“A 2020 survey of Wapello County youth grades 6-12 showed a staggering 16.7% of youth in the county have been treated negatively based on their race, ethnicity, or orientation.” Based on our county demographics, that number equals nearly our entire BIPOC and LBGTQ+ population (2021, Resilient Communities Wapello County, Community Needs Assessment).
Uniting Through History is on a quest to change that statistic. The nonprofit’s mission “is to further acceptance of —and pride in—the fact that Black history is American history by providing creative ways for people to connect with the experiences of Black Americans,” according to Founder and Executive Director Rachelle Chase. Chase is the author of Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa, and Lost Buxton. Her books chronicle how the coal mining town of Buxton set a standard for equality in 1900. An estimated 40%-55% of Buxton’s 5,000 residents were African American and were miners, doctors, lawyers, teachers, business owners, and leaders in the community. Black and white residents experienced true equality and equity, living and working side by side, something unheard of for the period.
The Hip History Contest was born in 2021 to further the mission of Uniting Through History. The idea emerged from Rachelle’s past experiences leading the Chase the Dream contest for fiction writers and the murder of George Floyd—and the civil unrest that followed—in 2020. LaGarrett King, an associate professor of social studies education at the University of Missouri said, “In many ways we wouldn’t have a Black Lives Matter movement if Black lives mattered in the classroom.”
His quote rang true to Chase. “I believe that. That’s why I wanted to find a way to incentivize youth to learn and connect with experiences and contributions of Black Americans,” she said. “The Hip History Contest uses the Buxton story and its example of the amazing contributions of Black Americans while providing a glimpse into the racial discrimination, segregation, injustice, and racial inequity Black Americans were experiencing at the time, but also inspiring hope of unity that our country needs.”
The contest challenges middle and high school students from around Iowa to develop short video presentations depicting an excerpt from Chase’s book Creating the Black Utopia of Buxton, Iowa. The submissions are reviewed by a panel of judges from around the state and beyond. Top 2021 high school and middle school entries were awarded a $2,000 scholarship. “When we start including the history of all people, when we start telling one united version of history, we can truly begin uniting through history,” Chase said.
The 2022 Hip History Project will kick off in February, with support from a Bright Ideas Community Enrichment Fund Grant. Chase is hoping to more than double her reach, as well as offer winners’ schools a matching prize, with the additional support. “A realistic participation goal would be to double the number of entries in 2022, which would mean around 120 students or 80 entries. But I’m not known for setting realistic goals. My dad always told me to ‘aim for the mountaintop, land in the valley’ when I was growing up, so my goal is several hundred entries,” she shared with a smile.
To view 2021 entries and get involved in the 2022 Hip History Contest, visit https://unitingthroughhistory.org/hip-history-contest/.