The United States of Anxiety: Building a Multiracial Democracy in 2020

Levitt Center for University Advancement
Monday, January 27th, 2020 7:00 PM
Line drawing of us connected to EKG line, United States of Anxiety word mark below

From WNYC Studios in New York City, The United States of Anxiety is a show about the unfinished business of our history and its grip on our future. Underlying almost every disagreement, every fervent debate as we approach the 2020 election is one basic question: Who is America for? This is an old question. Many of the political and social arguments we’re having now started in the aftermath of the Civil War, when Americans set out to do something no other country had tried before -- to build the world’s first interracial democracy. Host Kai Wright and team tried to connect the dots between the debates of the late 19th century and questions being discussed today. They told stories about people who are trying to make the radical ideas behind America real in their lives now. 

The podcast, "Paralysis at the Crossroads," includes some content from this event.


About WNYC Studios:

WNYC Studios is a listener-supported producer of other leading podcasts including Radiolab; On the Media; Nancy; Death, Sex & Money; Snap Judgment; Here’s the Thing with Alec Baldwin and many others.

Monday, January 27th, 2020
Session Details Speakers
7:15 PM Introduction: Unfinished History and its Grip on Our Future
  1. Kai Wright
7:20 PM Where We've Been
  1. Leslie Schwalm
  1. Kai Wright (Moderator)
8:00 PM Where We're Going
  1. Deidre DeJear
  2. Rev. Abraham Funchess
  3. Joe Henry
  1. Kai Wright (Moderator)
  • Deidre DeJear

    Deidre DeJear has dedicated her career to community and small business development. In 2008, on the brink of the recession, Deidre found her affinity for working with small business and building relationships in the community. She began her own small business, Caleo Enterprises, which provides entrepreneurs affordable marketing tools and business strategies. As the sole-founder, Deidre’s work has impacted over 300 small businesses and nonprofit organizations.

    Deidre developed and implemented the Financial Capability Network, a collaborative that targets low to moderate income individuals and families. Over the last 5 years, the program provided nearly 100,000 Iowans access to financial management, knowledge and skills. This included training that provides quality education to more than 300 businesses and nonprofits.

    In 2005, as a Drake University student, Deidre co-founded Back 2 School Iowa, a non-profit dedicated to collaborating with communities and corporations in order to provide resources to inspire youth in continuing in their education and build their future careers. This small organization impacts more than 3,000 Central Iowans annually.

    Her first introduction to campaigns was through her grandmother, who became County Elections Commissioner in Mississippi in the mid-nineties. It was from that early experience, that she learned the value in engaging the community through voting. 

    In 2012, Deidre worked statewide to re-elect President Barack Obama. She developed and implemented a program to educate, motivate, and mobilize low-propensity voters, which resulted in over 5,000 new registrants and more than doubled African American turnout. After 2012, Deidre went on to manage two victorious campaigns for Des Moines School Board, District 2 & 4.

    In every campaign she has worked for, Deidre has a track record of increasing turnout and registering new voters.

  • Rev. Abraham Funchess

    Executive Director, Waterloo Commission on Human Rights, Pastor, Jubilee United Methodist Church

    Rev. Abraham L. Funchess, Jr., is the oldest son of Abraham and Bernice Funchess of St. Matthews, South Carolina.  Recipient of many awards and recognitions, Funchess is most proud of receiving the W.E.B DuBois Award for Social Activism from Hampton University in Virginia and the Bishop James S. Thomas Leadership Award from former Bishop Julius C. Trimble of the Iowa Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church.  Funchess is currently pastor of Jubilee UMC and executive director at Waterloo Commission on Human Rights.

    Married to Veronica McGee with one son Solomon Diara at Iowa State, Rev. Funchess is author of a children’s book entitled Rise! and is the founder of  MLK New Jerusalem LLC.

  • Joe Henry

    League of United Latin American Citizens of Iowa #370

  • Leslie Schwalm

    Professor and chair, UI Department of Gender, Women's, and Sexuality Studies

    Professor Schwalm is a historian of gender and race in the nineteenth-century U.S., and her research focuses on slavery, the Civil War, and emancipation. She holds joint appointments with the Department of Gender, Women’s, and Sexuality Studies (where she is department chair) and with History.  She is also a College of Liberal Arts and Sciences DSHB Faculty Scholar.


    Leslie, along with Tom Keegan (Head of The University of Iowa Digital Scholarship & Publishing Studio) is co-director of the Iowa Satellite of the national Colored Conventions Project, working to recuperate, interpret, and make visible the civil rights activism African American women and men in 19th-century Iowa.


    Leslie's first book, A Hard Fight For We: Women's Transition from Slavery to Freedom in South Carolina (1997), studied how wartime enslaved women, at the point when slavery was disintegrating, struggled to control their own labor, resist slave owners' demands, survive the violence of the military conflict, and also fought for respect within their own households. The book was awarded the Willie Lee Rose Prize by the Southern Association of Women's Historians in 1998. 


    Leslie's second book,  Emancipation's Diaspora (UNC Press, 2009), explored how and why Civil War-era emancipation was a national, not only southern, phenomenon.   She finds that the upper Midwest experienced a vigorous contest over the meaning of emancipation and citizenship among white and African American Midwesterners, men and women, during and after the Civil War. 


    Leslie is currently writing a book, Bodies of Knowledge: Medical Science, Racism, and the US Civil War, about northern white medical and scientific professionals and their wartime investments in racist science and medicine. 

  • Kai Wright

    WNYC Studios

    Kai Wright is host and managing editor of The United States of Anxiety. He was also the host of the podcasts The Stakes, Caught, and There Goes the Neighborhood, as well as a co-host of Indivisible, a live national call-in show that WNYC convened during the Trump administration’s first 100 days. He is a former editor for The Nation, as well as the former editorial director of Colorlines. As a fellow of Type Investigations, he covered economic inequality, access to healthcare, and racial inequity for years. Kai is the author of Drifting Toward Love: Black, Brown, Gay and Coming of Age on the Streets of New York and two surveys of black American history.

Individuals with disabilities are encouraged to attend all University of Iowa-sponsored events. If you are a person with a disability who requires an accommodation in order to participate in this program, please contact Leslie Gannon at (319) 335-6817 or