Black Dubuque city leader Anderson Sainci works to improve Dubuquers' lives using data, conversations

Black Iowa News is profiling Black community leaders and residents across the state about the triumphs and challenges present in their communities.

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Black Iowa News is interviewing Black Iowans across the state about their communities: the good, the bad, the real. I’ll pose similar questions to Black residents and leaders to uncover the triumphs and challenges of life in a state where Blacks comprise 4% of the state's population. This is the second installment of an ongoing interview series. Know someone who would make for a great interview? Email me at dana@blackiowanews.com.

Anderson Sainci

Anderson Sainci, director of the city of Dubuque's Prosperity and Neighborhood Support. Photo courtesy of Sainci.

Age: 34

Birthplace: Naples, Florida.

Family: Wife Kiesha, 4 children

Occupation: City of Dubuque's Director of Shared Prosperity and Neighborhood Support. Sainci has been a city employee for 10 years.

Education: M.A. in communication in 2012, B.A. in business administration in 2010, both from the University of Dubuque.

Elected positions: Sainci is the first Black man elected to the Dubuque Community School Board. He was reelected in November to a second 4-year term.

Community service: Board member Dubuque Black Men Coalition.

Sainci followed his older brother to Iowa in 2006 to attend the University of Dubuque.

“My mom at that time said, ‘Hey, you need to get out of Florida,’” he said “So we didn’t do a tour like many families do where you walk around the campus and figure out your major. It was literally 'get on that plane, get out there and figure it out,'" he said.

His mother, who emigrated from Haiti, wasn't making a statement about their hometown, he said.

“I think it was just a mother who was trying to say there’s more to life than where you’re at," said Sainci, who grew up speaking Creole.

A wrestler, he earned two degrees and has spent 10 years working for the city, which is home to 4,126 Blacks, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Being a "servant leader" is at the core of his community service and work in Dubuque.

"I want the spotlight to be on our community," he said.

His department works with community partners to improve access to the services community members need.

"Dubuque is no different than (other cities)," he said. "We have a variety of people that have been left out — including Black and Brown — which we need to center the focus on those who are most impacted."

Black Iowa News: Tell me about your position as the city of Dubuque's director of shared prosperity and neighborhood support.

"To focus on addressing, preventing and reducing poverty throughout our community. Our mayor and council had a consultant to come in two years ago to study poverty in our community, not only to pull data, but to do a lot of community engagement to understand people's experience because there was a segment of our community that was experiencing prosperity, but the data was showing that there was a growing group of community members that were not experiencing that. When we broke the data out by demographics, it was alarming what community members were experiencing.

And so, (we're) pulling the data, talking to a lot of people, asking them what are the specific things that are impacting them.

It's probably things you've heard before: Transportation is an issue, low wages, childcare, people call it out, racism, and a few other things.

My responsibility is to look at data number one, and disaggregate that data related to some key performance indicators. We're still trying to identify and begin to figure out from a system level, what policies or procedures do we need to change either internally, or working with our partners, to improve outcomes for people. We're trying to figure out how are we all collaborating effectively to make sure that everyone is benefiting — especially those who have been traditionally left out. We're trying to figure out, do we need to improve policies and practices, and we're trying to make sure that those who are most impacted are part of the conversations.

We will be creating an advisory group of people who are predominantly experiencing poverty. There are many reports that show here's what a livable wage should be. Let's just say it's 20 bucks, does that make sense for you? Is that reality? We can go to the businesses and say: Here's what the data is, and here's what we need you guys to do. It doesn't mean they're going to do it, but I think the more that we bring data to the people and share those real stories, hopefully people will do the right things."

Black Iowa News: Is this something that hasn’t been done before — talking to the people affected — then taking that to the businesses that could make a difference?

“We've had various initiatives within our community to talk about things like childcare, race, poverty. This is just another layer. And so, I say this loosely, the infrastructure is there but having someone own it and coordinating it and making sure that it's center in the conversation and . . . holistically looking at poverty as a whole and the eight categories that we're looking at it, it's constantly pulling the layers back to make sure everyone's on the same page."

Black Iowa News: What are the eight categories?

“The eight determinants of poverty from our study: economic insecurity, transportation, education and skills training, brain health and food insecurity, racism, affordable and safe housing and neighborhoods, childcare and generational and situational poverty."

