Black Lives Matter
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June 9, 2020  |  VIEW AS WEBPAGE
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Black lives matter. Those three words can't be said enough, and we at dsm stand in solidarity with all who work to end systemic racism and to create a more just, inclusive and equitable society. To that end, we are devoting this issue to stories we hope elevate and celebrate our African American community, their experiences and their insights. As we move forward, I want to reiterate what our company president, Suzanna de Baca, said in last week's Business Record: “You have my commitment that our entire company will come to the table … to take a stand around racism and inequities – with active listening, reporting, storytelling, opportunities for dialogue and connection and ideas for short- and long-term action and change. We will continue to be a partner in facing and discussing difficult truths and working to find solutions to the challenges in our midst.” --Christine Riccelli, editor-in-chief
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Street Eats DSM serves up a variety of food, including mac and cheese grilled cheeses, Philly cheesesteaks and Caprese chicken sandwiches. Photo: Bob Blanchard.


Writer: Karla Walsh

Each week in dsmWeekly, we’ll introduce you to a local food company owned by a person of color.

If you’re anything like me, five words will sell you on Aaron Byrd’s food truck: mac and cheese grilled cheese. I ordered from Street Eats DSM a few years ago when it was parked near the Sculpture Park, but sadly missed that item. So I’ll be hustling back, especially after learning more about the story behind how Byrd’s food truck flew onto the dining scene in Des Moines.

“Starting by sitting on the kitchen counter and watching when I was 2, I grew up cooking with my mom, grandmother and aunts. Come holiday dinners, everyone was in a kitchen,” Byrd says. So it came fairly naturally for the Kansas City native to enter the restaurant business professionally at 15. Reflecting on the fact that this makes 35 years in the industry made Byrd stop and double-check—time truly does fly.

“After all this time, I know what works and what doesn’t work, after having pretty much every position within a restaurant,” Byrd says. So when he was dreaming up a concept for a food truck in Des Moines, a city he moved to 10 years ago with his now-wife, “I named it Street Eats DSM because I didn't want to specialize in tacos, burgers, pizza—I do everything. I needed the concept to be flexible.”

The truck entered the scene six years ago. Since then, Byrd has been rocking the catering and wedding circuit and serving at breweries and office buildings during lunch breaks. (Follow Street Eats DSM on Facebook for Byrd’s latest path, and peek at the frequently updated menu.)

While the pandemic has affected his business and normal route, Byrd is hopeful his past clients—and new ones—will come back for more mac grilled cheeses, Philly cheesesteaks and Caprese chicken sandwiches. “I appreciate that people are trying to do something, anything, to be an ally," he says. "It cannot be a bad thing. It helps me to feed my family and give my daughter a better life. But I want them to support me and all small businesses and food trucks. We support each other.”

Until things at his usual office stops return to a more “normal” schedule, Byrd is making the most of his time by spending quality time with his daughter and wife and preparing to launch his next business, which will be ready to book by mid- to late July: Sugarfoot Mobile Bar.

Deidre DeJear, a local business owner and community leader, encouraged people to be a part of change while we have an opportunity.


Right now, there is an opportunity to fight for equalityand that starts with listening to one another.

That was the message many of the panelists at Friday's dsm Lifitng the Veil: Equity and Inclusion Interrupted virtual conversation wanted to send. But perhaps no one delivered that message in a more moving fashion than Deidre DeJear, owner of Caleo Enterprises. She implored the hundreds watching the Zoom discussion to join the movement happening across the country, and listen to and fight for underprivileged people in the United States.

"There is a community of people who are literally hurting," she said. "And they've been challenged to achieve the American dream for centuries. Right now there is a moment in time to help us resolve it. ... It takes a lot of work. And it takes work we haven't seen in the past. And I'm asking people to stand with us in solidarity. It's going to take each and every one of us."

DeJear said the black community is disproportionately affected by the pandemic, a view that is backed up by a recent study from the CDC. And when George Floyd was killed in Minneapolis a few weeks ago, many young people of color, who were already dealing with pent-up frustration and had been silenced for many years, needed to speak out, she said.  

"Let's make sure we're not silencing our youth," DeJear said. "If you have an opportunity to hear their voices, listen. ... We are faced with an opportunity to strengthen our youth at this point in time, rather than further traumatize their already-traumatizing instances."

Listening to each other is one of the most powerful tools we can use, echoed Polk County Supervisor Matt McCoy, particularly during this period of protests and public demands for change.

"What this pandemic has taught us, and what we're learning about systematic racism since the George Floyd killing, is that we're doing a poor job of listening to each other," McCoy said. "I also feel like so many people are running at a low boil, and it takes the slightest insult or comment to set people off."

