The Rock Island Coalition of African American Stakeholders issued a statement Sunday insisting the City of Rock Island return $33,500 worth of grant funds to the federal government.
This comes after an announcement made Friday that the City was awarded the 20th Century African American Civil Rights (AACR) Grant.
In its application to the National Park Service, the City of Rock Island named subrecipients of this award to Pearson Consulting LLC and QC PastPort.
On Friday, plans were unveiled that Pearson Consulting would work with QC PastPort to develop a series of 10 historical markers within Rock Island, focusing on the Civil Rights movement from 1900 to 1970.
“Our focus is to communicate and educate anyone interested in learning the Quad Cities African American story. This is a terrific opportunity for the younger generation to connect to unique and impactful landmarks through outdoor recreational resources,” said Pearson Consulting President Charles Pearson. “This includes being a part of the Mississippi River Trail, the American Discovery Trail and the Great River Rails Trail.”
According to a news release, the objective of the grant is to “provide historic preservation resources to underserved communities through public education and volunteers who help document, interpret and preserve historic sites and stories associated with the full history of the Quad Cities African American.”
Pearson Consulting and QC PastPort see the grant as a platform for other efforts in the community, such as a future African American historical district and future African American museum.
The Rock Island Coalition of African American Stakeholders, however, think otherwise and listed those reasons in this statement:
To the City of Rock Island, this is merely $33,500, and a means to expand their economic development plan; simply a funded means to an end.
However, to us, the Black community, this is more than a marker on a tourism trail; it is the stories of our lives, the stories of our ancestors’ past and the stories of our children’s futures.
Because knowing their past will make children stronger, more resilient and build better citizens for the future.
We feel that the City has acted with total disrespect for the Black community.
And the statement we keep hearing that no one knew who to contact in the Black community, we consider disingenuous.
The executive director of the MLK Center is an African American man, a city employee and a long-term member of the Rock Island community.
When politically expedient, these same politicians can identify the key members of the Black community.
When running for reelection, these same politicians can find the ministers from Black churches, find a representative from the NAACP, find members from Black fraternities and sororities and identify Black educators and business owners.
While the list is not infinite, it’s substantial enough to determine who to talk to if the true intent is to engage the African American community in Rock Island.
And due to the importance that our history has to our lives and the lives of our future generations, we know that it is not too much to demand that skillful historians, archivists and ethnomusicologists document and preserve the memories and experiences.
It is also important that they capture the wisdom of our personal and first-hand accounts of pivotal events of our family’s rich history and contributions to the City of Rock Island.
We see it as our right to have the Black history of Rock Island properly documented by trained and credentialed African Americans that can be found in Rock Island.
At Augustana College, such African American professionals exist; each brings their expertise to the table and are well suited to do this work.
However, what’s equally important is we also have community members that have been and are currently documenting and curating the local Black history of Rock Island.
The difference between the Rock Island African American community and other participants of the QC PastPort: Touring Our Local History Trails is that their history was already documented by the type of qualified professionals that we see as our right to have to document our stories.
Yes, the Butterworth Center and Deere-Wiman House, German American Heritage Center & Museum, the Moline Preservation Society, the Putnam Museum and Science Center, the Richardson-Sloane Special Collections Center at the Main Davenport Library, the Rock Island Arsenal Museum, Rock Island County Historical Society, Rock Island Preservation Society, Rock Island Public Library and the St. Ambrose University Library might be on this tourism trail; however, they provided the already documented history that they wanted to be included.
Therefore, we insist that our history be gathered and told in a way that builds each generation of African Americans with pride from the knowledge of knowing that the past is their strength; a strong foundation for our future generations to stand.
As for the current companies contracted for this grant, meeting members of our community with arrogance, condescension, rudeness and disrespect speaks to the reasons we will not work with Pearson LLC and Media Link to document our history.
So who do we entrust with this important endeavor, and who do we choose to see as being qualified to help us persevere our history, seek out the stories that shed light on our lives and heritage?
We trust qualified and credentialed African American professionals that can be found in Rock Island, the Quad Cities and the University of Iowa, which is a rich resource of highly trained and skilled Black professionals that can help respectfully document the stories of the Rock Island African American Community.
In the words of Marc Morial, “There is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history.”
Pearson Consulting and QC PastPort will meet with the Rock Island City Council 5 p.m. Monday at City Hall to hear more about the grant, clear up any misinformation and take a vote.
“We need to note this is the first time these two named subrecipients have had a formal chance to speak out about how this grant works, how it came to be and how this is a stepping stone to a much larger picture,” a news release says.