can fit into your wardrobe in some way shape, or form. With fashion, it’s all about the staple pieces and investing in items that will last you a lifetime — Docs do just that.
Who says business wear has to be boring? Pair Docs with straight-leg jeans or slacks, a turtle neck, or a plain tee, and top it off with your professional blazer. You can wear this to meetings, dinners, or a day out and ensure you’ll look ready to take on the day (did I mention, Docs are super comfy for your daily walks to the fridge while WFH?)
I love wearing a pair of socks that extend past the opening of the show - it’s so fun to see it peek through.
If you want to read more about Doc Marten’s history, visit their website and check it out!
Last week, Uprising Magazine returned for the second consecutive year to the Southwest Popular/American Culture Association’s (SWPACA) 2021 conference. Given the public health crisis, the conference had moved to a virtual format in order to still provide attendees with their fill of research-based, cultural, Southwest-focused social projects.
In February of 2020, four members of Uprising flew down to Albuquerque, New Mexico, to present and attend other sessions at this same conference. In preparation for a fully-virtual conference, this year’s five members took to weekly 7:00am Zoom meetings to create the direction and messaging for our presentation.
Isaac Hackman (Co Editor-in-Chief), Cassie Hendrix (Co Editor-in-Chief), Melina Gotera (Editorial Director), Katie Maloney (Marketing Director) and Kalleigh Kress (Featured Member) made up the team of five student leaders presenting at the SWPACA conference.
With a strong understanding of attendees' interest in addressing racial injustices, cultural disparity, and social issues, Uprising set out to share our college organization’s efforts towards advocacy and action.
As this conference attracts nationwide attendees, we started by providing context to the historical roots of the Waterloo Cedar Falls Metropolitan area. We explored the long-sowed division and racial/socioeconomic inequities and their roots in redlining and other systems of white supremacy. We cited the controversial USA Today feature labelling Waterloo as the "#1 Worst Place for Black Americans to Live" and the nationwide discourse sparked by the New York Times' 1619 Project, which was written and produced by Nikole Hannah Jones, who grew up in Waterloo. This information set the stage for several elements in Issue 10.
Prior to this school year, Uprising leadership created and adopted a Commitment to Change, or Commitment Statement, to set the tone going forward in our continued work to produce a diverse, inclusive and welcoming publication environment. The statement is founded on three primary pillars --
Further, Uprising adopted a Land Acknowledgement statement into Issue 10 — with intentions to keep at the beginning of each issue going forward — to show respect towards Native and Indigenous People. The Land Acknowledgement recognizes the specific Native tribes that once populated the land our university resides on. Throughout this process, Uprising learned Land Acknowledgments should be a recognition of the wrongdoings of the past, and a celebration of an inclusive and welcoming future.
Land Acknowledgement: Uprising would like to acknowledge the land on which we gather is the seized territory of the Ioway, Sauk, Meskwaki, Wahpeton and Sioux People. Indigenous lands weren’t ceded through efforts of “good faith” by the United States Government, rather they were stolen from Native and Indigenous Peoples through coercion and dishonesty.
Both the State of Iowa and the United States Government carried out acts of genocide, ethnic cleansing and forced removal as ways to acquire land. Despite centuries of theft and violence, this remains Indigenous land — it will always be Indigenous land.
Native and Indigenous People are not relics of the past. They continue to share their talents and gifts amidst a backdrop of ongoing colonialism. We celebrate you.
Uprising shared the impact of two individuals from Waterloo who sought out a collaborative relationship with UNI Textiles and Apparel Program director, Dr. Annette Lynch. They are Waterloo Mayor, Quentin Hart, and Waterloo Schools & Career Center Talent & Acquisition Specialist, Joy Briscoe. Their creative partnership with UNI TAPP was extended to Uprising with an opportunity to assist at the most recent Cedar Valley Fashion, Arts and Culture Expo. This event celebrates Black excellence and Greek Life, featuring local leaders, artists, singers, dancers, and creators. Uprising members got involved in shooting photos, video and other general assistance on set.
Joy Briscoe was also an integral part of Issue 10’s ‘Sunday Best’ photoshoot and article, that featured photos and interviews with five award-winning local leaders: State Representative Ras Smith, Momentum Program Director Joyce Levingston, congressional staff member Ryan Stevenson, artist and motivator Nia "Shindigg" Wilder, and Waterloo Neighborhood Services Coordinator Felicia Smith-Nalls.
‘Sunday Best’ was shot in the empty historic Faith Temple Baptist Church — also known as Walnut Street Baptist Church — which was recently purchased by the local Habitat for Humanity chapter on behalf of the neighborhood. Smith, Levingston, Stevenson, Wilder and Smith-Nalls spoke on the intersections of faith, leadership, history and fashion in their own lives and work. Melina relayed her creative process, highlighting the importance of flexibility and leaning into the interviewee's narrative rather than imposing one.
Melina ended our SWPACA presentation with a quote from Ras Smith, the youngest Black lawmaker in Iowa — and the son of Reverend Belinda Creighton-Smith — who grew up in the Faith Temple Baptist Church. As he walked around his mom’s office from half a lifetime ago, he pointed out clear memories of this space from the past, quoting it as a “muscle memory” embedded in his DNA.
It was an honor for our group of student leaders to present on important topics that have been researched and learned as an organization over the past few months to a larger audience outside of our Iowa base.
Whether you shop locally or purchase your clothing through large retailers, you are intertwined within the world of fashion. However, are you consciously thinking about the ethics behind those companies or are you blindly clicking that ever-so-tempting ‘Buy Now’ button? Fast fashion companies essentially replicate high-end fashion designs, mass produce them at a low cost and have extremely high inventory turnover rates with new merchandise constantly streaming in.
Clothing companies that choose to provide consumers with misinformation regarding their environmental impact, otherwise known as greenwashing, do so in order to protect themselves and their profits. Not only is this fast paced production detrimental to the environment, many of the companies involved are practicing unethical procedures. Some of these unethical and unsustainable companies include: Amazon, Zara, Nike, Uniqlo, H&M, Victoria’s Secret, Fashion Nova, Forever 21, Pretty Little Thing, Shein, Topshop, Urban Outfitters, Missguided, Romwe, ASOS, Boohoo, and the list goes on. The majority of the companies listed pay their workers illegally low wages and do not provide them with safe working conditions.
