John R. Rooff, III

 The Cedar Valley Diversity Appreciation Team

1. Briefly describe the structure of your program.

The Cedar Valley Diversity Appreciation Team (CVDAT) is a community-based collaboration of area residents, representing all walks of life, working together to develop and implement a community plan to improve race relations, to appreciate diversity, to fight discrimination and to prevent hate crimes. We believe a broad range of community stake holders, through dialogue and deliberation, can create the kind of inclusive communities and neighborhoods that are the best possible place to live, work, do business, play and raise our families.

2. When was the program created and why?

The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights in its February 1997 monthly meeting established a Commission Education and Outreach Committee. This committee was charged with the responsibility of organizing a forum that would allow community citizens to discuss tough, highly emotional race relations and diversity issues. In April of that year, we held the first community forum at West High School. About fifty people attended this meeting and, by consensus, agreed to call this effort "The Cedar Valley Diversity Appreciation Team." While working with the Iowa Civil Rights Commission, which was promoting community diversity appreciating teams in Iowa, a local steering committee began meeting over the next several months and provided input which resulted in the above-referenced purpose statement.

3. How do you measure the program’s effectiveness?

When we look at our investment in human capital, the outcomes are measured by the level of participation by Waterloo and Cedar Valley citizens. Can we reach a wide cross section of the community? If the past twelve months are any indication, then our outlook seems very bright. All of our activities have had broadbased support by the Waterloo and Cedar Valley communities.

We have reached approximately 600 people through a variety of activities sponsored by the CVDAT and Human Rights Commission. In the short-term, well-planned forums, conferences, and other events allows us to celebrate our successes and learn techniques to improve the support and service to our diverse community. In the long term, attitudes about race can change with a commitment to participate in Community-wide Study Circles. Our theme for study circles "Searching for Common Ground" provides a constant reminder that we have more in common than we have differences. We must look for the similarities and work on those areas of disagreement.

4. How is the program financed?

The City of Waterloo Commission on Human Rights has provided the main funding for the CVDAT, along with the support from the City of Waterloo Mayor’s Office and City Council. People who attend our sponsored activities are willing to pay a reasonable registration fee. Several local service organizations, private businesses and some educational institutions have provided much needed in-kind donations. We have tracked our cost through the 1997 and 1998 calendar year. The budget below reflects our projected costs for 1999. We intend to seek our primary funding through grants and registration fees.

5. How is the community involved in the program, if at all? How has the community responded to the program?

The city of Waterloo and citizens of the Cedar Valley Community now have a forum in place which allows for community input in developing a strategy as well as encourages participation in its implementation. The beauty of CVDAT is that regardless of your position in the community, affiliation with an organization, institution or service club, you do not have to give that up to join in on this effort. Rather, the project is strengthened by the diverse expertise of talents, resources and life experiences.

The key to our continued success is dedicated funding for the project and diversity in our study groups. We actively recruit and encourage ethnic neighbors, friends, and associates to join us in this project. We all bring a richness to the dialogue, deliberation and action plan that should be celebrated. Approximately 600 people have worked together this year to reduce fear, ignorance and intolerance that hurt our people, neighborhoods and community.

The CVDAT and Human Rights Commission has co-sponsored many successful activities and projects including:

  • June 30, 1997 - Ravenwood Block Harmony Festival: The CVDAT will co-sponsor Harmony Festivals in various neighborhoods. They are designed to provide an opportunity for a neighborhood to celebrate its rich ethnic diversity, improve communication with their neighbors, and come together to solve any neighborhood problems that may exist. The festivals include food, activities, games and small group discussion.

