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2022 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality & Justice Recipient: Ako Abdul-Samad

Ako Abdul-Samad

The Honorable Ako Abdul-Samad was awarded the 2022 Cristine Wilson Medal for Equality & Justice. Ako was born and raised in Des Moines, Iowa. He graduated from Tech High School in 1969, a time of protest, organizing for change, and social movement. In 1968 Ako, with the Des Moines Black Panther Party (BPP), started the first free breakfast program for children in Des Moines. He rose to become the BPP Lieutenant for distribution, offering goods and services to individual African Americans in particularly dire straits. The Des Moines BPP focused on improving education for African Americans, a continuing passion of Ako’s to this day.

In a June 2020 Register interview, Ako described being shaken to his core and forced to examine life in 1997 when his only son, Ako White Abdul-Samad (little Ako), was accidentally fatally shot by a friend who was grandstanding with a handgun. The life of the young man who shot Ako's son was threatened by friends and associates of little Ako. After praying and thinking about his son’s legacy, Ako took the young man who shot little Ako into his home for weeks until a place in a safe house opened for him. Ako was moved by his loss to carve a new path forward, learning how to transform immeasurable pain into profound power and sharing that journey with others.

In 1996, AKO founded Creative Visions Human Development Institute focused on providing educational opportunities to address the rampant use of drugs, gang violence, and crime involving at-risk youths. Ako realized that these efforts, while somewhat successful, were only addressing the symptoms of a greater problem. He knew that to effectively address the issues having an impact on at-risk youths on a long-term basis would require a comprehensive approach that involved the individual, family, and community.

Creative Visions soon expanded its efforts to include programs to help stabilize families, empower communities, deal with the after-effects of violence and racism, and give the people in his neighborhood community times of joy. Today, Creative Visions has enabled thousands of individuals to build a stronger life, stronger family, and stronger community through its core program of services focused on betterment. Creative Visions is recognized for its broad array of services and flexibility to meet the needs of the community.

It is in this context as a leader and community activist that Ako emerged as a peace advisor to both protesters and law enforcement in Des Moines after the police killing of George Floyd on May 25, 2020, in Minneapolis. Ako showed up wherever the protesters were to listen and assure them that their voices were heard. After telling a young man about his protests in the 60s and 70s, he was asked why the issues still called for protest today. AKO heard the young man and vowed to keep fighting for real differences in our society.

Ako arranged a meeting for the leaders of the protest with the Governor and the five members of the House Democratic Black Caucus. Subsequently, a new law was passed unanimously by the Legislature and signed by the Governor named the More Perfect Union Act. The new law outlaws law enforcement’s use of chokeholds, prohibits hiring officers with a history of excessive force, and requires de-escalation and bias prevention training for law enforcement officers. The new law also authorizes the Attorney General to investigate and prosecute use of excessive force by police.

AKO has served the people of House District 35 (new HD34 in 2022) in the Iowa House of Representatives since 2007. He currently serves on the Agriculture, Environmental Protection, Public Safety, and International Relations Committees and the Administration and Regulation Appropriations Subcommittee. He has worked on issues of particular concern to African Americans, such as Iowa’s terribly disproportionate incarceration rates of African Americans, racial profiling in policing, and equality in education, housing, and employment.

Ako was elected to Des Moines Public School Board in 2003 and served as vice president. He co-founded and coordinated the YMCA Downtown Teen Program. He serves as Vice President of the Center for the Study and Application of Black Economic Development. He co-founded the first black student union in the state of Iowa. He authored “The Deeper Truth: Revelations of the Soul.” Ako has received numerous awards for his citizenship and leadership including awards from NASW Iowa in 2020; the Filipino American Society in 2018; Community Outreach Achievement Award in 2018; Interfaith Alliance Community Advocacy Award in 2016; and the National Caring Award, 2004.