Embracing and Engaging Diverse Perspectives

March 1, 2021
Embracing and Engaging Diverse Perspectives

It has often been said that our greatest strengths lie within our differences. The growing social and cultural diversity of Iowa, our communities and our leaders reflect opportunities to build inclusive communities that not only embrace, but also engage its different perspectives. Iowa communities don’t exist in a vacuum. Iowa downtowns and commercial corridors are the heart of its communities, and over the decades, they have been shaped by the forces of history. Main Streets have been sites of growth, hope and promise for a better future. In many places, this history has been marked with struggle, exclusion, violence and discrimination. This history, and our collective role in shaping the future of communities, positions the downtown and Main Street revitalization movement at the center of these challenges.

Often led by downtown revitalization organizations, many Iowa communities have already taken steps to welcome diversity and build inclusive engagement. It is important to remember that sometimes the biggest step to building an inclusive community is taking a small first step.

In Colfax, Iowa (population 1,800), community leaders worked with regional partners to provide local business revolving loan fund applications materials in Spanish and English.

In Hampton, Iowa (population 4,200), the Main Street/Chamber developed a close partnership with the local La Luz Centro Cultural (CC) organization. This partnership helped develop stronger relationships with Latino-owned businesses and engage diverse populations in the development of downtown events. It also resulted in La Luz CC partnering with the community to receive a Main Street Iowa Challenge Grant to expand their downtown Hampton operations.

In Washington, Iowa (population 7,300), the local Main Street program highlighted the importance cultural diversity plays in their local economy via their mission statement that drives the work of the program and community.

In Waterloo (population 67,000), the Waterloo Center for the Arts, JSA Development, the University of Northern Iowa and Main Street Waterloo came together to publicly highlight the local “Diversity is Our Strength” effort through a community mural project.

In 2021, the Iowa Downtown Resource Center team looks forward to taking deliberate steps to encourage diversity-driven efforts across Iowa. These steps include:

  • Incorporating diverse perspectives in future trainings and workshops,
  • Including images that reflect Iowa's diversity in marketing materials and presentations, and
  • Engaging partners in telling the story of Iowa’s diverse entrepreneurs.

The Iowa Downtown Resource Center challenges your community to reflect on how to embrace and engage different perspectives. No matter where you are in this process, consider ways to take the next step.

  • Highlight local stories of diversity.
  • Amplify diverse small businesses within your district/community.
  • Host a drive-in movie night and screen films that speak to diversity, new Iowans and broader perspectives that may not already be prevalent in the community.
  • Transform an empty storefront into a gallery featuring the diversity of your community’s residents, artists, business owners and leaders.
  • Partner with a local organization that focuses on racial equality.

The Iowa Downtown Resource Center is committed to sharing stories of strategies communities are taking to build inclusivity and embrace diversity. Please share your stories by email to downtown@iowaeda.com.

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