Rewriting Washington's history

300 hear Black college professor talk about ways to promote change in town

Kesho Scott spoke to around 300 people in Washington on Sunday about racial issues and how Iowa has progressed. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)
Kesho Scott spoke to around 300 people in Washington on Sunday about racial issues and how Iowa has progressed. (Caitlin Yamada/ The Union)

WASHINTON — Kesho Scott has a deeply personal tie to Washington.

When a young mother found herself with a son she could not care for, she brought the baby to Washington Community Hospital and dropped him off for someone else to care for him.

“It allows parents to leave their child or children in the care of the hospital or a health facility without fear of persecution or abandonment,” Scott said.

The Grinnell College professor told the story to about 300 people who gathered in Central Park to hear her speak. The request to bring Scott to Washington resulted in a contentious City Council debate last week before a 4-2 vote to allow her to speak.

“That 19-year-old mother who came to Iowa to go to college to improve her life could not care for that child,” Scott said.

Scott said when the mother walked into the hospital and saw a Safe Haven sign, she knew she could leave the child in the safety of the community.

After spending seven months in the foster care system, that boy ended up in Scott’s family and is now 31 years old.

“When he was 15 I drove him back to this town, and we went to that hospital, and we saw that sign, and we cried,” Scott said.

During her speech in Washington, Scott spoke about a variety of racial issues, how they relate to Iowa and what people can to do promote change.

Scott said the event was a memorial for George Floyd and others who have died because of inappropriate policing. Scott said the deaths provide a moment for reflection and ian opportunity for people to have real conversations about the deaths.

“We’re here today to talk about that bridge between all lives matter and Black Lives Matter,” Scott said.

Scott said she believes all lives matter because it is the assurance that Black lives matter.

“All lives have not equally mattered and have not equally been safe,” Scott said.

Scott said the 8,500 Black Lives Matter protests, in 50 states and over 66 counties, have had a great effect on the world.

Scott said the creation of predominantly white agricultural factory towns, like Washington, is a result of past local and national traditions. Scott said those are the facts, but they are in the town’s history.

Scott said she looked at the Washington website and could picture herself in the town.

“After I read your website this morning I said, ‘I could move there,’” Scott said.

Scott said Washington is already in motion to be more inclusive.

“I didn’t come here to start that, you already have been doing parts of that,” Scott said.

Scott had the crowd repeat after her saying “the minority population today in Iowa is half of the population under 30 while only 25 percent of the population are over 55.”

Scott said in the last 10 years the minority youth populations have outpaced the older white residents in 84 of the 99 Iowa counties.

“That means we are showing the rest of our country, and the heartland in particular, how to do diversity,” Scott said. “We’re showing that in small towns.”

Scott said this is because Iowa has been successful with:

• Higher educational opportunities

• Being a safe place for interracial dating, same sex marriage and friendships

• Offering better pay, housing, schooling, transportation and better policing.

• Providing a religious sanctuary

• A history of governors supporting minority recruitment programs

Even though there are positive aspects of small towns, Scott pointed out areas of exclusion.

Scott said the most recent cross burning in Iowa was in 2017. There also have been a number of racial slurs and racial hate speech in high schools and middle schools, racial profiling by police reported in some small towns and a high prison incarceration rate of Blacks.

At the end of her speech, Scott offered suggestions for individuals who wish to promote change.

“Silence is not a Washington, Iowa, value,” Scott said.

Scott said she is here to support the community as they rewrite the town’s history and add to it.

Scott recommended community members participate more in police matters and voice opinions, do the “anti-racist warble” to promote change, donate money and vote.

Scott thanked the City Council for supporting the invitation for her to speak.

“They supported the notion of an open dialogue,” Scott said.

Scott also thanked one of the council members who voted against the event for sending her an apology and a clarification on their point of view.

“If there had not been this event today, me and this person would not have had a conversation,” Scott said.

Overall, Scott said the event is the continued success of the quality of Iowans to do the right thing.

“This was successful, this was meaningful, this was heartfelt,” Scott said.

There were individuals in the crowd who had some disagreements, Scott said, but they participated and cooperated.