For some perspective, it takes major fashion CEO’s four days to earn what a Bangladeshi female garment worker will earn in her entire lifetime. Fortunately, there are many ways to avoid contributing to the messiness of fast fashion. Buying second-hand clothing is a beautiful method of utilizing our ability to reuse and reduce. Visiting local thrift stores fits the criteria and for your convenience, there are many second-hand shopping apps such as Depop, Poshmark, or ThredUp. There are also countless smaller businesses that work towards producing sustainable clothing and strive to operate in an ethical manner.
If you’re questioning a brand’s ethics, read about them on their ‘About’ page or visit Good on You, a website that rates fashion companies based on their ethics and environmental care. Sezane, Tradlands, Levi’s, Indigenous, People Tree, Patagonia, Reformation, Alternative Apparel, Girlfriend Collective, and Nube are perfect examples of planet-friendly and people-friendly clothing brands. Clothing tells a story and allows us to express ourselves so let’s choose to feel proud of what we wear on our bodies. As Vivienne Westwood once said, “Buy less, choose well, and make it last.”
Leave a comment to share your favorite sustainable and/or ethical brand and why!
Words / Kalleigh Kress
Graphic Design / Sarah Westholm
Jorge Garcia has been a collector of vintage-style streetwear for as long as he can remember. He has collected many pieces from shoes to jackets and even has a variety of decor such as Supreme signs and a skateboard wall that helps compliment the store's vibes. When you walk in there is a mural that reads “The Spot” which is great for photo opportunities to show off your new finds.
Jorge has been able to connect his passion with a community of people in the area who share the same love for streetwear styles. Jorge opened his shop, The Spot, located in downtown Waterloo, IA at 621 Sycamore Street back in 2019. Upon walking into the store, you are immediately welcomed by the perfect, yet simple layout that allows everyone to see all his products.
The store supplies vintage shirts, jackets and shoes as well as more modern name-brand pieces such as Supreme and Nike. During my visit, I was lucky enough to sit down with Jorge and ask him a few questions regarding the genesis of The Spot.
Nemmers: What initially inspired you to open a store? Why streetwear?
Garcia: It’s always been a passion — fashion, clothes, shoes. I have always been a shoe collector, since like 13. People love it, ya know? So, it inspired me to open a store; build up the community a little bit — Cedar Falls and Waterloo.
Nemmers: When did you open the store and what was the process of doing so?
Garcia: I’m barely in my second year, we opened in September 2019. The process, well, I already had a lot of stuff, I’ve always saved up, I’ve always been a reseller. I’ve sold on eBay, Instagram, so when it came to getting a storefront it was kind of a no-brainer because I have all this stuff [shoes and clothes] I just made it happen.
Nemmers: I notice a lot of more unique pieces in the store, is there a certain place you go through or buy from?
Garcia: Everywhere, honestly. We buy stuff from Supreme mainly online. As for our vintage stuff, we do buy, sell, trade, so people can come in and sell vintage t-shirts or shoes they’ve worn maybe once or twice and we pick a lot of things up through that.
Nemmers: How do you keep up with the trends surrounding streetwear?
Garcia: Social media, that is everything right now. Promotion, seeing what is new, but honestly a big inspiration of mine is Los Angeles, California. Like, I go out there and get so much inspiration and I try to bring some that back this way. It’s a vibe. I usually go out there pretty often but it is hard to travel with COVID right now. Usually it is like a once a month type of deal. It is like my second home ... I’m originally from there [California].
Nemmers: What do you think sets your business apart from others? Is it the style/vibe of the store, etc?
Garcia: I want my store to feel like home. I want to make people feel comfortable when they come in here. Anybody is welcome. I’m different in a lot of aspects, I feel like my store is unique. Vintage brings out a big part of us because a lot of people don’t know much about it and then there are the people that do. Honestly, I’m a vintage person, I wear stuff from the 80s and 90s all day.
Nemmers: What advice would you give to anyone who would want to open a store like this?
Garcia: Don’t be scared to invest. Don’t be scared to fail. That was a big part for me.
Nemmers: What is your favorite style surrounding streetwear?
Garcia: The vintage style, 100%. Something about a distressed t-shirt that who knows what it was back in the day. It’s just cool thrifting and finding stuff, like that’s my favorite. Don’t get me wrong I love the other stuff [name brands] but the vintage stuff really has my heart … I feel like it is worth it.
If you happen to find yourself in downtown Waterloo, IA make sure to pay a visit to The Spot at 621 Sycamore Street. You won’t be disappointed as there is something for anyone who is into or exploring the streetwear style. Jorge will provide you with any information regarding buy, sell, trade and has expertise on the kinds of products The Spot distributes.
Check out The Spot’s social media below!
Words / Sierra Nemmers
Photography / Isabel Smith
Styling / Kalleigh Kress
Graphic Design / Allison Bentzen
Local fashion designers, artists, dancers and many more have come together as a community to create the virtual Cedar Valley Fashion, Art & Culture Expo (CVFAC Expo). This year has opened up the opportunity to utilize a digital platform that allows people around the world to see our community’s outstanding talent. The event provides access and inspiration to all through the sharing of different arts, cultures, and career exploration in an uplifting, fun and inclusive way. Be sure to mark November 27th, 2020 on your calendars to view the show — you can watch the CVFAC Expo on Youtube , Facebook , and Instagram. Along with watching, please consider supporting these local community members featured in the Expo.
The adaptability from all involved with the Expo shows how the community is resilient, amazing and strong — Waterloo strong. Mayor of Waterloo, Quentin Hart, and First Lady Cassandra Hart were both born and raised in the City of Waterloo and attended the University of Northern Iowa. Cassandra received a Masters in Principalship, currently serving as Assistant Principal at Hoover Middle School and Mayor Hart obtained a Masters in Post-Secondary Affairs. Education and working with the community’s youth is important to both of them. Cassandra emphasizes the importance behind this event that shows local youth the sky is limitless, you can do anything you put your mind to, but it first starts with a belief. Being able to see successful individuals in their community gives hope to others that they can also pursue their dreams and have the support from their community.
