After the devastating flood of 2008 in Cedar Rapids, Karl Cassell sat in a handful of meetings to talk about the money that would be flowing into the community post-flood.
“Looking around the rooms I’m in and I’m like ‘Hmm. Nobody of color in these rooms,’” Cassell said. “The decisions being made, there’s nobody of color making those decisions or at least being consulted on how this will affect the larger community … I would say people of color as well as poor people, so not that it’s just African Americans but just people that are not in decision making capacities.”
At the time, Cassell was the director of the Civil Rights Commission. He and Lloyd Smith began talking about what they could do to “bring together the collective brain power of a group of individuals that would really like to push economic development in poor and disadvantaged and colored communities.”
That led to the formation of the Regional Economic Development Institute, an organization established by local African American business professionals in the Corridor “who saw a need to provide leadership, stability, sustainability, unity and economic development resources” among African Americans in the Corridor. Cassell, president and CEO of Horizons, A Family Service Alliance in Cedar Rapids, is also executive director of the Regional Economic Development Institute.
Since the end of 2011 when it was formed, RED-I has focused on entrepreneurship and employment skills, public policy and housing, Cassell said.
“Those were the three areas we said ‘You know what? It might be a good idea for us to figure out how we can make our imprint in those areas,’” he said.