Civil Human Rights Director Steps Down, Contributes Impressive Legacy

Joshua V. BarrDES MOINES, IOWA – Friday, July 9, 2021 – Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Director Joshua V. Barr has announced that he is stepping down from his position with the City to pursue other interests. In his six years as director, Barr created unique opportunities and established new standards for Des Moines in the areas of equity, inclusion and fairness.

“Des Moines owes a great debt of gratitude to Joshua for the enormous contributions he made to our community and its residents,” said Mayor Frank Cownie. “His tireless efforts and unwavering dedication led to new perspectives and a renewed belief in each other – and for that, we are now a better city.”

Barr’s preeminent accomplishment is the implementation of Bridging the Gap, an initiative that works to achieve long-term community change that is systemic, sustainable, equitable and inclusive through policy. It focuses on the areas of community and government relations, refugee and immigrant rights and LGBTQ+ rights. 

In 2020, Barr’s documentary, Breaking Bread, Building Bridges earned the Governor’s Emmy® Award from the Upper Midwest Chapter of the National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences. Breaking Bread, Building Bridges was a project conceived and directed by Barr to determine what happens when people are asked to spend time with other members of our community that have very different backgrounds and life experiences.    

Barr also significantly enhanced the Annual Civil and Human Rights Symposium, a tradition in Des Moines since 1986, by focusing the symposium on specific themes, increasing public attendance by 250% attracting attendees from across Iowa as well as Minnesota, Nebraska, and Missouri.

“I would like to personally thank Joshua for his dedicated service to our city. Having served on the Civil and Human Rights Commission for most of his tenure, I can speak first-hand to how much time and effort he has put in to making Des Moines a more equitable place for all residents,” said Kam Middlebrooks chair of the Civil and Human Rights Commission. “From the Bridging the Gap initiative to the Breaking Bread documentary, he has truly been a creative agent of change for Des Moines.”

Civil rights investigations under Barr’s tenure also increased by over 168% and probable cause discrimination findings increased by 500%. Two months ago, the Des Moines Civil and Human Rights Commission won a $50,000 court case against a landlord who engaged in housing discrimination by discouraging potential tenants from renting housing units due to their religion or national origin.

“I am grateful to have had this opportunity to serve,” Barr said. “A special thank you to everyone who has supported the work we have done here in the city. We could not have achieved what we achieved without community support. I look forward to taking some time to spend with my nieces and nephews and catching up on some book reading but my efforts in this work will never stop.”

City Manager Scott Sanders says Barr’s direction and leadership will be greatly missed but that Des Moines remains committed to advance justice, promote equality and ensure the protection of human rights for all people in Des Moines through education, advocacy, community engagement and investigations of civil rights violations.

“Joshua has assisted the city in identifying actionable strategies to improve our community relations with often disadvantaged groups.  With Joshua’s guidance, we have made huge strides in understanding our own implicit biases and unfortunately how similar perspectives in the past shaped broken policies with disparate impacts,” Sanders said. “Joshua demonstrated the value in pausing to view decisions through an equity lens and set in motion a framework for evaluating the impacts of our decisions.  We still have a distance to travel on this journey, but the appropriate path forward is far better understood now thanks to Joshua’s efforts.”

Sanders says an interim director will be put in place while a national search for a new Civil and Human Rights director is conducted. Barr concludes his work with the City on July 23.

Al Setka
Chief Communications Officer, City Manager’s Office 
(515) 283-4057

About the City of Des Moines
The City of Des Moines: Iowa’s capital city and local government servicing more than 217,000 residents, 52 neighborhoods, over 4,000 acres of parkland and 81 miles of trails. The City of Des Moines stands to be a financially strong city with exceptional city services, fostering an involved community in a customer friendly atmosphere. Visit DSM.cityFacebook and Twitter for more information.