Other initiatives that are taking place in Waterloo are mentorship programs for the youth. Having an additional positive leader in youth lives to continue to support them is always welcomed and needed. The Mayor’s Youth Initiative focuses directly on finding jobs for young people, one of the programs is the Mayor’s Youth Council which helps teach politics and how to create change within their communities. There are many ways to get involved and support the necessary and amazing work being done each day.
Become a Mentor with Waterloo Community Schools: (319) 433-1800
The Expo will show culture through many different forms of art, which is important to the community because “when you take a look overall at what beauty means, for so long the image of beauty has been decided by various people but this gives the opportunity to give those creative aspects and showcase different beauty then what we traditionally see on TV and media” said Mayor Hart. It’s necessary to provide this platform to the creative individuals in the community making an impact every day. Support your community in part by purchasing from local businesses and talent. Also, include the local talent in any opportunities like the CVFAC Expo, which provides an opportunity to showcase their creativity. First Lady Cassandra states “their success is our success, the more that we can support them, it supports all of us.” Check out these exclusive sneak peek interviews with artists being featured at the Cedar Valley Fashion, Art, and Culture Expo.
Allen Speller // Business Owner // Performer
Local artist, business owner, and dad. Allen Speller is showing his community that you can have multiple interests and pursue them. Allen started a music and entertainment business that helped bring mainstream artists to the area for the community to enjoy. Allen would spread his music through performing at these shows himself. Music has been a part of Allen’s life, growing up in a church, singing, playing drums and piano. As he grew older, Allen realized he had a natural ability to remember lyrics without writing them down. About 8 years ago, he wrote What Your Name Is, which is the song he’ll be performing at the CVFAC Expo. Music is a passion for Allen, and he’s since ventured into a new business with his dad.
Allen and his dad bought an old gas station building with hopes to refurbish and bring it back to life. Although they had run into some technical problems with the equipment left over, that didn’t stop this duo from finding an alternative solution. Through their research, they found success with the hardware store, True Value, where they’ve been open and operating since 2016. Allen’s hopes for the future is to open a second store and continue to build awareness and grow their current location. If you are in the area, check out Spellers True Value located on 1027 E 4th St, Waterloo, IA 50703.
Arryan Davis // Musician
Music started with family — Arryan recalls recording songs with his cousins using little microphones and studio programs on a Macintosh Computer. Ever since then, music has stayed in his life consistently. Arryan draws from experiences he’s lived through to create his own style. The song Arryan is performing for the CVFAC Expo is
I Can’t Breath, derived from a personal experience Arryan has put into words for his cousin Derek Ambrose, who was killed by the police. Arryan wrote this song throughout the quarantine period and when asked to perform for the Black Lives Matter segment, he felt that this was the right time to release his song.
Along with being a musician, Arryan is a huge gamer, growing up he loved playing Nintendo and Sega Genesis. He finds a lot of inspiration from games and tunes to incorporate in his own production. Currently, Arryan is working on a new project called Put Y’all On Game that comes from his passion for game beats and music. One song he wants to highlight and get people excited for is “I’m So Iowa and it’s just talking about a lot of stuff that’s going on in our city that you know, people can kind of sweep under the rug … ”. Check out Arryan’s released music and stay up to date with upcoming tracks soon to drop.
ShinDigg // Designer // Photographer // Musician
“ShinDigg” has been a part of the CVFAC Expo for the past four years, starting off as a performer for the pre-show, heading to the main show and now entering their own brand Light Gear to be featured. Light Gear is inspired by this idea of sparking something inside someone to better connect themselves to their purpose. The logo is a lightbulb with the letter ‘b' in the middle, this means to “be light”. This simple image can spark questions like what does it mean to be light? What does it look like? How do people feel when they’re by someone who is light?
You can purchase Light Gear merchandise, ranging from t-shirts, hoodies and crewnecks, on Shindgg.com or if you catch ShinDigg out in the community, you can purchase directly from them. For the future, the hopes for Light Gear is to become a more lifestyle and household brand. With hopes of encouraging others to monitor the way they speak to others and how they carry themselves because they are a light.
“Walk in Purpose, On Purpose”
Phone Number: (515) 447-6590
Renaldo Haywood // Designer
Renaldo Haywood is excited for the upcoming new launch of his brand Foreign Gents, which will be featured in the CVFAC Expo with a collaboration of Palace Clothiers. From a young age, Renaldo has always been fascinated with fashion — he shared a story of wearing hand-me-downs from his neighbor that didn’t always fit him the best. He knew then that he cared about clothes and when the time came, he wouldn’t have to worry about finding clothes that fit. After graduating from the Textiles and Apparel program from the University of Northern Iowa, he knew he wanted to start his own business. Foreign Gents brand is wholesale with a twist, it’s bringing together a mixture of high-end sports and casual gear.
Inspiration for this dressier style comes from different art forms from western movies, the Harlem Renaissance, and the jazz and cowboy era. Renaldo wants others to know that dress has many messages of empowerment. First impressions mean a lot and the way you dress can show confidence and a level of respect for how you carry yourself. Foreign Gents inspires others to bring back the dressier man in suits and ties. He hopes that this can help set an example for younger people to show them at an early age how to carry yourself through life. Foreign Gents has already found its way into some pop-up shops, but the hope for the future is to continue to spread the brand and eventually go on a tour. Big things to come from Renaldo Haywood and Foreign Gents!
Contact: Renaldo Haywood
Lisa Bradford // Stylist
Hoping to inspire others to step out of their fashion comfort box and try something different, Lisa Bradford’s styling is being featured in the CVFAC Expo. Lisa finds inspiration from TV, fashion magazines and simply observing people walking down the street. She loves to find pieces that are sleek and different than what you typically see in stores every day. One of Lisa’s future goals includes opening a brick-and-mortar fashion store in the community. This way, Lisa can carry out her passion of providing unique merchandise to help put smiles on peoples faces. Fashion is a great way to connect people and gives Lisa great joy in her life.
