Cultural and Ethnic Diversity in North Liberty


The First United Methodist Church of North Liberty sponsored a community forum to explore cultural and ethnic diversity in North Liberty.  The event had 85 people in attendance as well as KCRG and KGAN news crews.

The evening opened with a prayer, seeking blessings for the evening, provided by Reverend Alecia Williams.

Lyle Muller, moderated the event.  He stated that the purpose of the gathering was to have a dialogue about cultural and ethnic diversity in North Liberty.  The hope was to reach conclusions about and determine the steps that should take place as we move forward.

Lyle introduced the members of the panel and provided 5 to 7 minutes for each panelist to share their opinions about diversity and issues for consideration during the forum.

IMG_2423From Left to right:

  • Sabrena Shields is a North Liberty resident and social worker whose work puts her in contact with North Liberty families.  Sabrena stated that housing for lower income needs to be more spread out.  A movement away from the “pockets” allowing the younger generation to live by the maxim, “to do better, see better.”  She also shared the necessity of the residents to “talk to each other.”  Get to know the people in your neighborhood.
  • Chad D. Simmons is the Executive Director of Diversity Focus.  Their offices are located in Cedar Rapids.  They take the lead in promoting diversity, cultural awareness and inclusion in the Corridor.  Chad stated that in order to “make this a place where everybody feels welcome,”  issues of infrastructure, transportation, housing, education and positive relationships with the police need to be considered.  “We don’t want people outside our community to dictate what happens within our community.”
  • Diane Venenga has been the Chief of Police in North Liberty for approximately a year.  She shared that she is excited for the opportunities available for the relatively young and growing police force.  The force has no ingrained traditions allowing for the freedom to create their own legacy.  She shared that the officers feel like and want to be “guardians of the community.”
  • Tina DuBois is the Executive Director of the North Liberty Community Pantry.  Tina shared that poverty crosses all boundaries, urban, rural, and all ethnicities.  She stated, like Dr Suess that “we are all different but we are all the same.”  The way to realize this statement is to speak to one another and share our stories.
  • Omar Paz is a Hispanic Lay Minister at the First United Methodist Church and the East Central District of the United Methodist Church.  Omar arrived in Iowa 20 years ago and has seen North Liberty grow very fast.  He encourages everyone to create relationship “bridges” with each other.  During his work with the ELL (English Language Learners) he teaches the importance of making relationships, friends and loving one another.  He closed with a quote from Mark 12:31, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  “If we can love each other we can be a better community.”

The discussion was then opened to the people in attendance.  Issues discussed related to housing issues, police interactions and accepting one another.

The city is growing quickly. Seven times as many people live there now than did 30 years ago.

The final question of the night was: What do we need to do now?  Aldine Bell, one of the organizers, provided a call to action statement.  “Don’t have someone create change for you, you can create your own change.”  She asked all participants to meet one new person before you leave and think about volunteering for future discussions.  Individuals interested in participating in future discussions can follow News on the church website, Facebook, Twitter @NLMthdstChrch

In conclusion, First United Methodist Church would like to thank Aldine Bell, Michael Garvin, Dave Jansen, Lyle Muller, Omar Paz and Alecia Williams for organizing this forum.  Thank you to the panelists, participants and invited guests.  Thank you to those responsible for refreshments, daycare, publicity, set-up, sound, translation and video.

To view the reports given by news crews present, click on the following links.  KCRG9  CBS2/FOX28


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