Hundreds Debate Diversity Issues at Cedar Rapids Forum

By Dave Franzman, Reporter

CEDAR RAPIDS, Iowa - Diversity is a goal in Cedar Rapids embraced by many in the community including employers. But how well is Cedar Rapids doing in treating those of difference races, ages and genders in terms of fairness and opportunity?

Those were some of the questions posed at an all-day forum sponsored by the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission on Wednesday. The Building an Inclusive Community Summit also included a statistical snapshot of the community entitled The State of Equity in Cedar Rapids-2014. It began as a project for dozens of people last fall to compile statistics about how different groups do in the city when it comes to housing, employment contact with law enforcement. And participants at the summit said it came as no surprise there are significant disparities between the races.

For instance, the report found the unemployment rate for the white population in Cedar Rapids was 3.3% in 2012. For African Americans, in the same time period, it was 12%. Housing statistics showed similar disproportionate results.

In 2012, the percentage of white Cedar Rapids residents owning a home was place at 71%. By contrast, 69% of African Americans and 56% of Latinos lived in rental housing.

John-Paul Chaisson-Cardenas, executive director of the Cedar Rapids Civil Rights Commission, was more than pleased at the turnout of people willing to look at diversity issues in the community. He had expected a crowd of about 200 for the event. Attendance was estimated at 450 people.

But while Chaisson-Cardenas noted some of the discouraging news in the survey, he also wanted to convey optimism about the good things going on in the community.

"We found some things that were troubling. But we also found some great things. For example, there's myths in our community and people talk about myths that may not be true. Like the myth people from Chicago come to Cedar Rapids to create trouble. We found that didn't hold true," Chaisson-Cardenas said.

The study found the white population still makes up the vast majority of residents in the city. But even that is slowly changing. In the census year of 2000, the white population of Cedar Rapids was put at 91.9%. This year the figure is 86%...or nearly a six percent decrease.

And Chaisson-Cardenas said the population of minorities is expanding much more rapidly in the younger ages. From 2006 to 2012, Cedar Rapids schools saw a drop 2,212 in the number of white students. At the same time, though, youth of color grew by 1,000 students.
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