He added: "We need to really focus on meeting people's needs where they are, and not where we are. There's a huge difference between that."
Simon Estes grew up in Centerville, where he faced racial discrimination but learned how to develop resilience.


Global opera superstar Simon Estes, who has sung with 84 opera companies on six continents in his long and distinguished career, is the grandson of a slave who was sold for $500. In a 2017 interview with dsm, he recalled what it was like to grow up “colored” in Centerville, which at that time was home to about 200 African Americans out of a population of 8,000:

“Colored people all had menial, sometimes humiliating, jobs—there were no colored schoolteachers, no colored policemen, no colored professional people.

“[We also] weren’t allowed to swim in the public pool, though eventually they let us swim Saturday mornings from 9 to 11, and then we had to get out of the pool and they’d put more disinfectant in the water. At movie theaters, we had to sit upstairs in a little corner where the projector room and the toilets were—it was smelly and noisy. Even in elementary school, us colored kids would raise our hands every year to be safety patrolmen, and not one of us was ever chosen.

“Despite the discrimination, my parents taught us to never hate white people—or hate anyone, for that matter. If I came home and told my mother that a white boy called me the N-word or hit me, my mother would say, 'Well, my son, you get down on your knees and you pray for that boy.'

“I grew up in a very spiritual Christian home, and I’m grateful that my parents taught us to turn the other cheek like Jesus did. If my mother or father said anything at all about discrimination, it would be in the form of a question or statement like ‘I just don’t know why white people treat us colored people the way they do.’

“If it had not been for my faith, I’m not sure how I would’ve turned out. I learned that it’s OK to forgive someone when they have hurt you. I try to follow those teachings to this day.

"There’s only one race—a human race—and I personally believe God made us all different to test the quality of our character. Can we love someone else if they look different from the way we do?"

Read the full story here.
Edna Griffin, known as the "Rosa Parks of Iowa," didn't back down when she was refused service at the former Katz Drug Store in downtown Des Moines. Because of her actions, the building that once housed the drugstore was named in her honor. Above is an illustration by acclaimed Cedar Falls artist Gary Kelley, who created a calendar with his daughter, Cydney Kelley, depicting milestones in women's fight for equality.  


The Edna M. Griffin Building was the location for the spark that ignited one of the biggest landmark civil rights cases in Iowa history. And now, after a renovation to the 135-year-old building, it will be honored with a fitting virtual celebration at 4 p.m. this Saturday, June 13.

The celebration, sponsored by the Iowa Architectural Foundation, includes a virtual tour of the building that in 1948 was the site of a civil rights sit-in protest. Employees of Katz Drug Store, which had been housed in the building at 319 Seventh St., refused to serve Edna Griffin, a black woman, and two others. Griffin led a protest on July 9, 1948; as result, in 1949, the Iowa Supreme Court issued a ruling that made it illegal in Iowa to deny service to people based on their race.

The 135-year-old building was originally called the Flynn Building. It was renamed the Edna M. Griffin Building in 1998. In 2016, a group of investors bought the building and recently completed a renovation that includes offices, apartments and a ground-level retail space occupied by a walk-up Kum & Go convenience store.

To celebrate the building’s rehabilitation, architect Andy Lorentzen of RDG Planning and Design will lead the virtual tour, which will include a gallery of historic images and video of Griffin’s accomplishments and legacy.

Former teacher and current state representative Ruth Ann Gaines grew up in Des Moines during the civil rights era.


Ruth Ann Gaines, who has served in the Iowa House of Representatives since 2011, told dsm in 2018 what it was like being the only African American in her class at Clarke College in Dubuque in the 1960s, when it was a women-only college:

“I was often ostracized because of the color of my skin. … When Martin Luther King died, I was really sad because I couldn’t be around any black people, and the white students couldn’t relate to it like I could. I decided to stage a one-person protest: I watched the funeral on TV in the lounge and skipped philosophy class. I cried and cried. While I was sitting there crying, the nun who taught philosophy stopped in, looked at the TV, looked at me and then gave me a D in the class.

“I was so upset. When I went home that summer I told my parents, ‘I am not going back to that college. I don’t care what you say. I’m tired of the racism.’ My dad said, ‘You know your mother and I don’t have any money. This is your only chance to get a degree.’

“So I went back. … Before I started student teaching, one of the girls in the dorm told me, ‘They don’t want you at that school. They’ve never had a black teacher, and you’re going to have to be tough.’

“I made up my mind I was going to do a great job and win over those teachers. At first they tried to make it difficult for me, but I let their comments roll off my back. Then I started going to coffee with them and they began to see me as a person and not just a black person. … I eventually won [them] over, but it was intentional. It didn’t just happen. I knew what I needed to do in order to succeed, and I accomplished it. ...

“I learned how to be with any kind of person—whatever their background or skin color. It’s one of my greatest strengths.”

Read the full story here.

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