Community

Johnson County's inclusion specialist hopes to empower others

North Liberty resident Keshia Fields committed to serving community

Keshia Fields, inclusion and equity specialist for Johnson County, is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Johnson Count
Keshia Fields, inclusion and equity specialist for Johnson County, is photographed Tuesday, Feb. 2, at the Johnson County Administration Building in Iowa City. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

IOWA CITY — There’s a common undercurrent in Keshia Fields’ various professional and volunteer roles in Johnson County.

“I have a passion for people,” the 35-year-old North Liberty resident said. “I stretch myself really thin, but I’m a people person and I like to be of service to people.”

That passion has manifested itself in many ways. Fields serves on North Liberty’s communications commission; volunteers with North Liberty Blues & BBQ, Grow: Johnson County and the Coralville Community Food Pantry; and even launched a Meetup social group for local kayaking enthusiasts after she got into it.

Fields also serves as Johnson County’s inclusion and equity specialist, a position created just a year ago. Fields said she has spent the last year navigating that role that is new both to her and the county, while working to ensure Johnson County is an inclusive place to live and work.

“I’m here to make this a welcoming place and make sure everyone that lives, works and comes here feels like they belong,” Fields said. “It’s internally focused, but that internal stuff will leak out into county.”

In her first year as inclusion and equity specialist, Fields has established diversity, equity and inclusion ambassadors who serve as a welcoming committee to new employees. She’s created new learning and development opportunities for county employees focused on cultural competency and making sure Johnson County is a welcoming workplace for people from all walks of life. Fields also is working to launch an apprentice program aimed at giving those from a diverse background an opportunity to get experience working in a government setting.

“This is literally on-the-job learning and developing skills — while also being paid — that will help you gain employment in the future,” she said.

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Fields said her focus is on making her efforts sustainable and earning “small wins,” while recognizing substantial change won’t happen overnight. Creating a more inclusive and welcoming workplace will in turn help to attract more diverse employees, she said.

In her role on North Liberty’s advisory commission, Fields reviews and recommends policies, ordinances and budgets related to the city’s communications, as well as community relations. While Fields said she doesn’t see herself as speaking for the entire Black community, she wanted to make sure voices like hers are heard.

“I definitely enjoy being a part of the communications advisory board because I feel like I’m a voice of the unheard,” she said.

Due to her work in the county and the community, Fields was among those recognized in Think Iowa City’s BRAVO awards in January. The awards recognize those who are making the county a better place to live, work and visit, according to Think Iowa City.

“These people inspire the rest of us to work harder,” Think Iowa City President Josh Schamberger said. “They make this area unlike any other place.”

Fields said she was humbled by the recognition and hopes to empower others to do more in the community.

“I’m just a vessel,” she said. “I hope that people see me — especially people of color — and they see they can be in the roles I’m in, as well. They can be in leadership roles. Representation matters ... If I can be a vessel and encourage our future generations, so be it.”

Comments: (319) 339-3155; lee.hermiston@thegazette.com

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