  • February 21, 1998 - Began pilot study circles sessions—"Searching for Common Ground": Study circles are voluntary small diverse groups, usually 10 to 15 participants, who consider many perspectives, rather than advocate a particular point of view. Circle sessions do not require consensus, but rather uncover areas of agreement and common concern. The circle groups meet for five to six weeks, each session lasts for two hours and is facilitated by a well prepared discussion leader.
  • June 7, 1998 - My Waterloo Days Cultural Village Booth: This annual community celebration included an event specifically targeted to promote and acknowledge our every growing diversity for the first time. Activities included dance, art, crafts, poetry reading, ethnic dress, story telling, musical performances and fun for the whole family. The city set up an information booth to share material about the CVDAT and recruit participants for study circles.
  • June 28, 1998 - Sturgis Falls Booth: This community celebration takes place in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Cedar Falls is in the Cedar Valley area and many Cedar Falls residents attend and participate in CVDAT activities. The city set up an information booth to share material about the CVDAT and recruit participants for study circles.
  • August 14, 1998 - Bus Excursion: This activity is designed to take study circle participants on a tour of various neighborhoods. Participants have the opportunity to see areas that many have admitted they have not visited for over 15 to 20 years. The tour includes stops at the site of the Waterloo African American Museum, Bosnian Restaurant, Amish Gift Shop, African American Radio Station, The Martin Luther King, Jr. Center, a Muslim Mosque and trouble spots widely known for drug dealing. Those who take the tour come away with a different opinion and perspective of our community.
  • October 14, 1998 - Young Hearts/Young Minds Youth Conference: The Young Hearts/Young Minds Youth Conference was created to train youth with the skills they need to address bias wherever they may encounter it. Workshops have been developed to raise their awareness level of the effects of racism, intolerance, peer pressure and harassment. The youth issues/youth voices study circle materials provide a flexible tool for creating an open meaningful dialogue with adults and youth. Our workshops along with study circles gives all conference participants a chance to consider all points of view, discover common ground and develop the ideas and networks that are necessary for taking effective action.
  • November 13, 1998 - The Cedar Valley Conference on Race: In March of 1998, Mayor John Roof asked the Human Rights Commission to organize a Race Conference in Waterloo. The Human Rights Commission and CVDAT began planning the Race Conference in April 1998. The mayor wanted all who attended this conference to feel they could be part of the solution and their opinion mattered in improving the city’s race relations issues. The city wanted to make sure the central focus was on race relations and not diversity. The conference theme mirrored the study circle theme "Searching for Common Ground." The first conference format included a guest speaker, morning and afternoon concurrent workshops, video presentation, a live dramatic performance and information booths in the lobby area. Beverages were provided during the day and the lunch was accented with some fun mood music rather than a speaker. According to the food servers, they put out 300 plates and only 30 were left.
  • December 10, 1998 - The First Human Rights Awards Luncheon: This day marks the 50th anniversary of the adoption of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights Proclaimed by the General Assembly of the United Nations. The Waterloo Commission on Human Rights was looking for a way to celebrate this important event and provide a resounding concluding activity for the calendar year. The Commission decided to recognize individuals, organization, and businesses for outstanding work in support of human and civil rights in Waterloo. Awards in five categories (private citizens, service sector, private sector, educational institution, and service on the Human Rights Commission) were presented to show appreciation. Nomination forms were sent out and those received by the deadline were reviewed and selected by the Human Rights Commissioners.

6. What are the major lessons learned that would be helpful for others trying to implement a similar program?

Members of the Human Rights Commission staff have participated in twelve diversity panels over the past two years. The Commission repeatedly heard from a wide range of participants the disappointment of several failed attempts to build alliances to help resolve local issues. Many solid ideas and projects were never brought to their full potential due to hidden agendas, certain community activists benefiting from the community’s misery, and no real opportunity to truly communicate with people from different backgrounds, cultures and professions.

Once the CVDAT was organized and introduced study circles, things have begun to change dramatically. Most important are the ground rules which set the tone for respectful productive dialogue. Through multiple study circle sessions, we ultimately move to strategies for action. These suggestions are compiled into a report and presented to the mayor’s office. Those individuals, agencies or organizations which can help us carry out those strategies are then contacted and time tables for implementation are developed.

Perhaps the biggest challenge is managing the project and ensuring that participants are not ridiculed for having differing positions on hot button issues. People in leadership roles must make sure the environment encourages lively input but discourages personal verbal attach.

7. What specific advice do you have for mayors interested in replicating a program such as yours?

The mayor is central to forming a Community Diversity Appreciation Team. The effective and efficient use of the Mayor’s Office can help to quickly identify the major components of a community strategy such as educational needs, resource allocation/identification, networking with other communities and organizations, victims assistance programs and hate crime response strategies by local enforcement authorities. The mayor must empower the team as an asset which is willing to help address hot diversity issues within a local community.

To move your communities toward feeling ownership, the mayor must make sure that the team leadership is racially diverse at all levels and ensure that broadbased community input is encouraged.

For more information, please contact:

Walter Reed, Jr., Executive Director
Waterloo Commission on Human Rights
620 Mulberry Street
Waterloo, Iowa 50703
Telephone: (319)291-4441
Fax: (319) 291-4295

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