Contact Lisa Bradford
Phone Number: 319-215-6266
True Talent Dance // Tashshay Williams & Tierra Starks
Dancing is everything to the founder of True Talent Dance, Tashay Williams. Tashshay has always dreamed of teaching kids, while working at a daycare center, she started to teach dance lessons in the recreation room. It started off with about 7 girls and continued to grow to a point where Tashay knew that their community needed a dance studio that welcomes all levels of dance ability. True Talent Dance has around 24 dancers performing in the CVFAC Expo ranging from ages 5-16 years old. This isn’t their first performance — the studio participates in many different local parades, events and at churches.
True Talent Dance opened two studios within the community which allows the kids to practice and perfect their craft. The future goal is to continue to expand to more locations, along with growing their classes to include 3-4 year olds, a boys division and some adult classes. Tashshay’s passion for dance and teaching others inspires the youth to push past their comfort zones. She makes the “littles” learn the same choreography as the “bigs” which challenges them to push for excellence. Check out True Talent Dance’s performance to see some T.R.U.E. (Talent, Revealing, Unlimited, Excellence).
Contact True Talent Dance
Phone Number: 319-229-6630
Other Performers, Artists, and Designers --
Designer // Blaine and Justin
Featured // Black Greeks
This incredible event was put together with the help of many leaders in the community. Thank you to Joy Briscoe, Kristin Kruse and Textiles and Apparel Intern, Britni Perkins. If you would like to help intern for future shows please contact Annette Lynch with University of Northern Iowa Textiles and Apparel Program: firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Cedar Valley Fashion, Art and Culture Expo is a positive highlight of 2020. Make sure to support local and reach out to these talented individuals for collaborations, questions or opportunities.
Words / Cassie Hendrix
Photography / Isaac Hackman, Isabel Smith, Fabiola Mukobwajana, Jorge Garcia
Graphic Design / Kailie Hesner
Art is a method of inspiration, it shares stories and connects with audiences. Its presence is something deeper than ourselves, which creates emotions and discourse. As a Cameroonian-American, Akwi Nji incorporates her ancestry and cultural experiences into her artistic expressions, including performance, words, textile narratives and visual arts.
Currently based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, Awki has made incredible strides in her journey — her art has appeared in California’s Wine Country Festivals to New York’s Fashion Week. Through Akwi’s multidisciplinary art forms, she explores the reflection of cultural issues and their relevance to our society. Awki feels that art in its true sense opens up opportunities for learning about others' experiences, and looking forward to action in terms of “what's next”.
Akwi’s art is important now more than ever, in a time when not listening and engaging with the voices of others is unacceptable.
*Uprising Magazine’s interview with Akwi Nji was conducted virtually with a journalist and was a question-and-answer based interview.*
Noelle Sampson: How did you discover your love for art?
Akwi Nji: I’ve loved art since I was in high school, but the moment I discovered I wanted to create art? Oh, man. It was a really specific moment. I’d made my way, solo, to the local theatre […] Most of the production didn’t resonate with me in any especially strong way, but then there was what I still think of as “The Bojangles Moment”. Two performers […] mirrored each other in dance […] so hauntingly and exquisitely, the classic “Mr. Bojangles”. The performance hit me hard, rocked me, knocked me down, and then took me somewhere else entirely. I wept. And I hate crying in public. Then the weeping turned to sobbing. Everything in me said, “This. Art. This is the thing you’re [I’m] supposed to do.”
Sampson: What inspires you to create?
Nji: Trauma, sadness, anger, frustration, confusion. I wish that light, airy emotions inspired me. But they don’t. Heck, I wish something bigger than my own emotions inspired me. But it’s the completely tangled up ball of yarn (that’s how I imagine it) that sits in my belly and that I have to unravel, straighten out, and make sense of through my art […] being not only creative but an artist is a thing. It’s possible and it’s necessary.
Sampson: What does art mean to you?
Nji: It’s activism. Even when a creative might not interpret it as such or desires it to be for themselves, it’s such a powerful force that it can’t be innocent in its impact. Art absolutely changes people, reflects and impacts culture, it’s an invitation into expansion. It’s a gateway to understanding the why of our worry, the what next of our actions, the I see now of another’s circumstance/culture/voice/life/humanity, the more intimately present of being, the open door into feeling more alive and not numbed. It’s a living, breathing thing that fundamentally impacts who we are and how we navigate our world.
Sampson: Describe a time your art succeeded.
Nji: I think any moment when someone views my work and sees something resonant to their own life, their own experience, or even a glimmer of what I’d intended feels like a spark of success inherent in the art. When it feels like it’s in conversation with someone and, thus, the world, is when it feels to me like the art succeeded […]
Sampson: Describe a time you overcame an obstacle in your artistic journey.
Nji: This spring I finally gave myself permission to create completely unleashed from my own restrictive notions of what kind of artist I have permission to be. It’s been a journey, for sure, with swooshes of energy and productivity throughout the last two decades and then obstacles or blocks that force and foster growth […] Reading and working through The Artist’s Way* was exactly what I needed to overcome the obstacles and get moving again. These textile narratives I’m creating right now are fueling me so deeply right now!
Sampson: How do you hope your art evolves?
Nji: I’m looking forward to more research-based creativity in the coming years, digging into my ancestry, better understanding the role of textiles and beads in Western Africa and particularly in Cameroon where I grew up. But, generally, I just want to continue to grow, take risks, trust that the art finds its rightful place in the world — however intimate or grand that place is — and let go of my tendency toward perfectionism in order to keep creating it.
Sampson: Where do you see yourself in the future?
Nji: On NPR! That’s seriously a goal. It’ll be a nice nod to myself that I’m getting something right. But, in the meantime, there’s so much I’m looking forward to! I’m researching MFA programs right now and I’m hopeful that the right path will emerge. I’m currently working on marrying my textile narratives with other art forms to create a sort of conversation between the work. And I’m also eager to continue collaborating with other artists and designing multidisciplinary projects which integrate music, film, dance, and spoken word.
Sampson: What advice would you give to budding artists?
Nji: I wish, when I’d first started creating, that there were more people in my life who encouraged outside-the-box-thinking. They encouraged creativity, but within established boundaries […] I wish I could shout from the rooftops to any creative: Just keep at it! Keep trusting your inner compass and you’ll find the way! It sounds silly, but I wish I could put that energy out into the world every day all day.
