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Ames Black Lives Matter turns derecho tree debris into art

Isabella Rosario
Ames Tribune

As downed trees from last month’s derecho piled up in landfills, Ames Black Lives Matter saw an opportunity for community outreach.

With tools provided by Reliable Street, organizers cut branches into four-inch disks for Ames residents to paint on Saturday at Lockwood Cafe. About 50 people participated in the event called “Intersections: A Community Mural Project.”

Designed to “serve as a visual artifact of 2020,” according to the event Facebook page, the mural aims to reflect on a year marked by COVID-19, back-to-back climate disasters, a high-stakes election and nationwide protests for racial justice.

Participants were instructed to write individual “truths, warnings or hopes” related to this year’s various crises. They painted messages like “Risking Health 4 Change,” “No More Silence,” and simply, “Vote.” The mural will be assembled and temporarily installed on the Reliable Street property this weekend.

Participants painted on pieces of wood cut from derecho debris as part of an Ames Black Lives Matter community mural project at Lockwood Cafe on Reliable Street Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Ames, Iowa.

“Intersections” highlights how unjust systems are interconnected and have ripple effects on already vulnerable people, organizer Darbi Shaw said.

“Often, historically oppressed communities of color bear the brunt of all these intersecting forces," Shaw said. "2020 has definitely been an unprecedented year for the extent that these impacts have."

More to read:Activist, Iowa State student Marie Beecham’s anti-racist Instagram goes viral

The project took inspiration from Kimberlé Crenshaw’s theory of intersectionality, which examines how people experience hardships differently based on their overlapping identities.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, people of color are more likely to contract and die from the virus due to inequities in health care and housing. Many of the most common jobs for women of color — nursing assistants, personal health aides, day care workers —  are considered essential, putting them at further risk. The economic shutdown has spelled hard times for all households but workers who are non-white, women, and lower-wage have experienced greater job losses, according to a Brookings Institution analysis.

The derecho was particularly devastating for Iowa’s refugee community, who had to contend with already-existing poverty and language barriers after the storm destroyed their homes. Nationally, disaster aid tends to favor whiter, wealthier communities, an NPR analysis found last year.

More:A week after the derecho, many struggled to find shelter for Cedar Rapids refugees

Ames Black Lives Matter organizer Apple Amos said the event was a chance to instill a sense of community and process this year’s turbulence in a safe way. “We can wear masks and it’s not food-based,” Amos said.

Participants like Abdel Rahman Mannan, an Iowa State University student, were attracted to the project’s use of art to convey a message.

“To get people together to express their concerns, their thoughts, their opinions in a productive and positive way is necessary in our time,” Mannan said.

Across the state, Iowans have used derecho debris to create art. In Waterloo, a man helped start the Derecho Wood Project, auctioning carvings to raise disaster relief money. In Marion, kids made ornaments out of fallen branches to raise money for a Christian humanitarian organization.

Reliable Street co-owner Lyndsay Nissen said it was “such a privilege” to provide space for the event.

“Space is our equity,” Nissen said. “To be able to share it is the most amazing thing.”

Participants paint on pieces of wood cut from derecho debris as part of an Ames Black Lives Matter community mural project at Lockwood Cafe on Reliable Street Saturday, Sept. 19, 2020, in Ames, Iowa.