Since 1976, the month of February has been known as Black History Month. It is time dedicated to celebrating and honoring the too-often neglected accomplishments of black Americans throughout history and recognizing the impacts they had and continue to have on American society. Black Americans have touched every corner of the United States, leaving their mark and further engraining their culture and expertise into the nation’s fabric. Linn County is no exception. Over the years, through present day, many black Americans have made significant contributions to our community. Here are some of their stories:
The Harris Family
The Harris Family has had an immeasurable impact on Linn County, and the state of Iowa. They were and continue to be the royal family of Cedar Rapids showing us all what it means to live lives that are deeply rooted in justice and generosity. Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris devoted their lives to their community, their family, and their passion for medicine and education.
It is hard to know exactly the impact the Harris Family has had on this community. From the scores of thousands of young people of color who grew up knowing, ‘Dr. Harris looks like me. He is like me. My dreams should also be limitless,’ to the larger number of white individuals who needed a family with their gentle nature to help nudge them toward deeper racial understanding, the Harris family fundamentally changed the soul of our community. Linn County is better off because they called this place home.
In 2017, in a unanimous decision, the Linn County Board of Supervisors voted to honor Dr. Percy and Lileah Harris posthumously by naming the Linn County Public Health and Child and Youth Development Services building after them in recognition of their lifetime of dedication and service to health and education in Linn County. The building opened in November 2019 and been a vital asset to the community.
Linn County Supervisor Stacey Walker
In 2016, Stacey Walker made Linn County history by becoming the first black American elected to the position of Linn County Supervisor.
“Being, “the first,” is never an easy road. History is dotted with examples of brave women and men who shattered the proverbial glass ceiling, doing so with the express purpose of clearing the path for other marginalized groups, while advocating on behalf of their interests. This has often been a hard concept for many in the majority population to grasp. When you are “the first,” you must simultaneously be a voice for that underrepresented population, while also being very careful to balance the interests of the whole. I’ve been told more times than I care to remember, that I’m not in office to be an advocate for one group of people. The hard truth is that I am. The term underrepresented suggests that there are groups of people who have never had the benefit of having someone in office who understands their specific struggles. I am their advocate, because they too matter,” said Supervisor Walker.
Supervisor Walker has served Linn County residents in many roles throughout his tenure, including as Co-chair of the Safe, Equitable, and Thriving (SET) Communities Task Force, a multi-jurisdictional partnership to address systemic poverty and gun violence; on the Board of Directors for the Linn County Public Health Department; and multiple other boards and commissions.
In October 2021, Supervisor Walker announced he would not be running for reelection and would instead pursue other endeavors and open the door for new leaders to come forward.
“More good leaders are on the horizon and as their platforms grow, so too does our chances for a sustainable, more equitable future. I am encouraged,” said Supervisor Walker. “And in this Black History Month, my last in office, I can see clearly the hope of my ancestors manifesting within the freedom movements of our time. I can see peace and prosperity on our horizon.”
Linn County Sustainability Program Manager Tamara Marcus
The Sustainability Program Manager position was created in 2020 as the first of its kind in Linn County. Tamara (Tam) Marcus – a black American - was hired to fill the role and lead the efforts to recommit the County to a more sustainable present and future. Her work includes completing an annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Inventory to assess current emission levels and use the inventory to develop a climate action plan to meet targets laid out in the County climate resolution. In late 2021, she created the Sustainability & Resiliency Advisory Committee on which 14 Linn County residents serve to assist in the completion of the annual GHG Inventory and other sustainability related initiatives.
In addition to her GHG Inventory work, Tam focuses on empowering individuals from the diverse groups within Linn County to meet and collaborate together on sustainability and resiliency actions. From the Linn County Farm Bureau to immigrant community leaders, she leaves no stone unturned when it comes to forging these connections and encouraging them to work collaboratively toward a more resilient and just Linn County.
“We need more leaders in the environmental and sustainability spaces that understand the connections between the effects of climate change, such as extreme flooding events, and the social and chronic disproportionate impacts these disaster events have on vulnerable communities. Immigrant and refugee communities, rural communities, elderly and disabled, and communities of color will feel the lasting effects of these events and are the least equipped to adapt,” said Tam Marcus. “The Linn County Office of Sustainability is not only planning and taking action to mitigate these effects, but are also empowering new voices through supporting programs here at Linn County like Green Iowa AmeriCorps or our community led Sustainability and Resiliency Committee. Groups such as these are vital parts of our community’s growth and future success.”
The stories highlighted in this blog are just a snapshot of the many, many impacts black Americans have had on Linn County throughout the years, and as time goes on more contributions will be made to our community and to communities across the country.