As Akwi continues on her artistic journey and advances to her vision for future projects, follow her on social media to keep up with her work. In addition, consider supporting Akwi through the purchasing of her art via her website.
Connect with Akwi!
Instagram: @akwinji or https://www.instagram.com/akwinji/
Facebook: Akwi Nji or https://www.facebook.com/akwi.nji/
Twitter: @AkwiNji or https://twitter.com/akwinji
*The Artist’s Way: A Spiritual Path to Higher Creativity is a self-help book by Julia Cameron, written to help with artistic creative recovery, teaching techniques and exercises to assist people in gaining self-confidence in harnessing their creative talents and skills.
Words / Noelle Sampson
Photography / TINT
Graphic Design / Isaac Hackman & Grace Riesing
In 1908, on a triangular plot between Walnut and Lime, a church was raised in Waterloo, Iowa. It has stood on that corner for over one hundred years, a community hub for generations to come. Known as Walnut Street Baptist Church to some, and Faith Temple Baptist Church to others, the space is recognized on the National Register of Historic Places.
It lasted the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s, Black activists marching in their sharp Sunday Best. The relationship between activism, faith and purpose like a three-strand cord. It lived through wars and pain and progress. When the building was deemed unsafe in 2009, its doors were closed for ten years.
Last year, Iowa Heartland Habitat for Humanity bought the church, in hopes of preserving it for the Walnut Neighborhood Housing Coalition. A vital part of Waterloo’s history, the community has high hopes for the revitalization of the building and its potential.
On Sunday, September 27th, Uprising Magazine’s Editorial Director Melina Gotera sat down with community leader Joy Briscoe and five of her peers. Through policy, advocacy, mentorship and the arts, these Black leaders are doing the work to improve their city, state, and country. But–they can’t do it alone.
The former Faith Temple has special meaning for several of these folks. Briscoe’s grandfather was a deacon at the church, while Ras Smith’s mother, Pastor Belinda Creighton-Smith, was ordained and ministered there. We gathered in the old church for photographs and conversation to explore the intersections of faith, leadership, activism and style in their work and lives.
Like this old church, our circumstances may, at times, feel unsalvageable or irreparable. However, when we all show up and do our share of the work, that necessary change has a fighting chance.
Felicia D Smith-Nalls, JD
Waterloo Neighborhood Services Coordinator
Organizer of North End Culture and Arts Center
2020 Economic Inclusion Conference Moderator
20 under 40 Winner, 2016
BRISCOE: What have you been working on lately?
SMITH-NALLS: Really trying to keep people engaged in the arts and making sure the community weathers through this. I think this is the time we can truly show our sincere charity and loving nature for each other. I’m really trying to push forward in neighborhood services to let us see that instead of separate neighborhoods, we’re all one city. I’m trying to make sure that the arts don’t die in this vacuum that COVID has created. That’s my biggest push right now.
BRISCOE: So what keeps you going?
SMITH-NALLS: Because I understand that purpose is tied to a bigger whole. Part of my purpose is helping other people fulfill theirs. And I truly believe in the sense of tithing, but not just in the monetary sense. We have a tendency to look at our tithe as a financial offering when it’s much bigger than that. It’s a spiritual offering, an offering of time. It’s an offering of your resources and your skill set. So I feel like in order to honor the blessings that I've been given, I have to share them. And I’ve got little ones and I want them to live in a place that’s awesome. That’s what keeps me going.
BRISCOE: What role does dress play in your work and identity? How has that evolved over the years?
SMITH-NALLS: My mother always had a professional job so she dressed professionally. And I loved what my mother looked like. I idolized her for real, like on a real level.
BRISCOE: Because she’s dope.
SMITH-NALLS: She is! So when I was young, my friends now always say, “You dressed like an adult!” I was the only person under probably 32 that was wearing Casual Corner clothes. I would go in there and be like, “Ooh a two-piece set... Yes!” And all my friends were in jeans. I didn’t even buy a pair of jeans until I worked at The Buckle in college. So I’ve always been an older dresser.
I sing jazz and big band, so I’m very into the 30s, 40s, 50s style. I always feel like the time that I wanted to live in would’ve been the worst time for me. I wanted to be in the Cotton Club days when you dressed up to go to dinner. Or you dressed up to fly! I’m still one of those people, I’m sharp every time. It sets your tone.
Fashion for me has been timeless. After I had my first baby, I was like, “I earned my big Easter hat.” Because I went to a church where Easter hats were everything. And baby, after I had James, my hat was almost 27 inches around! I had a hat to end all hats. My hat was here for that work. So I feel like you dress for yourself.
BRISCOE: What does Sunday Best, this church and this neighborhood mean to you?
SMITH-NALLS: I’m a daughter of Waterloo. I’ve had several friends get married in this church. I sang in this church. Sunday Best to me, is a representation of how seriously we took church. It wasn’t a normal day. It wasn’t a weekday. It was somethin special. Something that we held in reverence. Getting dressed in your Sunday clothes signified how we felt God thought we were so special. So we were gonna put on our best and be our best selves to thank him and worship him on that day.
GOTERA: What are your thoughts on activists wearing their Sunday Best in civil rights era protest?
SMITH-NALLS: It’s a sad irony. It’s sad to have to do it in protest in order to be seen, to say, “No, I am equal.” Even going back to slavery days, what Sunday Best meant. Back in the day, you would get your hair pressed on Sunday to look more presentable. Because at that time, the way our hair grows naturally out of our heads wasn’t presentable to white culture. And we wanted to emulate the picture of success.
It’s a sad irony that a group of people would think that their clothing would make them worthy, when their mere existence wasn’t. You know what I mean? Like, maybe if I’m dressed up, I can be equal. Maybe if I'm dressed up and I look presentable, this might make me safer. This might make my children safer. Maybe we can sit at that counter. Maybe we can just make it home! So it’s just a sad irony that something as material (no pun intended) as clothes was an attempt to humanize themselves for another group of people.
GOTERA: The University of Northern Iowa is a Predominantly White Institution with 85% white population. What can white students do to get involved and be a part of the community?
