Mount Mercy University duo host panel to honor Black History Month

Twelve African-American community leaders will gather at Mount Mercy University on Thursday, Feb. 27, from 5:30-7 p.m. for a professional panel presentation titled “The Black and White of Being a Black Professional in Eastern Iowa.”

The presentation, which will be held in the Flaherty Community Room in Basile Hall on Mount Mercy’s campus, is a project created by Dr. April Dirks-Bihun, assistant professor of social work, and Nathan Stern, senior social work major. The duo worked together as part of the university’s Pathways to Scholarship, a program teaming students with professors in scholastic research.

Dr. Dirks-Bihun and Stern interviewed 12 professionals over the course of four weeks for a qualitative research study aimed to examine the experience of black professionals living and working in the Cedar Rapids area. The results of the study will be unveiled at the presentation and a panel discussion will follow.

Panelists will include Chad Simmons, executive director of Diversity Focus; Karl Cassell, president and CEO of Horizons, A Family Service Alliance and founder and director of Red-I; LaSheila Yates, housing programs manager for City of Cedar Rapids; and Carlos Nelson, assistant men’s basketball coach for Mount Mercy University. Other local professionals will include engineers, community advocates, social workers, and business owners.

“Bringing these leaders together in one room could initiate stimulating discussion on how we as a community can press forward and address the issues and concerns and celebrate the positivity of the community,” Stern said. “Having creative discussion around topics of this nature lays the foundation for innovative community projects and action programs to be created.”

“As researchers, we hope that the results of our study will benefit the community by creating a powerful conversation piece allowing for both celebration and enlightened discussion around areas of change,” explained Dr. Dirks-Bihun.

The presentation is held in February to honor Black History Month and is a part of Mount Mercy’s David Doerge Race and Gender Speaker Series.

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