Being bold and fearless isn’t a nationalist sentiment – Beside the Point

This week was a weird week of news.

It started with a grandmother who, despite a heinous crime, wanted to tell her adopted community the story of her grandson.

A woman who didn’t appear to harbor any ire for a life that’s been a series of sidesteps to keep her family away from a life of gangs, drugs, and in a very tragic twist of irony, violence.

She instead accepted – at this point anyway – the fate of that very life, and has lived with the mantra, “you gotta watch your back”. She never saw it coming.

A city council meeting turned dark quick when one Fort Madison city councilwoman accused another member of the council of making a racist comment.

There’s been efforts to clean it up since then. I sat in the meeting as one of two journalists. I didn’t think the comment was racist when Councilman Tom Schulz said the city’s demographics are changing and it’s leading to more violent crime.

Schulz wants beefier neighborhood watch programs to supplement a short-staffed Fort Madison Police Department. We really have one of the best neighborhood watch programs you’ll ever see in the 34th Place Neighborhood Watch, right under our nose.

I’ve been at their meetings on several occasions, including citywide neighborhood watch gatherings. The best people in the city to get those programs growing is that 34th Place group. They’ve always been willing to help those who will help themselves.

They felt early on that the city had no interest in supporting their efforts, but that dynamic has been changing a bit. Schultz has spent time with the group as has Mayor Matt Mohrfeld and Fort Madison Police Chief Mark Rohloff.

But saying Schulz comments were racist was a fight this council doesn’t need.

There’s progress here. Real progress. Coffers are getting refilled, Mohrfeld has ushered in a monstrosity of a marina makeover, streets ARE getting fixed, businesses are opening, parks continue to be a private/public partnership, a dog park is up and running, and PORT has just about encircled the west half of the city in recreational trails.

There’s always seemed to be a bit of a rift in the recesses of the personalities of the council, but cooler heads have prevailed. Councilwoman Rebecca Bowker asked Schulz to clarify his remarks about what he meant by demographics and Schulz was cooked without even knowing it. Bowker never uttered the word race, a savvy move on her part, but Amandus left no doubt.

Mohrfeld tried to gavel back to better conversations, but too late. It was out, and as journalists we can’t sweep that one away.

Race will always be a part of our geopolitical society. It’s unavoidable. We are a melting pot.

But here’s the thing with that, it’s society’s unfortunate and inherent responsibility to sort that out. And quite honestly we’re aren’t doing a very good job.

I sat in Grandma Bea’s house with a family member, Breanna Kramer-Riesberg of Empowering Families, and Deb Hentzel from Fort Madison High School, and we talked about Deeunta Ceaser. Here’s a woman completely overflowing with character, who just lost her grandson. I know about loss and grief. At Kelsey’s funeral I tried to eulogize with what Kelsey remembered me for, always trying to bring levity, but inside I was dying.

This woman I think was feeling the same thing and I had a kindred conversation with her. We shared a hug after we spoke and I couldn’t help but feel that somehow, despite all that may be revealed in upcoming court hearings, that society missed something here.

I invited Kramer-Reisberg to sit in on the conversation, with Bea’s blessing, because I thought she might be able to pull something for her Empowering Families’ efforts. That’s a group specifically tasked with taking a bite out of child neglect in Lee County. Their first priority – Uniting Lee County.

That’s a big step. One that Lee County Economic Development Group’s Dennis Fraise and Dana Millard, and their respective board, have been working on since they planted a world record amount of tulips out at the Lee County Conservation Center five years ago. The flowers are gone, but the record still stands.

The final piece of the week looked at the health care staffing crisis looming. A Jan. 4, 2022 mandate to be fully vaccinated, or be fired, is currently still active with the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). That’s the federal agency in charge of Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. They’ve told health care providers who get reimbursements that 100% of their staffs will be fully vaccinated or they won’t get reimbursed after Jan. 4.

That’s a wicked mandate and strikes at the heart of our local health care services. It puts everyone – the staff, the hospitals, the patients, crushed between the rock and the hardest of places.

I’ve been vaccinated and I believe in people’s right to choose what goes in their bodies. However, our health care system is the one single place where there can be no question about the complete safety of interaction.

State Rep. Martin Graber may have said it best when he said 18 months ago these people were our heroes, and now they’re fired if they don’t get a shot. Not much clearer than that. A tough, tough dilemma that can hopefully be cleaned up. Exemptions are available, but how they will be scrutinized is still to be determined.

But until the federal government or a court at some point puts a stay on that mandate, we’re in for trouble.

So you may be wondering why I’m weaving these stories together. There’s a simple denominator. The conversation.

If you have followed these stories on our Facebook outlet you’ve read, hopefully, the threads and where they have gone. These conversations are the building blocks to the action plans and correction. We hope that the Fraises, Kramer-Reisbergs, school leaders, community leaders, and health care providers are following the threads all the way through.

The answers to our problems – whether its violence, racism, or getting through and past the pandemic, and how this all integrates into our microcosm of time and community – are buried here in these conversations. We have to sniff it out.

I don’t get paid for what I write so the value has to be in the compelling nature of the conversation, the attraction to news it creates, and the debate that ensues. That makes us valuable to advertisers. But the value to me is the story and the debate.

We will find great leadership to navigate these and other issues that punch us daily right now. In some small way, maybe we already have, but it’s a slow moving turtle. Hegemonies are cyclical in nature and the United States certainly has had a turn. But we got there because we were bold in thinking and fearless in approach.

That doesn’t have to be a national sentiment, it can be local, too – but that’s Beside the Point.

Chuck Vandenberg is editor and co-owner of Pen City Current and can be reached at

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