SMITH-NALLS: I went to Wartburg and they were a PRWI. A Predominantly Really White Institution. And the most important thing is to step out of your comfort zone. One of the biggest privileges that white people have is the ability to stay in their comfort zone. Because their comfort zone is everywhere! You have to seek out those diverse experiences because they’re not going to fall into your lap. It’s not right in front of you, that’s why it’s a minority experience.
People sometimes think that the work of diversity just happens. Like a Disney movie. Like somebody waves their wand and everyone’s a different color and we all get along. No, this is work! This is work. One of the biggest privileges that white people have is the ability to stay in their comfort zone because it’s everywhere. Get out of your comfort zone and seek out those experiences, because they’re not going to fall into your lap.
I went to a powwow and as a Black person it blew my mind. This is their native land and I had to seek out the experience. And when I was in it, the culture and listening to their stories was amazing. The lady we were with said, “Every male in my bloodline has danced on this ground. This pow wow ground wasn’t constructed, it’s been pounded. So when my son dances here, every person that has shared his bloodline, for as long as we go back, has been there.” And I remember being jealous! I was jealous because I don’t have that connection to the land. So when I stepped out of my box, I was amazed.
You gotta seek that out and you gotta be intentional. A lot of people with good intentions aren’t intentional in seeking out new experiences. Ask yourself, “What can we do tonight that’s different? And even though I may be the only white person there, I'm still gonna go because I want the experience.” You have to have a hunger for it and people need to change their appetites.
BRISCOE: So what’s next for Felicia Smith-Nalls?
SMITH-NALLS: My album! The Virtual North End, with artists from all different genres. They’ll be aired on Fridays starting the second week of October. Coming up next, we have the 2020 Cedar Valley Economic Inclusion Conference. That is one of the most important, most necessary things at this time. We’ve got National Night Out and some innovative neighborhood activities that will tie together all of our communities. I just feel like this is a great time to be in Waterloo. I’m actually seeing people doing the work to make this a better place to live.
State Representative for House District 62
Owner/Operator of Rise Advocacy Services
20 under 40 Winner, 2017
BRISCOE: What have you been working on lately?
SMITH: Lots of good trouble, honestly. Preparing to go back to session. Currently working on the presidential campaign, which is a daunting task. But I feel like a lot of it is just making sure we keep people encouraged for the change that’s necessary. This election is like the first step. And it doesn’t get easier after this, it gets harder after this.
We passed some historic legislation with our Plan for a More Perfect Union last year. We made good gains, but we were fixing something that was broken for a long time. We banned chokeholds in the state of Iowa, gave the attorney general the ability to investigate police involved shootings and now, if you’ve been decertified for serious misconduct, you can’t be hired in the state of Iowa. We passed it one hundred fifty to zero in the Republican House Senate and the Governor came and signed it that very day. It was the first time in history that the Governor’s been in the chamber while we’re passing legislation. So we’re trying to make tangible police reforms that actually move the needle forward in changing how the system works.
BRISCOE: So with the work you’re doing, what keeps you going?
SMITH: Part of it is the fear of if I were to stop, what that would look like for my daughters, for my family? Everybody has to show up. If we don’t, we’re one person short. And one person short means that we don’t make the change we need.
BRISCOE: What role does dress play in your work and identity? How has that evolved over the years?
SMITH: Oh my goodness. When I first came to the capitol, I left my desk to meet the lobbyists and they wouldn’t let me back in. I was wearing a blazer, khakis, shirt and tie. They asked me who I worked for and when I said I was a Representative, they didn’t believe me. They asked me which Representative I worked for. I said, “No, I am the Representative. That’s my desk.”
Dressing the part in my line of work is important. I try to stay suited and booted as often as I can -- me, my old vintage briefcase and my dad’s old coat. There’s only five Black people in the whole capitol. So for any of us to not be on our square is a disservice to all. That’s part of it. And right, wrong or indifferent, that’s the reality.
BRISCOE: So what does this church and this neighborhood mean to you, Ras?
SMITH: Everything. I grew up here, in this building. We’re standing in my mom’s office right now. And this used to be the office of Dr. Reverend Eugene H. Williams before he passed. He was one of the first mentors I ever really had. I didn’t really know what that meant as a young kid. But I remember he had a candy dish about right here. This was full of books. After church, my cousins and I would finish with prayer, run downstairs and it was royal rumble. My dad would come down the stairs and yell at us to stop running around. 2009 was the last year we were here. My wife and I wanted to get married here but we couldn’t because the building wasn’t safe anymore. I remember my wife had planned her wedding dress to walk down the middle aisle and up the pulpit.
It holds a really dear place. It’s where my mom was ordained as a minister. It’s where I used to wear dashikis* all the time. This is my family’s hub, Faith Temple. There was a point where our membership was one hundred fifty and everybody was a cousin or aunt, a brother or sister. It’s historic. It’s bittersweet for me to be in this place right now. Because I remember what it looked like when I was a kid and that's not what it is now, obviously. I’m walking down the stairs, saying, “Watch y’all head”. The muscle memory is in it. It’s in my DNA. It’s where my faith tradition started, here in this building.
BRISCOE: What’s next for you?
SMITH: Doing whatever I’m called to do to make things better for the people that surround me. We all have to be better than we’ve ever been before. It’s a constant personal reflection and battle every single day. It’s not always comfortable and it damn sure ain’t easy. It’s cost me my hairline. I thought that really mattered, and now I could care less because I know where it’s gone and why. I know the work I've been putting in.
As a young Black man in this community, the most blessed burden that you can ever carry, is leading your community forward and doing all you can. And for me, that’s what leadership is about.
*A dashiki is a colorful garment worn by women and men, originating from West Africa. Dashiki shirts are worn in African American culture to celebrate Black heritage and pride.
Nia “ShinDigg” Wilder
Community Engagement Advocate
Be Light Brand Founder
20 under 40 Winner, 2020
BRISCOE: What has Nia Wilder been working on lately?
WILDER: I've been mentoring adults. I just recently did a class on the importance of a positive attitude, focusing on their inner happiness and then projecting that out into the world. So, just showing people the best version of yourself. We all have our down days, but everybody doesn’t deserve to see us at our worst.
BRISCOE: In doing that work, what keeps you going, what keeps you motivated?
