Opening Statements

A Monumental Journey

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When you think of Iowa, things like corn, Big Ten sports or the political caucuses may come to mind. But this heartland state also has been influential in helping to promote diversity in the legal profession.

In 1925 a group of African-American lawyers founded the National Bar Association after they were excluded from membership in the ABA. Though the group has since grown to national prominence and moved its headquarters to Washing ton, D.C., some in Des Moines want to memorialize their community’s contribution through a public art installation on the city’s riverfront.

“We wanted to create a symbol dedicated to the NBA, to justice and African-Americans who have struggled,” says Iowa District Associate Judge Odell McGhee, who is spearheading the effort.

The planned public art display, called “A Monumental Journey,” will include an 80-foot plaza on downtown Des Moines’ riverfront, a sculpture and a speaker’s platform. “It will be the only place where we invite you to come and yell and scream, and that’s what gives our project a tremendous amount of uniqueness,” McGhee says.

The sculpture depicts a split West African drum, the top half pushed forward almost to the edge, symbolizing the balance of justice and “equilibrium with tension,” according to artist Kerry James Marshall.

“This is a step in the right direction that we have inspiring symbols that we can point to as part of our historical legacy,” says John Page, the NBA’s general counsel, about the installation.

Supporters have raised nearly 75 percent of the project’s $1 million budget, while state and federal governments have kicked in another $800,000 needed to modify the riverbank.

Organizers envision thousands of visitors a year to the plaza, and they hope political candidates will use the venue to launch their platforms, especially to reach minority communities.

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