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Ottumwans for Racial Justice speak on Ottumwa’s Racial Landscape for MLK Day

Published: Jan. 18, 2021 at 9:47 PM CST
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OTTUMWA, Iowa (KYOU) - With the last year full of protests against racism, KYOU wanted to examine the racial landscape of Ottumwa. We talked with Lorraine Uehling and Rachelle Chase, who have both been deeply involved in working for racial change in Ottumwa as part of Ottumwans for Racial Change.

“Ottumwa feels very segregated. When I go to a lot of the events I go to, I don’t see a lot of people of color…”

The same can be said for Lorraine Uehling, who grew up in Ottumwa.

“We have a wonderfully diverse population compared to what I had when I was growing up...just because people are here doesn’t mean they are included, and doesn’t mean their quality of life is the same as ours…”

Both Uehling and Chase say they don’t see enough representation across the entire city from people of color. Uehling: “It is truly a problem here, and we need to start listening so that we can start changing.”

However, Chase both says there are ways to facilitate a more integrated Ottumwa. “You can support these businesses that are run by people of color. You can make an effort to go to some of these restaurants to engage with them…it takes an effort to step out of your comfort zone and out of your box and try to reach out to other cultures and learn about other cultures.”

Chase also says to participate in city council meetings.

She offers other solutions as well for organizers - non-cultural events to include different peoples and cultures. Recruiting speakers of color. Job postings to places where all sorts of different people congregate, like churches.

“Because this town is so used to being segregated, I think it takes a conscious effort to say we really are one community and we really do want different people to participate.”

Uehling doesn’t think this segregation will last: “I believe we’re closer now than we’ve ever been. I believe we’re on the verge of a breakthrough, because of the awareness since George Floyd was murdered...this has opened up eyes.”

Both Uehling and Chase are working the City on plans for a Human Rights Commission, to advocate for the rights of all races, and to encourage that community support.

Chase says it’s a “great first start...we just have to continue that work…”

And Uehling agrees: “We’re going to continue, our group’s going to continue, individuals are going to continue to try and improve this city and make it a place where everyone feels safe, and everyone feels welcome. And everyone has a voice.”

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