by Kiara Fish
Thanks for the share. And for your good piece.
My grandfather was a professor at Drake from the 1930s - 1970s. Both of my parents graduated from Drake. I currently reside in Cedar Rapids. I am not, however, an Iowan. I’m an Upstate New Yorker.
I moved to Cedar Rapids with my mother during Junior High School from an all-white suburban community, to an mostly then White area of Wellington Heights. Many homes were owned by older residents whose children had graduated from William McKinley and Washington High School on the SE Side of the city. I did too.
My reactions to attending McKinley were very eye-opening. There were kids from many backgrounds and many races - Black, White, a few Chinese, and recent Vietnamese immigrants. Other parts of Wellington heights were populated by a mix of Black and White homes, as were other nearby neighborhoods. Most kids from monied families came from other neighborhoods and had their own cliques that carried over to Washington High school where they combined with kids from other monied families that belonged many times to the Elmhurst and Cedar Rapids Country Clubs, as well as other sporting and social opportunities. When I was the new kid, the monied kids “recognized” me, (I came from a pretty well-to-do area) but when I told them where I lived, in Wellington Heights, I was no longer going to be a party to their interest. A snub like that had never been a part of my life experience. And the rougher kids were threatening to beat me up after school. I spent the next two year poking my head out of the back doors and racing across the back field to get home quickly! But I made a couple of friends (who are still my friends now) and got through. But it was a painful experience
Those children tended to fill most of the pages of my yearbook pages of cheerleaders, Pom-Pom girls, pages saved for the most popular flavor-of-the-day pages, such as best looking, and most likely to succeed, and, of course the Homecoming King and Queen.
In fact there hadn’t ever been a Black cheerleader or Pom-Pom girl at Washington until a girl a year ahead of me either threatened, or began to take action against the school for discrimination. Suddenly spots opened on squads and more girls of color were cheering at games, and that more reflected the student body and the athletes.
I moved away after graduation, and then returned to Cedar Rapids in 2007. I purchased a beautiful house In Wellington Heights. It was two doors down from my mother. And I completely restored it after years of neglect had compromised parts of the structure, including a three through the roof. I was happy to be back In Wellington Heights, but I noticed changes.
The City demographics had changed with many White familiars and some white collar black families moving out to the newer homes on the farther NE and SE sides in particular. Surrounding communities such as Ely, Robbins, and Walford no longer looked like desperate townships. And Marion and Cedar Rapids also blended together. Marion’s size had grown exponentially from when I left.
Cedar Rapids Catholic Schools had consolidated and a new, expensive, high school, Xavier, siphoned off well to do students and, not so coincidentally, athletes. Marion’s Lin-Mar School District populated primarily with newer, larger homes of White homeowners drew people from Cedar Rapids (and older areas of Marion) who wished to escape perceived, and sometimes true, crime issues and other issues in Cedar Rapids. Many people started blaming Chicago and the State of Illinois for attracting new residents from Chicago.
It seemed to me that while I was gone that a number of families that formerly lived in Wellington Heights had sold their homes to real estate agents, doctors, lawyers, and other investors. Many owners took very good care of their properties and the area demographics changed, and for the most part, things were good.
Many other neighborhoods have also fallen to investors who have no interest than profits in neighborhoods. That often attracts people of any race who are not committed to neighborhoods. It’s bad for cities. Home ownership is the best thing for any city.
There have been some bad investors, owners, and bad management companies whom have blighted areas of Wellington Heights and other older neighborhoods in Cedar Rapids. And I’m sure this is also the case in other Iowa cities.
So when Cedar Rapids started seeing changes on the news, they had somewhere and someone to point the finger at - Chicago, and the Chicagoan’s who’ve migrated. And, like every migration, the nails come out and and brows go up because there’s someone to blame for increasing crime. We have, I will admit, a number of people extradited from Chicago for crimes here in recent years. They don’t live here. And the same thing goes on I’m quite sure in other Iowa cities, especially due to the Interstate and the proximity to Illinois. It’s the easiest conveyance for the drug and weapons market.
And so these people may be passing through town, staying at a hotel, going to a club, and visiting a relative. It’s a modern day problem everywhere. Most of these people don’t live here, but occasionally they do, and the City of Cedar Rapids is going after their landlord who knowingly keep renting to these people.
I have met so many wonderful people who have relocated to Cedar Rapids from Chicago and I think they have brought fresh positivity to this city. I have heard nothing but thanks for the friendliness of most of their neighbors, the financial ability to buy Holmes and cars. They’re so happy with the quality of the schools for their children. And Chicago is just a few hours away to go back and visit grandma during the holidays. I don’t think I’ve ever met as many things to say about Cedar Rapids as the newcomers from Chicago, and it upsets them when criminals put a blight on them unfairly.
My understanding of the illegal gun trade is that they are usually purchased in several quantities by not too bright people without records in states without hard gun legislation. They then get delivered North to people who pay them well, and they then get re-sold on the market to anyone, including, eventually, teenagers. I am now in assisted living, but my mother is still in her home she purchased in 1978. In the past few years there have been approximately eight shootings within four blocks of her home, two of them fatal. All of them committed by kids under 18. One of the fatalities was a 12 year-old girl, by a 14 year-old boy. We’ve had shootings by kids all over the city in all kinds of neighborhoods as kids ride in cars, even in Ubers. One Uber in a a busy residential intersection was shot at numerous other times by kids in another car. She had six teenage boys in her car. A bullet narrowly missed her and lodged in her seat. The Uber driver quit after that event. And bullets are stuck in the sides of cars, the siding of homes, and interiors too. I know this is happening everywhere, but having it here truly tarnished a city where kids should be thriving.
My last comment is about the new school development program for Cedar Rapids that was outlined this fall.
Cedar Rapids outlined a reduction in neighborhood elementary schools, keeping just one in the older SE and NE side. They will rebuild a new Johnson School. They also reduced the number of middle schools. It upset me greatly when I saw that they planned to eliminate McKinley Middle School, and place all of the Middle Schools on the outer, newer sides of town. So where does this leave these students?
It leaves them without a local school identity during important years where they need a home base for sports and arts activities where they can walk home afterwards. Instead they will be on busses early in the morning until late afternoon, just for school. The district will put a downtown school for “dropouts” or non-traditional students. No more investment will be made in the older neighborhoods.
Thanks for writing this. Will share. I wrote about redlining last year and wanted you to have this link. https://blackiowanews.com/whites-used-redlining-to-hoard-the-american-dream-and-steal-it-from-black-families/