Community leaders reflect on MLK Day, diversity

AP PHOTO In this 1960 file photo, Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. speaks in Atlanta, GA.

For the 36th consecutive year, Martin Luther King Jr. Day was observed across the U.S. on Monday, and leaders from around the community reflected on the significance of the holiday for the diverse population of Marshalltown.

Joa Laville

Joa LaVille — the co-organizer of Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown and the Youth Services Manager at the Marshalltown Public Library — wanted MLK Day to serve as a reminder that community members should be open to listening to the concerns and experiences of people of color. In LaVille’s opinion, the best way to promote inclusivity is being unafraid to talk about painful subjects and listening with empathy and understanding.

“We’re the size of community where we’re pretty much neighbors with everyone in town, and when you have that size of a town, your kid might play soccer with someone who’s different from you. So, I think that with all the different kinds of diversity that we have, the best way for us to build bridges is to listen to each other,” LaVille said.

In addition to listening with compassion and an open mind, LaVille stressed the importance of giving people of color the opportunity to speak from their own experience. It is crucial, she said, because it allows people to learn from one another.

“There’s no one out there who doesn’t have something to offer if given the opportunity,” LaVille said.

Immigrant Allies of Marshalltown is an organization that promotes embracing the diversity of the community, and LaVille and Maria Gonzalez organized the group together.


Another leader in the community, Police Chief Mike Tupper, said MLK Day is an important day to remember the legacy of both the man, who led efforts to desegregate the South and promote voting and labor rights for Black Americans in the 1950s and 60s before his assassination in Memphis in 1968, and the lessons he left behind about equity, inclusion and diversity.

“Because we have a diverse community here, I think those messages are very important to our community and certainly resonate with our community,” Tupper said. “What I often talk about — and what I hear repeated in the community by other people — is that our diversity is our strength, and it really is for Marshalltown. It’s our future.”

Over the years, Tupper has noticed more people of color getting comfortable with being involved in the community, and he wants to continue promoting that growth in a couple of different ways — by ensuring everyone’s voice is heard, and everyone has a seat at the table where decisions are being made.

“Our police department, in the last year, has become much more diverse than it ever has been, and that’s a great thing,” Tupper said.

Though Tupper has noticed an improvement within the community in regards to diversity, there are still people who feel left out, and he believes there is still plenty of work to be done. Much like LaVille, Tupper feels communication is the key to getting more people involved.

“We have to find a way to meet people where they’re at and where they’re comfortable,” Tupper said.


Mayor Joel Greer also said the holiday holds a special meaning for a community like Marshalltown.

“I think the significance of MLK Day is a lot higher for a city like (Marshalltown) than it is for those that don’t experience the kind of diversity that we do,” Greer said.

Greer said that while the city doesn’t hold any public celebrations honoring the civil rights leader’s legacy at the present time, he would like to see some sort of event arranged in the future.


Contact Susanna Meyer at 641-753-6611 or



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