Maquoketa business owner connects with teens, leading to website launch

MAQUOKETA, Iowa — A Maquoketa business has partnered with two local teens to launch a voter registration website after the girls organized a protest last month.

Riley Caven and Rammy McKee, recent graduates of Maquoketa High School, organized a protest in the wake of the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis. More than 300 people attended the peaceful event in Maquoketa, which was organized in cooperation with the city and police department.

At the protest, Riley met Earl Cherry, the owner of Mobile City Media, a Maquoketa software and web development business. Riley asked Cherry if he would be willing to speak at the event and share his story as a Black business owner. He was more than happy to do so.

“It was important that not only the message be heard, but that the minority person should deliver the message,” Cherry said. “Maquoketa’s (population) is less than 2% people of color, so somebody that represents us needs to speak out and show other people that it’s OK to come forward and just let your voice be heard.”

After the rally, Cherry talked with Riley for nearly an hour, she said.

“Earl really (gave) me insight into what it is like to be a person of color, especially here locally,” she said. “It meant a lot to me that he was a Black business owner that had so many good things to offer me.”

Cherry had more to offer Riley than just insights. The next day, he told her his business would give her a $1,500 grant to develop a website for a cause about which she was passionate.

Mobile City Media donates about 14% of its revenue to similar grant projects to support local economic growth, Cherry said.

“I’m all about standing up for what’s right,” he said. “These young ladies were brave enough to put together a movement, and I wanted to support (them).”

Riley and Rammy plan to work with Cherry and his team to create a website dedicated to helping people, especially minority groups, to register and vote.

“Voter suppression is actually affecting, if you look at the stats, predominantly Black communities,” Riley said.

The website is still in development, but Riley envisions it as a database to identify and assist those who need help registering or getting to polling places. She hopes to expand its geographic reach beyond Maquoketa, possibly statewide or “even bigger,” she said.

Riley, who will attend Kirkwood Community College this fall, said she hopes her work in Maquoketa will inspire other teens to stand up for the causes they believe in.

“I just think that it’s really important that young people get their voices heard and understand that they can do big things,” she said. “I talk to so many people and a lot of them are very passionate about the same things I am, (but) they just don’t have an outlet for that. I want them to know that it’s possible and you can do it.”