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IOWA CITY — A growing number of organizations have joined a new group aimed at addressing racial equity and inclusive economic development in Johnson County.
Racial Equity Connect — or R.E. Connect — was co-founded by Tracy Jon Sargeant and V Fixmer-Oraiz, who both live in Iowa City.
Conversations about the group started about six months ago and have evolved into recruiting organizations, talking with elected officials and creating a network for people of color.
“What we're trying to accomplish is creating a brave space for people to come together, to share their struggles,“ Sargeant said. ”We're really just trying to support each other and not tear each other down."
Sargeant is the co-founder and executive director of the Multicultural Development Center of Iowa, a nonprofit focused on addressing the lack of diversity in STEM — science, technology, engineering, math — fields.
Fixmer-Oraiz is the CEO and founder of Astig Planning, a community and environmental planning firm.
Sargeant’s and Fixmer-Oraiz’s organizations are the center of the “hub and spoke” model, with other local organizations being the “spokes” — an organizational model from a Small Business Administration’s community navigator grant.
The idea, Sargeant said, is the two “hub” organizations can approach public funding and other opportunities in a more efficient way than if every organization is doing the work on its own.
It’s a way to amplify voices and create a “central hub” for resources to make sure they’re going directly to the organizations doing the work, Fixmer-Oraiz added.
The two recruited other organizations focused on racial equity. Among the current members are the Coralville Community Food Pantry, Immigrant Entrepreneurs Summit, LULAC Chapter 308, Iowa City Bike Library and the Center for Worker Justice.
Help with grants
Fixmer-Oraiz said one of the collective’s goals is to be a “funnel for finances.”
Established nonprofits, Sargeant said, know how to apply for grants, but smaller groups might not know how or be as familiar with navigating different applications.
“If you want to talk about racial equity, you want to talk about equity in general,” Sargeant said. “This is a way to start to actually exercise that in real life.”
Sargeant said the collective is putting together a grant application for Johnson County seeking funds to formalize the structure and form a nonprofit. Being a nonprofit also will make it easier for the community to support the work of the collective, he said.
"It's up to all of us to invest our privilege and help support those that are underserved and historically been kind of neglected in the history of this country,“ Sargeant said. ”This is a chance for us to actually bring about some real change.“
Another goal, Fixmer-Oraiz said, is to create a network of support for organizations.
“The most intangible and yet most important aspect” is giving a space for people of color to come together, Fixmer-Oraiz said.
“I think that there's a lot of excitement around the long-term plan, which is really building up nonprofits and small businesses for people of color in our communities that provides those resources, reduces barriers and creates that trust.”
Sargeant recalled moving to Iowa City about a decade ago and struggling to feel welcomed for the first six or seven years.
“Being an extrovert, it was never hard for me to meet people, but when I moved here, as a Black man in Iowa City, it just didn't feel the same,” Sargeant said.
Fixmer-Oraiz, who identifies as transgender, said sometimes there’s a feeling “that there’s nobody else out there.”
“I think that that's what we're trying to combat is that there's actually a lot of us out there,” Fixmer-Oraiz said. “I feel very passionate about it because I feel the acute pain of the inequities. That's what drives me forward.”
One of the reasons their work is important for BIPOC — Black, Indigenous, People of Color — and queer people, Fixmer-Oraiz said, is “we run up against these barriers all the time. I know that if I'm running up against them that others are running up against them, and it's just unacceptable.”
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