When socializing meets activism


Joseph Cress

Michael Hill, UI associate professor in African American studies speaks during RTG: Relax Talk Grow event hosted by the University of Iowa African American Council and the Public Policy Center on the sixth floor of Midwest One Bank downtown on Friday, Feb. 10, 2017. The event combines fellowship, local artists and policy discussions. (The Daily Iowan/Joseph Cress)

By Mikhayla Hughes-Shaw

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On a Friday evening, many individuals enjoy forgetting about a stressful week. Some community members, on the other hand, gather for Relax-Talk-Grow — an event that includes socializing, important discussions about issues in the black community, and art.
Relax-Talk-Grow is a series that was started by the University of Iowa African American Council and the University of Iowa Public Policy Center. This event takes place once a month, and the discussions vary with the issues most prevalent in society at the time. The theme of the evening on Feb. 10 was Black Activism, and featured a panel of individuals who have made a positive impact on the community through different ways of activism.

Michael Hill, a UI associate professor of English and organizer of the monthly event, said the discussions were created with the intention of connecting individuals in the black community.

“The premise of this event rose out of a desire to give black faculty, staff, graduate students, and professionals a space to gather,” Hill said. Having an opportunity to experience fellowship and communion is important because they may have trouble seeking elsewhere, he said.

Billie and Orville Townsend, both UI alumni, have become regular attendees of the monthly event and note the importance of having a safe place for people to share their ideas and gather with those who are like them.

“It is especially a good event for the new folks in town so that they can get to know more people,” Orville Townshed said.

The panelists featured Royceann Porter, a well-known advocate for the marginalized populations of Iowa City, and founder and CEO of Born Leaders United André Wright.

Although the panelists have different ways of positively affecting communities, they both offered insight on direct action and less direct ways of practicing activism.

Wright started a clothing brand called Born Leaders United with the hopes of inspiring people to find the leader in themselves.  After using his art as an emotional outlet throughout most of his life, he decided to use his skills in graphic design and created T-shirts with a positive underlying message.

“I wanted to create something meaningful,” he said. “I have considered myself as a leader from the day I was born, and [Born Leaders United] is all about being a leader in something you are passionate in.”

Wright also shared an idea called “disruptive innovation,” which states that activism can stem from being willing to overcome great obstacles on the way to making a difference.

Porter, who has received the 2007 Isabel Turner Humanitarian Award and the 2014 M.L.K. Governor’s Award in recognition of her efforts throughout the community, said she has sat on nearly every board in the community.

“You name any board in the community, I have probably served on it,” Porter said. “People ask me how, I say God.”

Porter said that her passion for community work started when her daughters were in junior-high school. There had been an increased number of altercations among the students in their school, which resulted in a lot of calls to the police. She went on to start a parent group that helped to decrease the number of police calls from the school.

She also created the Unified Youth Drill Team, because she noticed a lack of activities for the youth in the community. After receiving a grant, she purchased uniforms and instruments for the members, which gave them opportunities such as performing in parades.

These are just a few of the causes that Porter has devoted her time to, and she said she is always willing to lend a hand or advice to advance the black community.

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