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A Closer Look: Marvin DeJear

Senior vice president of talent development, Greater Des Moines Partnership


Marvin DeJear joined the Greater Des Moines Partnership a year ago as its new senior vice president of talent development, filling the position left open by the retirement of Mary Bontrager. He came to the Partnership after eight years as the operations manager and later director of the Evelyn K. Davis Center for Working Families, where he worked with nearly 60 other organizations and businesses to maximize services to connect income/work support, financial education and asset-building, as well as educational and workforce training opportunities. 

But if you really want to know DeJear, you should also add teacher, construction manager and cattle farmer to his titles. Growing up in Okmulgee, Okla., and later in Tulsa before returning to Okmulgee, he and his younger brother experienced the challenges of racism while navigating gang activity and violence. 

After moving to Iowa and graduating from Iowa State University, DeJear joined a construction company doing estimating while also teaching at William Penn University. He later would advance to managing construction projects, learning the job along the way, and eventually started his own company. Fast-forward to 2012, and he was contacted by a fraternity brother from ISU about a new opportunity opening up that he should apply for. DeJear spent more than eight years at the Evelyn K. Davis Center before his position at the Partnership. So where does cattle farming come into things? DeJear’s brother, after going to college, returned to farming and runs the family’s cattle operation in Oklahoma. DeJear said he returns to Oklahoma periodically to help when it’s time to give the cattle their shots or during sales.

What about the position at the Partnership appealed to you?
When I looked at [the position], I was like I could really take what I’m doing [at Evelyn K. Davis] and really have an opportunity to take it to scale and begin to have this influence and lay out what strategies I know work that have already been recognized by the state as one of the best models as far as upskilling folks. What intrigued me, too, with these 10 counties, you have urban and rural, and with my life experiences I can connect to everybody within this space in some capacity. Growing up in rural environments, but also in the city, helped me be who I am and to have that ability to basically survive … where I went. But I see there were also some disconnects here. So I saw this as an opportunity to make sure that regardless of where a young person or working age adult is, I can make sure they have access to opportunities to live the life they want. I saw the struggles here. There’s not too many differences, regardless if you’re urban or rural. You’re still dealing with a lot of the same challenges, the same struggles.

What are some of your goals with the Partnership?
I want to make sure that every resident in the counties we serve has a clear understanding of the opportunities, from careers to education, whatever they want to do to live that quality of life they desire. That that person has that option and the understanding how to get to it.

Describe your management style.
I’m all about team and collaboration. I like to empower my team. At Evelyn K. Davis I worked with folks … and built them up and gave them opportunities to grow and learn and find their own way to achieve their own goals. I feel like if you have a strong team, it makes my job easier. I can focus on thinking about the next thing instead of having to worry about the every day. The less I have to worry about the every day, we’re going to have more results and help more people.

What is the Des Moines region’s No. 1 strength? 
I think one of our greatest assets is placemaking. It’s a very strong strength for the region that we have a lot of the amenities you normally wouldn’t enjoy unless you were in a larger city, but you don’t have to deal with the things that come with a big city. We’re growing to that, but it’s definitely one of our strengths, how everyone will come together at the table and try to solve things.

What is the biggest challenge facing Des Moines?
[The state] is just now starting to understand the challenges and things that it needs to overcome to truly become a welcoming and diverse environment because it’s been traditionally such a white state for so long. It’s got a long way to go. It’s being stretched now. It’s going through some growing pains. But when for the past decade you have the No. 2 fastest-growing city for foreign-born population, you have to adapt. If your largest school district has over 125 languages being spoken in it … you have to start to adapt. 

The browning of Iowa has begun, whether you’re ready for it or not. You need to understand it, get on board with it. The way you did things the previous 25, 40, 50 years, that’s not necessarily going to work in the future. But when you say diversity, you also have to understand that emcompasses more than just race and ethnicity, and I think that shows the struggle we have to keep working on because when you say diversity to the majority of folks in this region, that’s where they instantly go. We have to get past that, but we know racial equity is … the biggest elephant in the room to help people overcome. I don’t think it’s because people are bad. It’s just that you’ve never been exposed or had any time to be around folks that you don’t know. All you know is what you’ve been taught, or what you’ve seen on TV, but you may not have had any personal interactions or experiences.

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