Little did planners know when they began organizing the 21-Day Equity Challenge that the issue of equity and inclusion would be at the center of a national discussion.

The challenge, a joint initiative between the United Way of Central Iowa and the Greater Des Moines Partnership, runs weekdays from Oct. 5 through Nov. 2. Participants will receive an email each day with readings, videos, podcasts, local data and ways to take action. It will be followed by a virtual event, the Inclusion Summit: Rising to the Equity Challenge, on Nov. 10.

Planning for the challenge began last November, months before the coronavirus pandemic exposed gaps in equity and inclusion, and before the slaying of George Floyd by Minneapolis police sparked a national discussion on racial inequities in America.

“We first started planning this … because we had heard about a United Way in Ann Arbor, Mich., that had done this challenge in their community. That was the first we had heard about a 21-Day Equity Challenge and we were really intrigued by it,” said Elisabeth Buck, president of the United Way of Central Iowa. 

Buck said local officials spent time with the United Way in Ann Arbor, learning about the shared learning and growth that happened around those issues in their community.

“We thought this would be something that would be important to bring to our community, and we thought we could not only learn from what they did in Ann Arbor, but we could go a step further and localize it with some great information and data about some of the equity gaps we’re seeing here in Central Iowa,” Buck said.

A steering committee was created, bringing about 30 people together to develop the challenge and cater it to the Greater Des Moines community.

Then the pandemic hit, followed by the national unrest over racial equity.

“The unrest and the elevation of these important issues really made it, I guess, easier to bring everybody together around this challenge,” Buck said.

The goal is to have 10,000 individuals sign up to participate. It’s free, and people can sign up at any time, even after the challenge begins, Buck said.

So far, about 3,600 people and 300 organizations have signed up to participate in the challenge. Business Publications Corp. is the media partner for the challenge.

Topics that will be covered during the daily challenge include understanding privilege, housing and redlining, justice system inequities and others.

The Nov. 10 summit will have a morning and afternoon session, with keynote speakers, a presentation by Dr. Eddie Moore, the individual who created the concept of the challenge, presentation of Inclusion Awards, a youth panel and breakout groups on topics revolving around the issue of inequity in the community.

“We really know there is a hunger for Central Iowans to have a better understanding of these difficult conversations and topics,” Buck said. “We’re hoping that through this shared learning, folks will get closer to these larger issues that we’re facing in our country around racism and equity issues, and that we will grow as a community … as we get a better understanding and get closer to these topics.”

To sign up to participate in the 21-Day Equity Challenge and for more information, click here.