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New members excited to get racial justice commission back on track

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IOWA CITY, Iowa (KWWL) - Clifton Johnson lives an orderly and conditioned life.

"I've been in the Marine Corps. In the Marine Corps, we are taught to deal with any situation no matter what and work as a unit and a team," Johnson said.

Johnson grew up in Philadelphia but moved to Iowa City seven years ago, where he owns ICOR Boxing Gym.

While he says it doesn't slow him down, he has experienced racism and injustice in Iowa City.

"You do the best you can and try to be the best person you can. And then after that, don't worry about it. Keep pushing forward," Johnson said.

Seeing that other people in Iowa City were having similar experiences made him apply to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission last month.

The commission was approved by the City Council in September to be a fact-finding and truth-telling body; essentially a place for oppressed persons to share their story and get justice.

The commission had been meeting bi-monthly since late December but hadn't made much progress. There was infighting about the direction the commission was headed and arguments about if commissioners were there for the right reasons.

Five people resigned from the commission in March and City Council suspended it on March 17.

"Any issues that might have been in the past, I am not a part of," Johnson said.

He and the two other commissioners appointed Tuesday night by the Council will get a change to start fresh next week. The City Council is holding a joint meeting with the TRC on April 15 to go over rules and regulations, before allowing them to officially meet again.

"I do believe we will have progress. I think we will be able to come together and unite as one," Johnson said.

Local protest group the Iowa Freedom Riders has been vocal that they do not believe the TRC is salvageable. The group announced the formation of its own TRC on March 26. Leaders say the City Council is taking too much control of the city's TRC.

"There's plenty of space in the community for more than one group to be working on these really challenging issues," Councilwoman Laura Bergus said. Bergus says she has no issue with IFR forming its own commission and is interested to see what they accomplish.

IFR declined an interview for this story but plans on starting "The Peoples TRC" next Thursday as well.

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Travis Breese

Reporter, Iowa City

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