Grantees & Grantmaking | July 11, 2024

Driving Change: Inside The Directors Council’s One Economy Initiative

The release of One Economy’s 2024 Future Leaders Guide to Public Servants featured a panel with (left to right) Rep. Eddie Andrews, Rep. Ako Abdul-Samad, Polk County treasurer Mary Wells, Councilman Joseph Jones, and Des Moines assistant city manager and TDC board member Malcolm Hankins. Photo courtesy of TDC.

The One Economy initiative serves as a track that guides racial and economic justice forward.

The Directors Council (TDC) is comprised of Black leaders from various nonprofit and for-profit organizations, driven by a mission to overcome racial disparities and improve the lives of African Americans in Des Moines and Polk County, Iowa.

At a launch meeting for the One Economy: The Blueprint for Action, former TDC board chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson emphasized, “Representation matters. . . . It is important for us to understand that when voices are not heard, someone is being silenced.” The One Economy initiative calls on people and organizations to think about including Black voices at the table as policies that impact their lives are being developed.

“Representation matters. . . . It is important for us to understand that when voices are not heard, someone is being silenced.”

Teree Caldwell-Johnson
Former Board Chair, TDC

This is the strength of TDC. As a coalition of community leaders, TDC members leverage their combined expertise to launch initiatives that address unmet needs for Black residents, and its One Economy initiative serves as the guide.

Notably, One Economy works with and builds upon other TDC initiatives. From the African American Leadership Academy (AALA), designed to foster the next generation of African American leaders, to the Financial Empowerment Center, expanding access to financial resources for people who’ve faced barriers, One Economy is working to fill the economic gaps harming Black communities.

Racial wealth disparities are evident across almost every measure of well-being.

One Economy cites some alarming disparities to demonstrate the kind of barriers Black communities in the region are up against. For example, Black residents only represent 7 percent of Polk County, but there’s a significant disparity in financial well-being between white and Black households. In Des Moines, 51.4 percent of Black households are considered asset poor, compared to 23.9 percent of white households.1

Des Moines is regularly ranked as a top city for business and careers. However, Black-owned small businesses total 6,141 in the state, compared to 251,145 white-owned businesses.2 Multiple other disparities abound in education, employment, health, housing, and financial inclusion.

Participants at TDC 20th anniversary celebration

TDC executive director Jerrica Marshall (center) is joined by AALA alumni chair Lindsey Lovelace (left) and One Economy health strategic implementation team chair Jacquie Easley McGhee (right) at TDC’s 20th anniversary celebration. Photo courtesy of TDC.

The One Economy initiative is heading off disparities through collaborative action on multiple fronts.

The One Economy initiative emerged as a response to these disparities. Using The Blueprint for Action, it’s brought together Black leaders to rapidly become key players who provide community-led solutions for central Iowa.

One recent success has seen United Way of Central Iowa take up One Economy’s recommendation to adjust funding criteria to include efforts to change systems in ways that better serve Black communities. One Economy has also spurred interest from funders like Nationwide Foundation and Principal Foundation in systems change approaches.

Through the AALA, Black people from diverse sectors and educational backgrounds—from GEDs to PhDs—work together on service projects aligned with One Economy’s goals. AALA has yearly service projects that focus on one of five focus areas: education, employment, financial inclusion, health, or housing. The 2023 AALA cohort’s service project was on Black mental well-being, and the 2022 cohort established the inaugural annual Welcome Week for new residents and immigrants to the community.

TDC founding member Vernon Johnson

Founding member Vernon Johnson shared a few words as he and late board chair Teree Caldwell-Johnson were honored at TDC’s 20th anniversary celebration. Photo courtesy of TDC.

With the development of the One Economy Financial Development Corp (OEFDC), Black and low-income entrepreneurs have easier access to financial coaching and loan opportunities for growing their small businesses.

These are just some of the ways Black community leaders, policymakers, and financial institutions are building and sharing in power through One Economy.

Change is in progress.

One Economy informs our efforts to fund justice in the communities we serve. It’s community led and accountable, it changes systems and builds self-determination and collective power, and it shows what justice looks like for Black communities in Des Moines and Polk County. We’re excited about the future of its work, too.

In an interview with Business Record, Jerrica Marshall, TDC’s executive director, stated that one of her top priorities is to create an updated version of the One Economy report. “This revised report is pivotal as it establishes a baseline for understanding racial inequity in Polk County,” says Marshall. “It will empower the Directors Council to formulate targeted policy goals aimed at enhancing our community’s advancement.”

Honoring Teree Caldwell-Johnson

In March, Teree Caldwell-Johnson passed, leaving a legacy as an inspiring trailblazer.

In addition to serving on the TDC board and as a champion for One Economy, Teree was also active in many other charitable and nonprofit institutions. These included her work as president and CEO of Oakridge Neighborhood, as a member of the Des Moines School Board, and as a board member for Community Foundation of Greater Des Moines, among other board and leadership roles.

Teree’s impact rippled across sectors and communities. She is remembered for her resolution, positivity, and grace, and she stood as a strong Black leader and a tireless advocate for communities most in need.

Thank you, Teree, for your remarkable life and work.

1. Source: US Census, 2020 / One Economy, 2020
2. Source: US Small Business Administration, 2022

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