Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Symposium returns virtually, after coronavirus pandemic sidelined event for two years

The deadline to register for the 34th annual civil and human rights symposium, which will be held virtually, is Aug. 3.

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An annual symposium — back after a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic — will focus on health and wellness, social justice in systems and schools, youth voices and art as activism.

The Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Symposium will present the virtual event: Innovative Inclusion: Reconnecting & Rebooting for Social Justice from 10 a.m.- 4 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 5. The deadline to register is Aug. 3. The cost is $10, and scholarships are available. Register here.

Holly Wilkens is a community relations specialist at the civil and human rights agency. She manages the department’s social media pages and helped coordinate the virtual symposium, which is in its 34th year. The coronavirus pandemic had sidelined the event for two years. The pandemic is still hampering large gatherings due to an uptick in the Omicron BA.5 subvariant, which has led to an increase in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations across the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“In 2020 and 2021 we didn't do it because of COVID-19, and so this year will be virtual,” she said.

Holly Wilkens is a community relations specialist at Des Moines Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Wilkens.

A kick-off event, Kicking-Off Innovative Inclusion, will be held virtually at 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 4, with panelists, Brandy Miller, cofounder and president of Black Women 4 Healthy Living; Orlando Fuentes, program leader and Al Exito youth mental health task force member; Jordan Brooks, creator and owner of KNWSLF, Travis Gratteau-Zinnel; doctoral candidate at Iowa State University in the Social and Cultural Studies of Education program and Sonya Reyes, president and CEO of the Reyes Equity Institute. Register here. Attendees will receive a second link for the kick off event after registering.

The symposium begins on Aug. 5. The keynote speaker is Darrick Hamilton, a university professor, Henry Cohen Professor of Economics and Urban Policy, and founding director of the Institute on Race, Power and Political Economy at The New School, who will be interviewed by Manisha Paudel, an equity officer with the city of Des Moines. The event also features several local speakers.

The goal of the symposium is to identify the gaps and barriers that disproportionately affect marginalized community members, which Wilkens said is “definitely worth attending.”

With the move to a virtual format this year, attendance is hard to predict, but several hundred people are expected, she said. The symposium is partnering with Drake University to hold viewing rooms at the university’s Olmsted Center, where attendees can watch. The viewing rooms help increase access for people who may have limited internet access or poor internet connections, she said.

“The symposiums are really incredible and really educational,” she said. “So even though it is virtual and a totally different setting than normal, it’s still going to be really informative and everyone’s going to get something out of it.”

The symposium is centered around four tracks, which have three sessions each. The tracks are health and wellness, social justice and systems and schools, voices from our youth and art as activism.

“People can kind of choose if there’s a specific topic area from one of those tracks they’re interested in, or just attend those three sessions within that track, or they can skip around,” she said.

Students competed in a youth logo contest this year. Natalia Guerra-Ceron won the contest, along with $500, and her design is featured on the symposium’s website and guidebook, Wilkens said.

Cocoa Creative will produce the virtual symposium, she said.

“It’s been a great experience working with them,” Wilkens said.

The symposium had historically been held at Des Moines University, she said.

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