Community Dialogue to Strengthen Inclusive Dubuque

May 30, 2024

Sitting at the nexus of three states and overlooking the Mississippi River, Dubuque is Iowa’s oldest city, and its local culture has long reflected the heritage of its earliest settlers. French, German and Irish immigrants all have left their stamp on Dubuque, which can be seen in its many churches, its architecture and its street names.

This history also is reflected in Dubuque’s racial and ethnic make-up. Since its founding, Dubuque has been a majority-white city, a trend that continues today. However, in the past 20 years, the percentage of people of color living in Dubuque has grown with a steady influx of immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Pacific Island nations, as well as new residents of color moving from other parts of the United States.

This demographic change has brought much vibrancy to the city: New businesses, new organizations, new festivals. It also has brought challenges, such as a series of cross burnings at the homes of Black residents that made national news in the 1990s. In the late 2000s, IBM’s decision to open an office in Dubuque brought a wave of diverse tech workers to the city, but they didn’t always feel welcome. When IBM leaders noted that their employees were enduring racial slurs and other hostilities, they asked community leaders to step in.

Given its role as a convener of diverse voices and catalyst for community transformation, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque was a natural fit to facilitate a new initiative calledInclusive Dubuque, a network designed to weave a tapestry of equity and justice across the community.

After launching in 2012, Inclusive Dubuque quickly blossomed, attracting over 50 partner organizations. But the network’s leaders knew true inclusivity required a clear picture of Dubuque’s strengths and weaknesses. How were different groups faring? What roadblocks did they face? Extensive discussions led them to a groundbreaking solution: an equity profile.

Launched in 2015, the equity profile aimed to paint a comprehensive portrait of Dubuque’s inclusivity. Local data was gathered alongside the voices of the community itself. Seven key areas were explored—from economic well-being to artistic expression. Over seven months, the foundation hosted community dialogue events, fostering open conversations with over 600 participants. Additionally, more than 2,000 residents shared their stories and experiences through surveys.

However, facilitating these conversations effectively required skilled guides. The foundation turned to the Interactivity Foundation for help. They offered a series of facilitator trainings, empowering local residents to guide small group discussions within the larger community events. Eighty people, including Jason Neises, a future Community Development Coordinator at the foundation, attended the first training in 2015.

“It’s invaluable for a community to have people trained on facilitating conversations,” Jason reflected. “Understanding the importance of including everyone and hearing every voice strengthens the entire civic engagement process.”

The results were impressive. In 2015, over 400 people attended the culminating meeting where the equity profile findings were presented. This outpouring of interest underscored the community’s deep desire for inclusivity. Over 3,500 residents – a significant portion of Dubuque’s 100,000 population – participated in the equity profile process through surveys and community dialogues.

In 2023, the foundation embarked on a process to update the equity profile, once again partnering with Interactivity Foundation for facilitator training. This time, nearly 40 residents, some of whom were veterans of the 2015 events, participated.

Thankfully, the benefits of trained facilitators extended far beyond the equity profile discussions. “We use them for other community activities,” said Mary Jo Jean-Francois, the foundation’s Vice President of Impact. “We highly recommend them to nonprofits and the city for any facilitated conversation. The facilitation training has been a true gift.”

The road to a fully inclusive Dubuque is long—challenges like implicit bias and systemic racism demand constant vigilance and targeted interventions. The Inclusive Dubuque network remains a vibrant force for positive change. With the unwavering support of the Community Foundation and a cadre of skilled facilitators trained by the Interactivity Foundation, we are weaving a more equitable future for Dubuque, thread by thread.

Interested in working with us to bring better discussions to your classroom, community or workplace?

Share this:

Related Posts