Black youth activist says: 'Nothing here for our folks,' plans African American Cultural Museum, youth programs in Des Moines

A new nonprofit organization is developing plans for an African American museum in Des Moines in 2026.

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Norris Hildreth Sr. wants something better for Black youth in Iowa.

The coach and youth activist wants them to learn about Black history and participate in youth programs tailored to help them to tap into their greatness. He founded the nonprofit, Bettering Youth Organization, with the goal of creating an African American Cultural Museum to do just that.

“All they see on TV is negative stuff about Black people,” said Hildreth, who was born and raised on the south side of Chicago, Illinois. “Nothing positive.”

The programs will highlight Blacks' national contributions to music, art, science and more. The museum will feature the contributions of Blacks around the globe, including Motown and Soul Train, the Black Panthers, Black Wall Street, the Negro Leagues and the Tuskegee Airmen, he said. He is searching for a location in Des Moines and hopes to open the museum in 2026.

Hildreth had worked with youth for more than 16 years in Chicago. He created the nonprofit there and operated a youth baseball league at Cornnell Square Park to give youth something positive to do. He received a community service award from the Illinois Park and Recreation Association for his efforts.

"'Does anybody know who Jackie Robinson was?'” he asked the teens. “And do you know that none of those kids knew who Jackie Robinson was. That really hurt my spirit. They didn’t know about the Negro Leagues.”

Hildreth also served as vice president of the Community of Black Chamber of Commerce for three years. He left Illinois in 2012, moved to Iowa, and works as a bus driver for DART. His desire to help Black youth has remained.

“When I moved here, I was like man, they don’t really have nothing here for our folks,” he said.

Norris Hildreth Sr. Photo courtesy of Hildreth.

Some of the community members he talked to shared his concerns. Hildreth transferred the nonprofit to Iowa and began developing his plans at the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families’ Small Business Solutions Center, Nonprofit Boot Camp & One-on-One Coaching. His son, Norris Hildreth Jr. is also on the nonprofit’s board.

“Norris has an amazing drive and determination to see this project through,” said Curtis Baugh, Iowa SBA Minority Small Business Champion of the Year and director of the Small Business Solutions Center at the DMACC Evelyn K. Davis Center. “His passion shows, and he does the work that needs to be done to have a successful nonprofit.”

More than 300 nonprofit groups have participated in the bootcamp over the years, Baugh said. Most participants have also benefited from individual coaching, and the bootcamp helps them get a clear understanding of what a nonprofit is, bylaws and how to get grants, he said.

Baugh has worked with more than 1,000 individual small businesses, representing primarily immigrant and diverse populations during his four years at the center, he said.

See @SBA_Iowa's post on Twitter.

Hildreth is pursuing grants for his registered 501c3 organization, building a website, seeking donations and eyeing land to develop or an existing building. His plans also include holding a fundraising gala.

Hildreth encourages community members to share their ideas about the project with him and support the museum once it’s built. He said: "These kids really, really need it . . . They need something to do.”

“We have to train them: Y’all can be anything y’all want to be,” he said.

The African American Museum of Iowa is located in Cedar Rapids, and Hildreth said there is room for similar projects, like his, elsewhere.

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