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Sharing All Voices Provides a Path to the True Story of a Community

November 14, 2022

“You can’t tell the story of Waterloo without telling the story of Black folks,” said Tavis Hall, executive director at Experience Waterloo and board member at the Grout Museum District.

When history is recorded and shared, it enriches a community, but when events or people are ignored, society suffers a loss. The small number of Black interviews in the Grout Museums’ Voices of Iowa oral history archive was brought to light as the community held social justice protests during 2020. So, the Black Stories Collective Project became a priority for the organization and was brought to fruition in partnership with Experience Waterloo and the NAACP of Black Hawk County.

On June 29, 2022, the Black Stories Collective exhibit became a permanent fixture of the Grout Museums. The current exhibition focuses on marches and movements, but the content will rotate to share the multifaceted aspects of Black life. The main goal of the project is to capture the oral history of those who lived these stories – stories needing to be told and heard.

“We have a really rich history of positive Black progress here in Waterloo and throughout the Cedar Valley. Too often attention can be focused on the negative,” said Tavis. “So, to spend time and talk about the positive contributions of so many Black folks here – it’s meaningful.”

A $10,000 grant from CFNEIA’s Racial Equity Fund in the beginning stages of the project helped show local organizations were behind the project.

“Having the Community Foundation and others be there financially to ensure that the story gets told for a long time is important,” said Tavis. “It helps solidify that these stories are worth telling.”

Tavis sees the exhibit and other movement in the community as signs that the Cedar Valley is ready to embrace the strengths that come from living in a diverse community.

“I think the community is now ready to roll up its sleeves and get to work,” said Tavis. “Changing systems is a lot easier when everybody recognizes their neighbor has equal value.”