Pascha Morgan is many things.
An Army veteran who served as a combat medic for six years. A married man with eight children. A former deputy political director from Iowa for Tom Steyer’s presidential campaign. Affiliated with the Black Liberation Movement, which protested the killing of George Floyd and issued requests for Iowa in 2020. Volunteers with North Des Moines Mutual Aid, where he helps organize a community breakfast every two weeks at Edna Griffin Park. A co-founder of Out of the Box Initiative, which opened its first free library in July 2022. Founder of MAD AF – March Against Detaining Asylum-seeking Families – which led him to embark on a 1 200 miles through mostly rural parts of Iowa, Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas to protest the treatment of immigrants trying to enter the United States
I first contacted Morgan for an entirely different column, but when he mentioned those last two activities, I had to find out more.
The Harriette Curley Library opened on July 31
The free library measures about 10 feet by 12 feet and is near a bus stop, allowing it to serve as a shelter, at 13th Street and Forest Avenue, Morgan said. Creative Visions provided space for the library and was a supporter.
The Harriette Curley Library, named for Des Moines’ first black schoolteacher, is the first of what Morgan and her business partner Jake Sahr, through their nonprofit Initiative out of the box, hope will be many. The goals of the Out of the Box initiative include “to have tiny libraries spread throughout the Des Moines metro area that will focus on books written by and/or related to BIPOC people and communities.”
Having books written by and featuring Black, Indigenous, and characters of color is important to Morgan and Sahr because of the ethnic makeup of the King-Irving neighborhood. Only 6.4% of King Elementary’s student population is white, according to iaschoolperformance.gov. Black students make up 46.8%, Hispanics 34.0%, Asians 6.8%, multiracial 5.3%, and Native Americans 0.8%.
“There’s a huge Vietnamese and Tai Dam community there, a Nigerian community and a Somali community there, not to mention a lot of South American communities,” Morgan said. “So my partner and I decided that’s what we were going to do, we just wanted to represent the community. We wanted the kids to be able to get in there without having to search, just pull out a book when you see someone who looks like you, or an aunt, uncle, or friend.
The library has about 200 books. Topics range from how to draw to math and science to studying for the SAT and more, in addition to fiction, young adult books, children’s books, and books about different countries and in different languages.
Morgan purchased books from a variety of sources, including garage sales, online, thrift stores, and public libraries. “I spent hours and hours going through books removed from public libraries,” Morgan said.
The library is only a few weeks old, so it can still use books. Send them to PO Box 41171, Des Moines, IA 50311 or 2323 Forest Ave. #41171, Des Moines IA 50311. Or drop them off at 13th and Forest.
Donations through Venmo Donations (@hereticallove_support) and CashApp ($outtheboxdsm) can be used to acquire books, sponsor another library, or purchase a $698 combined heating and cooling unit for the Harriette Curley Library.
Morgan walked alone during his 800 mile protest
In 2019, months after reports of child asylum seekers being kept in cages on the southern border surfaced, Morgan decided he would march from Des Moines to Clint, Texas to protest the treatment of asylum seekers.
In a Facebook video, Morgan said he chose to walk because he didn’t want to just sit and speak his outrage. He wanted to put it into action. He wanted to do something. He wanted to move. He wanted to do something that showed that people matter, that giving them respect, dignity and love matters. “I’m poor and have no influence in the grand scheme of things,” he said. “The walk I can do. It’s a big story of walking in this country. When we don’t know what else to do, we walk. We walk, we walk, we sit down, we get up, we walk. We do all these things, but we move, and so I move.”
After initially hoping others would join him, Morgan set out on his own in September 2019 with only what he could carry and push in a small cart.
It took Morgan almost a month to reach Dodge City, Kansas. Until then, he hadn’t seen a single other black person on the road or in the small towns along the side roads and trails.
“So it’s just me, this black guy in these little all-white towns. As soon as I got to town, everyone knew I was there. First of all, because they’re like ‘a black dude is in town pushing his cart,” Morgan said, “and then I’m sitting there talking to them about immigration at the border, and they’re red, red, rural state people .”
The people Morgan met took great care of him, which he found surreal. “I even told one person I spoke to,” he said, “how, I don’t know if that’s the definition of irony, but the fact that I was walking around talking to people in red who didn’t agree with immigration or letting immigrants into the country, and yet they were welcoming me, a stranger they didn’t know. They fed me They let me stay at their house.
The mayor of one town opened up the entire community center and let Morgan sleep there for the night, in addition to using the kitchen and shower. When Morgan slept in the park in a few towns after getting approval from city councils, people brought him food.
The gas station employees paid him breakfast. Once he left his cart outside a gas station to get in and when he came out someone had gone to the next town because there was no Dollar General in town where he was and bought him bags of snacks and just put them on his cart.
By the time Morgan had reached the seventh or eighth town, other small towns had begun to hear that he was on his way. Cars honked at him on the road. People were waving.
“There was crazy amounts of hospitality and love for a weird guy who had just walked through,” Morgan said.
After two months, Morgan’s 1,200 mile trek to Clint, TX was reduced to an 800 mile trek to Amarillo, TX. A visit to a doctor revealed that the excruciating pain he had been feeling since mile 70 was due to plantar fasciitis in one of his feet. He had to stop; otherwise he would need surgery.
Morgan said the overall experience changed him. He thinks differently. Before the trip, he thought the country was more polarized. But after talking to white conservative Republicans and engaging in open and honest discussions about health care, government policy, and learning how commercial farming is killing small-town farmers, they ended up agreeing on a lot of things.
He stressed that seeking asylum is legal and used the analogy of your house on fire – how long are you going to take trying to contact your neighbors to see if they will take you in before taking action? It has helped people see immigration a little differently, he said, and have open conversations, agree that the government needs to find a better way to help, and discuss solutions.
“One guy in Abilene, TX fought everything I said, out of hundreds of people I talked to.” A self-proclaimed optimist, these interactions gave Morgan an extra dose of hope. He truly believes things will get better when we start treating people as individuals.
One day he hopes to turn back the clock and complete those last 400 miles. But until then, he will continue to do his part, helping in other ways, such as adding more books and improving the Harriette Curley Library and creating new ones.
Why we all need to do our part
Morgan’s philosophy is, “What if everyone did this?”
When his brother was young, Morgan’s mother read a book called “What if Everyone Did That?” to him. The book shows a young boy feeding a bear at the zoo, throwing trash out the car window, licking a wedding cake, speaking out during story time, and other thoughtless actions. “I sort of think about it, but in a positive way rather than a negative one,” Morgan said. “Because it’s not that the little things I do are going to have that much impact but, ‘What if everyone did this?’ so I can’t not do it, because then I’m not doing my part.
Morgan believes everyone should do the little things they can to help others. “You can’t change the whole world for everyone,” he said, “but you can change the whole world for one person at a time.”
Rachelle Chase is a opinion columnist at the Des Moines Register. Follow Rachelle at facebook.com/rachelle.chase.author or on Twitter @Rachelle_Chase.