WILDER: What keeps me motivated is my faith and my purpose. I still have a lot of times where I feel discouraged but they don't usually last long. Because I understand that my purpose is a lot greater than the trials and tribulations that I've faced. My family and my partner support me a lot as well.
BRISCOE: What role does style play in your work and identity?
WILDER: So for me, appearance is everything. I have to make sure that I'm representing my family, my brand, my purpose and myself in a fashionable, yet tasteful way. So dressing and getting put together is everything for me.
BRISCOE: And has your style evolved over the years?
WILDER: My style has drastically evolved over the years. Before I stepped into my purpose, I kinda just wore whatever. But now that I'm getting involved with different individuals, and entering the room and tables with different people, I have to dress for the occasion. So you gotta dress for brunch, you gotta dress for meetings, you gotta dress for chill time. You gotta have a switch-up for every different mode that you put yourself in. I would describe my style as vintage hip-hop. Goodwill is my favorite store. I shop at Goodwill for everything.
BRISCOE: So when you think about this shoot and it’s your Sunday Best, what does that mean to you?
WILDER: For me, when I hear Sunday Best, I think that’s how you would look if you were to go before God. Like, get dressed, clean up, look nice, smell good, go like you were going in to see someone that is very important. Sunday Best is just getting ready for the big question.
BRISCOE: And hope he says, “Yeah,” right?
BRISCOE: So what do these neighborhoods mean to you?
WILDER: To me, the neighborhoods in Waterloo mean strength. Resilience. Tenacity. The people inside the homes, outside the homes, they deal with a lot. So when I ride by Waterloo, I feel like people on the East side have got to have strength, to endure what they go through to even get ahead.
BRISCOE: And what’s next for ShinDigg?
WILDER: I think just grounding myself and putting more focus into the business. And making sure that I am fully giving my community the best I have.
GOTERA: What’s your hope for your community?
WILDER: That they can just walk in light and walk in love. My hope for the community is that everyone will learn to love themselves a little bit more, put out a little bit more light.
District Representative for Congresswoman Abby Finkenauer
Former Field Organizer for Cory Booker
20 under 40 Winner, 2020
BRISCOE: What have you been working on lately?
STEVENSON: In my job, my role is on the official side now, so I can actually help people, rather than painting a picture of what a particular candidate would do. I’m helping people obtain social security, passports, and stimulus checks. I worked on Plan for a More Perfect Union with Ras and another friend. He ran with it. Went down there and said, “This is what we want and we’re not budging on it.” I think that’s the greatest accomplishment I've had in my professional life.
I’m also pushing for quality, affordable housing. Median income isn’t very high here and there are a lot of hard-working poor people. People are filing complaints to get things fixed, but Waterloo doesn’t have any regulations or restrictions on landlords. Slumlords don’t have an issue putting people out of homes, but they’re not held accountable for those homes. Housing is a necessity. We’re not asking for low-income housing, we’re asking for quality housing. There’s a difference but the narrative kinda turns people off.
BRISCOE: What keeps you going? What drives you?
STEVENSON: Man! Just helping people. I was just raised in a belief that you help those that you can. I know a lot of people might not understand how the political process affects them. But it’s important to bring people into the decisions that affect their everyday life. Meeting resistance really motivates me too. If I meet resistance, I just work harder.
BRISCOE: So when you think about all that, what role does dress play in your work and identity, in who you are?
STEVENSON: I’ve always been into clothes and dressing. The last campaign I was on, they called me the “best dressed political”. So that is funny that y’all asked that. My mom and her friends always told me, when you look good you feel good. Especially in this line of work, you gotta have that confidence, that aura that you ready for whatever’s gonna come. Fashion is important to me. I don't really believe in identity politics, but I think there’s a certain way that you can present yourself and your appearance that has an effect on people.
BRISCOE: When you think about this church and this neighborhood, what does that mean to you?
STEVENSON: I think this is a beautiful place, the woodwork, the history behind it. Ras said there was only one other church built like this in the country that burned down. This was his mother’s church. I know there’s other places that wouldn’t even allow women in the pulpit, so that’s historical. Women are allowed to lead here and she was one of the first. She was with my aunt, a group of them that were trailblazers. They didn’t allow no structured organization or no men tell them what they could or couldn’t do. So I think that’s dope.
BRISCOE: What's next for Ryan Stevenson?
STEVENSON: Make it through these next thirty days, probably start volunteering more. The way this election turns out will tell us a lot about the direction the country’s gonna go in. Just the difference in getting back to some sense of stability or complete chaos. The things that we see, how imperfect the democracy is. There are some basic things that we’re risking losing. It’s getting real.
BRISCOE: What is your life mantra?
STEVENSON: The work I do is much bigger than me. After that, work hard and play harder. You gotta work hard, you gotta make some sacrifices. But you also gotta live. You can’t be just caught up, ‘cause then your whole life will go by. What memories will you have?
BRISCOE: Yeah, I'm at the point where there's all this urgency, we gotta push. That way if the window tries to shut, we’ve broken off the hinges. We gotta catch that opportunity. But let me just take a moment to reflect on the work everyone’s doing. As a community we’ve done some amazing things. And even if it hasn’t manifested to the level of progress we wanna be at, we’re making strides.
STEVENSON: Yeah, take time to celebrate! But it’s hard to do when that opportunity is so fertile. That window don’t open too often. So when it do, like you said, we gotta knock if off the hinges. They ain’t gonna be just closing it, you’re gonna have to repair this thing.
Joyce Levingston, MA
Director of the Momentum Program
Founder of Cedar Valley’s Little Free Pantries
20 under 40 Winner, 2020
Doctoral Student in Allied Health, Recreation and Community Services
BRISCOE: Tell us what you’ve been working on lately.
LEVINGSTON: After organizing a protest for George Floyd that brought out over one thousand community members, I've been working on bringing peace and unity to our community, having peace walks and peaceful protests. I’m working with a group called Engage on actionable outcomes for different social justice areas. I’m the director of the Momentum program, which helps folks gain sustainable employment and overcome life’s barriers. And I’m a doctoral student at UNI.
GOTERA: What is your dissertation on?
