Advancing Racial Equity training underway for Dubuque nonprofits

Following a workshop in September, representatives from 20 Dubuque-area nonprofits reached the midpoint in Advancing Racial Equity, an interactive training process for building the skills to address structural racism and advance racial equity.

Convened by the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque, the training is part of a comprehensive effort to strengthen the region by encouraging leaders from the civic, nonprofit and business sectors to approach their work through a perspective of diversity, equity and inclusion. The training provides participants with a racial equity tool that can be applied to any decision-making process and helps build capacity for advancing racial equity through community engagement strategies and communication about race — emphasizing ways to challenge and change institutional racial inequities. 

“This training is making us look at our programming from a different perspective,” said Carol Gebhart, executive director of Opening Doors, who attended the first workshops in August and September. “How do we need to change our programming to meet the needs of a culturally diverse group of people?”

With Advancing Racial Equity, the Community Foundation has partnered with Race Forward, one of the pre-eminent organizations in the United States helping to improve the well-being of all communities with an emphasis on racial equity. The training fits into the foundation’s longstanding tradition of fostering communities that are welcoming to all people by addressing social, economic and structural conditions that contribute to poor life outcomes and recognizing that race and racism play major roles in these inequities.

Advancing Racial Equity is already having an impact.

After each session, participants are assigned homework, such as researching the history of racial groups in the region and developing racial equity statements for their organizations. During the second session, each nonprofit spent time applying the racial equity tool to a project specific to their work.

“After using the racial equity tool today, we have a plan for a project I really think is attainable and could truly impact our organization and Dubuque’s Marshallese population,” said Marie Duster, educational specialist at Mercy Medical Center, referring to the several hundred Dubuque residents whose families hail from the Marshall Islands.

Celena Vesely, chair of Mercy’s Diversity and Inclusion Council, explained that the Race Forward training is guiding the hospital’s work around increasing racial equity in employment and in patient care. The tool helps acknowledge racial inequities and develop ways to eliminate those inequities or barriers — particularly for Marshallese residents of Dubuque, who could be hired as Mercy employees and subsequently become eligible for health care benefits.

Before the day was out, Duster and Vesely had discussed a plan with a Crescent Community Health social worker directly involved in the Marshallese community to reach out to a Marshallese women's group in October. Their goal is to discuss possible racial barriers with the Marshallese women that interfere with the employment application process, employment orientation process and employee retention. Other participants will also be working on strategies for community engagement over the coming weeks in preparation for the November training session.

“These organizations are the backbone of the community,” Race Forward trainer Dwayne Marsh, told attendees. “It is so powerful that you are all learning this together.”

In the final two sessions, participants will continue to hone their skills and begin building a racial equity action plan for their organizations. “An ideal outcome of this movement-building work is to change the conversation and outcomes around race in Dubuque,” said Race Forward trainer Michele Kumi Baer.

Multiple equity initiatives are underway.

The Community Foundation's work with Race Forward is one of several initiatives it is taking to help Dubuque’s major institutions and employers look at their work through an equity lens. The Foundation, in partnership with the Inclusive Dubuque Network, is in the midst of an eighth-month peer-learning workshop series known as Best Practices in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion. These monthly learning opportunities empower individuals, businesses, nonprofits and other organizations to create pathways that enhance and improve self-awareness, recruitment, retention and workplace culture.

The Foundation also is establishing the Business Leader Equity Cohort, a working group of local business executives, which will meet quarterly to share experiences and learn best practices for creating a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion across their organizations — from hiring to customer relations. The goal is to create a network of business leaders that can work together to ensure the region remains a welcoming place to live and work for years to come.

“It’s exciting to have all the different organizations here talking about these issues,” said Suzanne Stroud, a social worker at Crescent Health Center attending the Advancing Racial Equity training. “I think it’s something we really need.”

For more information about Advancing Racial Equity; Best Practices in Diversity, Equity and Inclusion; or the Business Leader Equity Cohort, please contact Paul Duster at 563.588.2700 or

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About Us
Founded in 2002, the Community Foundation of Greater Dubuque strengthens communities and inspires giving. We are dedicated to improving the quality of life throughout Northeast Iowa by serving donors, making grants to local nonprofit organizations, and providing community leadership through convening and collaboration. Guided by the values of integrity, equity and inclusion, collaboration, excellence and innovation, we seek to ensure a vibrant and inclusive Greater Dubuque region with resources and opportunity for all.