Dubuque: (Population: 99,266)

88% white↓

4.2% Black↑ (4,126)

1% Asian↑

3% Latino↑

.1% American Indian/Alaska Native ↓

.8 Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander↑

Source: 2010/2020 U. S. Census Bureau

Black Iowa News: What else does Dubuque need to grow, to improve, to be better for Dubuquers, in addition to what you’re doing?

“I think the number one thing, while in no particular order, we want to make sure that we have people. I think many communities are struggling to find people to help build the community. We want to continue to find ways to not only retain the people we have, but also invite other people to come in to build community and whatever that may mean, whether it’s starting a business or if it's working, having the right amenities to support that true diversity. We want that in this community. But figuring out how to truly make sure that the people come — not just a number — but they're truly enjoying the quality of life. And that's something that for us, we got to continue to figure out how we make that a reality for people."

Black Iowa News: What does your data say about the lives of Black Dubuquers in particular?

“Oh, it's not good. It's not good. They're not experiencing prosperity. The poverty rate is high compared to whites. Homeownership is growing in our community, but there's still a gap between Blacks and whites. And then we just talked to community members and not everyone is experiencing the quality of life that they probably would want. And so how do we improve that? How do we include them? Because those who are closest to problems are closest to the solution. So it's an ongoing opportunity for me to figure out how to make sure people are in spaces where they want to be.”

Black Iowa News: What does it mean to you to be a member of the Black Men Coalition?

The Dubuque Black Men Coalition last February kicked off its mentoring program for high schoolers after a year being "unable to connect with students due to the pandemic." Photo courtesy of Sainci.

"I've been with the Black Men Coalition since I've been with the city so almost 10 years. The original intent of the coalition was to be a support system for Black men who are professionals moving to the Dubuque area, and they just didn't have that network or support. We started mentoring in the high schools. We just began to add various programs where we would take students on their first college visit, we would expose students to careers and training. We just started teaching students a variety of programs, how to dress for success, start your own business. We have a program called the Back to School Bash, which went viral in 2016.

It was very powerful for me to see another narrative in the community because I don't think society as a whole sees Black men building. I think maybe some see Black men destroying community, but that's not the case for us as a network. We're building our community. We're using our time, talents and treasure. A lot of us are on multiple boards as well.

I’m the first Black male elected official on the school board and the only Black or Brown elected official.

I think for a lot of people in our communities and also in other communities, they see us in a different light as men who are building up their communities. Because we have kids too, and we want our kids to be able to prosper."

Editor's note: Black Iowa News is not a newsroom — yet. I want to ensure Black communities across the state have exceptional media representation, but your support is needed. Help Black Iowa News’ mission to highlight Black perspectives, showcase the Black community and amplify the voices of Black Iowans by subscribing today. Thank you for reading. — Dana James, Founder, Black Iowa News.

Black Iowa News: What are the connections between your work at the city, in the community and your school board position?

“There's a lot of connection as we think about how do we make sure our students have opportunities to either go to a four-year or two-year institution. We have many private institutions here that need students, that want students, who are our employers who are looking for students who may not be interested in going to a four-year, and so we're making that connection.

But everything that I do, there's very direct connections with the ultimate goal for me, in my head, in my world, is to make sure we're building community and you won't know to build a community unless you're really listening to people and going back to figure out: Do I need to improve a practice or policy or is it just connecting systems — where how do we make sure the school district is connected to our college systems and being an advocate for families with either system. So either in the school district or in government, making sure that (it's) welcoming and inviting for community members to come share their authentic voice."

Black Iowa News: What do you enjoy most about living in Dubuque?

"People. I think people — that's what I enjoy the most. The challenging part is because there's a segment of community members that want to build that vision that I have of building community for people, and there's probably a small segment that is happy with how things have always been."

Black Iowa News: What do you see as your biggest accomplishment so far?

"My biggest accomplishment will always be serving people — that comes from a real place — and that comes from my faith and the call to serve. My biggest accomplishment is every single day, serving my family first and then serving my community in a genuine way. I go to sleep every night knowing I'm giving it my best every single day."

Top Banner: City of Dubuque. (Source: Getty Images)

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