LEVINGSTON: For the last four or five years, I've had a strong focus on food insecurity. I created the Cedar Valley’s Little Free Pantries, where people can donate or get food from. So for my dissertation, I’m looking at Waterloo schools and the before and after variables of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act.
BRISCOE: So what keeps you motivated?
LEVINGSTON: My friends are all like mentors to me— Joy, Felicia, Sharina, Ras, Ryan, and Nia. I trust them and we know each other’s strong points. I have a lot of hopes and dreams and they pull me up and show me how to get there. There are a lot of people in the community doing work who are so encouraging to me. There’s Belinda Creighton-Smith, Vikki Brown, Rhonda McRina, Teresa Culpepper, Abraham Funchess, Mike Robinson, and Gina and Angela Weekley. They’re spiritual and you need that first in life.
GOTERA: Critical Race Theory* is under attack right now. Why is it vital?
LEVINGSTON: It’s absolutely imperative that people have a strong hold on Critical Race Theory. White folks created what we teach in the classroom, what’s seen as credible data, even what’s published. With Critical Race Theory, we can tell our lived experiences to disrupt those hegemonies and dismantle White Supremacy.
When white folks say, “This is a good neighborhood, that doesn’t happen here,” people of color should be able to say, “That wasn’t my experience.” We have to share those lived experiences because we all have them. We’ve been to the doctor, in pain and they don’t believe us or think we’re seeking drugs. We tell our kids to be quiet when they play outside so we don’t draw attention to ourselves.
In Iowa, Black girls are arrested nine times higher than their white counterparts. You can’t tell me that little Black girls are just bad at school and little white girls just know how to behave. A lot of those Black girls come from strong, two-parent households with faith, ethics, values, morals.
The racial trauma that happens in this area is often ignored and that needs to be explored. Critical Race Theory will bring that to the forefront, while taking a look at all the systems and how we can dismantle them. We need to understand what has been taught to us and where that came from. We weren’t seated at that table.
GOTERA: Another important thing to touch on, especially with you growing up in Cedar Falls, raising your kids in Cedar Falls, and being a UNI student, is white privilege.
LEVINGSTON: The White Privilege Conferences is how I am where I am today. I had never seen that many Black people in Cedar Falls on the same day. The whole Schindler Education Center was full. But what was more important to me was that on the agenda, there were over 20 Black people that had their PhDs. And I was like, “Oh, well Imma get my PhD because I didn’t know we could do that.”
And that really opened my eyes to white privilege. I grew up in Cedar Falls so most of my friends were white, but they were really bringing a lot of racial trauma to me that I didn’t know about. My friends could hang out with me all day at school but I was never invited to parties or sleepovers. I just had a lot of real instances happen.
I’ve been at UNI for eight years straight, sitting in a classroom dealing with -- I don’t even call it microaggressions anymore, I just call it what it is. It’s racial abuse. Sitting in a classroom like that for 8 years, day after day. I used to have the worst anxiety from just having to go. I could never be unprepared. If I was quiet one day, they’d ask what’s wrong or if I spoke up about something, then I'm the angry Black woman. Sometimes I would have to speak up for our whole entire race. They don’t understand the racial trauma that we go through. And then, you have one Diversity Inclusion Chief Officer for one thousand Black students. Like the weight that she would have to carry. And how much help would we really even get, seeking that out?
UNI likes to smooth things over so they don’t get in trouble, but they also like to tokenize us. They like to get a story from us but then they whitewash it. They even use us to recruit other Black students like, “Joyce Levingston is doing all this great stuff in the community through UNI.” I didn't keep going forward or get to where I'm at because of UNI. I got to where I’m at because I need to get there. Because I have a goal of getting out of poverty for my children.
I've had a really good professor, Dr. David Hernandez-Saca, who’s taking on White Supremacy with me on campus and in the community. The past few years have been better because of that, but I don’t know if I would’ve made it through my doctorate without that.
BRISCOE: You’re doing so much work. What keeps you motivated?
LEVINGSTON: As long as White Supremacy exists, Imma be out here working.
*Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a theoretical framework that examines how our current systems of power (law, education, housing, health, justice...) were and are affected by racial bias. On September 4th, the Trump administration ordered a cease and desist on all Federal agency trainings that relate to CRT, acknowledge system racism, or mention “white privilege”.
How to Start “The Work”
Listen and Learn
21-Day Racial Equity Building Habit Challenge
“For 21 days, do one action to further your understanding of power, privilege, supremacy, oppression, and equity.”
The 1619 Project
“An audio series on how slavery has transformed America.” Written by New York Times journalist, Hannah Nikole-Jones, who grew up in Waterloo.
Volunteer, Donate, Intern, Experience
ONE CITY’s Momentum Program
“Connecting people to resources and services, equipping individuals who need a second chance and restoring community. “
“Activating the next generation of diverse leaders in tech, business, entrepreneurship and the public sector.”
The 2020 Virtual Cedar Valley Fashion, Art and Culture Expo
November 27th, 2020
“Ignite the spirit of African American culture in the heart of the Cedar Valley.”
24/7 Black Leadership Advancement Consortium
“Navigational Development & Networking for Black Professionals & Businesses in the Cedar Valley”
“Critical Race Theory.” Wikipedia, Wikimedia Foundation, 6 Oct. 2020, en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Critical_race_theory.
Curry, Tommy. Critical Race Theory. 28 May 2020, www.britannica.com/topic/critical-race-theory.
Friedman, Vanessa. “The Dress Codes of the Uprising.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 16 June 2020, www.nytimes.com/2020/06/16/fashion/the-dress-codes-of-the-uprising.html.
Jamison, Tim. “Neighborhood Plans to Save Historic Walnut Street Baptist Church.” Waterloo Cedar Falls Courier, 27 Nov. 2019, wcfcourier.com/news/local/neighborhood-plans-to-save-historic-walnut-street-baptist-church/article_b5cf1e32-a518-5b5d-88fa-4c391ea956e2.html.
United States. Office of Management and Budget. MEMORANDUM FOR THE HEADS OF EXECUTIVE DEPARTMENTS AND AGENCIES. Executive Office of the President. 4 Sept. 2020.
Words / Melina Gotera and Joy Briscoe
Photography / Isaac Hackman