WATERLOO, Iowa (KCRG-TV9) – Waterloo Mayor Quentin Hart and Iowa City Councilman Kingsley Botchway II are working to make sure black issues and voices are addressed, when African American representation on city councils is almost non-existent in eastern Iowa.
African Americans make up 3.4 percent of the state’s population, but that percentage is on the rise. Over the last decade the black population has practically doubled in Linn, Johnson, and Black Hawk counties.
Currently there are only three African Americans holding city council seats. Mayor Hart served on the Waterloo City Council for eight years before becoming the first African American mayor in the city’s history.
He spends time reaching out to the community on his monthly radio show--put on by black-owned, black-operated KBBG. It’s through the show he can reach the African American community.
"It seems like we have a sense of hopelessness for the community that we live in. There are a lot of challenges from youth situations, from drugs, from unemployment and some of those other areas,” Hart said.
Statistics show there are a series of disparities between African Americans and other racial groups when it comes to housing, employment and salaries at the state level.
African Americans in Iowa are three times more likely to be unemployed than the average citizen. American Americans make an average of $25,000 less than the average salary in the state, and only 30 percent of black Iowans own their home compared to the state average of 70 percent.
Hart and Botchway have taken it upon themselves to try and change the dynamic. Botchway has served on the city council in Iowa City for two years. He says a big part of his job is representing black voices, and making sure there is a trust in local government.
"I do view myself as somebody that could possible help somebody see, 'This person has done it, so I can do it.' Any young black kids or young kids of color can say, 'Well he's done it so there's an opportunity to do that,'" Botchway said. "I think that will change just trust in a lot of black folk in regards to whether not they believe that city government actually cares about them and wants to do right by them.”
Both Botchway and Hart said the reason they believe more African Americans aren’t serving in local government is due to misunderstanding.
"Some people might think you have to be a scientist or a rocket scientist or something like that or a heart surgeon before you can actually be an elected official, but it doesn't take that--it takes a passion and concern for the community,” Hart said.
“I just don't want people to feel like its an impossible task, because we have seen some changes, and I think we're in a great place where we can continue to move forward," Botchway said.
But they can’t do it alone, they say the entire community must come together to build each other up, inevitably benefiting everyone.
“Coming together as a community coming together and working to get through some of those issues, like some of the people are already doing, but just trying to create this sense of hope and optimism it's a tough situation regardless of where you are at but together collectively we can make a difference to improve our condition,” Hart said.
Both Hart and Botchway are starting new media movements to make it easier for everyone in the community to get involved and be heard.