We have all heard the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover.”

The popular metaphor cautions us not to determine the value of something based only on its outward appearance. While this sentiment can apply to a variety of things, it most commonly relates to people.

I learned two very valuable life lessons from my parents as a young child. The first was to consider the character of people based on their actions rather than the way they look. The second was to do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Last Wednesday night, a group of approximately 200 people gathered on the lawn of the Page County Courthouse to remind their neighbors of both these important lessons. Admittedly, I was bit apprehensive about covering the event in light of problems that have arisen at some similar events in recent weeks. On June 2, a reporter with my hometown paper, the Waterloo-Cedar Falls Courier, was attacked during a protest.

At the same time I was curious. I wondered how many people would actually show up for an event like this in small Southwest Iowa town like Clarinda. When I arrived at the courthouse, I estimated there were 30 people already there. Over the course of the next 20 minutes until the event started that number steadily grow as more and more participants walked up to not only attend but actively participate.

When I spoke with organizer Mariah McAlpin, she stressed several times she was hoping for a peaceful event that would increase awareness of the Black Live Matter movement she supported. For the sake of everyone attending, the one-hour long demonstration and march around the courthouse did stay peaceful and achieved her goal.

I applaud Mariah for displaying the courage to take action for a cause she believes in and doing so in a calm and peaceful manner. Through those actions her character shined through brightly.

As I listened to Mariah address the crowd in attendance, I was reminded of an incident I encountered very early in my journalism career. I was given a photography assignment at a family’s home. I arrived at the home a few minutes early and was invited to wait inside until the rest of the family arrived.

Upon entering the house, I saw a large Confederate flag hanging across one wall. This was the first time I had seen such a flag in person. As we waited, the elderly man who invited me into his home and I engaged in small talk that quickly turned vile. I was simply stunned at the statements this man was making to a complete stranger. I had never witnessed racism firsthand until that day and I hope not to see something like that again.

As I mentioned earlier, I was born and raised in Waterloo, Iowa. I grew up with many friends and neighbors of different races and nationalities. I never gave those differences a second thought. If people like Mariah continue to have the courage to speak up, maybe one day no one else will either.

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