Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

There is nothing like being able to do for self.

Our community faces many challenges and while our institutions do their part with the resources they receive — nevertheless our problems persist.

Whether its violence, food deserts, racial achievement gaps in education, institution building, or neighborhood development we’ve got to figure out how to do more — which means we need to address the problem of resources.  

The African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis is one vehicle to help us help ourselves.

The initiative calls for at least 100 founding members who will contribute at least $2,000 before Nov 1, but there is room for those who do not have this to give, which I will discuss shortly.

The goal is to raise $200,000 from the Black community — and the effort is well on its way to that goal. CICF has been a major supporter and will announce a significant contribution this week to the effort.

Ultimately, the money will be used to help our community move us forward.

Whether it is supporting emerging grassroots organizations, awareness campaigns, or other strategic investments, the fund is meant to put our community in a position to make decisions about how we can help ourselves — it will be the basis for forming a collective vision for our community that we can act on.  

The steering committee uses the mantra “Your Fund, Your Legacy” to highlight that our community will build this fund and our community will decide how to use it.

The effort includes an endowed fund which is meant to grow through additional donations over time and through accumulation of interests in perpetuity.

Many of these funds were developed in the 1990s and there are about 20 of these funds throughout the country today. South Bend and Columbus have had similar funds for years.

The endowed fund will sit for a period of time and grow until a 4% drawn down generates a significant grant for a worthy cause. For example, a fund with $10 million could result in $400,000 going to our community organizations or initiatives every year the fund exists.  

This is important because some of our most vaunted Black organizations must rely on corporate donations and foundations while receiving as little as 6% individual giving. At this moment we do not have Black led collective initiatives because we do not have resources to support our own efforts.

The fund will be housed at the Central Indiana Community Foundation so that we can leverage their expertise in philanthropic vehicles like endowed funds as well as the process of developing and supporting a giving circle.

As part of the effort there will also be a giving circle. These have existed in Indianapolis for some time but not until more recently has our community had one for us by us.

One of the partners in the AALFI initiative, other than CICF, is the Mays Institute on Diverse Philanthropy at the Lilly Family School of Philanthropy. The Mays Institute was founded as a legacy of the late Bill Mays.

The Indiana University Black Philanthropy Circle announced a $150,000 pledge to the Mays Institute earlier this year. This is currently the only Black giving circle I am aware of in this city, although I am aware of plans to have others in the future.

The AALFI giving circle will be an opportunity for founding contributors and future donors to take a deep dive into various issues impacting our community.

Once the group selects and understands a problem or opportunity, they will also learn about solutions and collectively make decisions about how to use funds to address the problem or opportunity.

The endowed fund is meant to position our community for the future. It’s planting a seed whose fruit we may not see.

The giving circle is meant to have more of an immediate and strategic impact — it’s doing for self today while we allow the endowed fund to grow.

It’s past time we did this.

Giving money away — especially when you want to have an impact is actually quite difficult.

Nick Williams, one of the members of the steering committee observed “The game changing possibility in this effort will be putting our community in a position to make collective decisions about the use of resources.”

Part of arriving at a collective decision for the community also means having the community represented.

Toby Miller, another member of the steering committee believes every dollar should have dignity, “Our founders need to include the depth and breadth of our diversity; everyone, regardless of age, financial status, gender, sexual orientation, religion, etc.” He went to say, “Everyone should see themselves as stakeholders in this fund.”

He believes that especially for an initiative like this, “You can’t make decisions for the community, if you don’t reflect the community.”

To that end, the steering committee has established a goal of obtaining 100 donors who reflect the diversity of our community.

We will also leverage additional resources to make sure that the founders — those who contribute this year reflect the diversity and inclusive spirit of this initiative.

The steering committee, of which I am a member, is not taking the traditional route to raise these finds. In reviewing other communities, usually a few wealthy donors pooled their resources and created a fund.

In many ways the group has decided to do this the hard way, but I suspect that the end result will be a model for a better way. For more information, to pledge or make a donation visit

What I’m hearing…

The community is reeling from the worst 24-hour period of violence the city has seen in the last 5 years.

Already this year at least 6 children have been murdered.

In April 2018, we had 9 homicides for the entire month. We are already at 8 homicides this month.

At least two schools of thought have emerged with respect to the recent violence.

Some have argued that the mayor and chief of police need to be held accountable. Citizens do not fight crime and one of the core functions of government is public safety.

A competing school of thought is that all of the police in the world couldn’t stop the kind of violence we are seeing now. Government can’t save us. We as a community have to value life and figure out how to not resolve disputes violently. We also need to deal with hopelessness in our community.  

There’s also likely room for a combination of the two major competing views where both government and the community are responsible for addressing violence in our communities.

I, for one, want to see the mayoral candidates have a robust debate on the issue of public safety.

We spend over 60% of the city-county budget on public safety and it is a core government function — there’s no escaping accountability, but it needs to be fair.

Mayor Joe Hogsett, a former U.S. Attorney, can point to some positive numbers in various categories of crime, and even important criminal justice reform efforts. He’s also committed to hiring more officers even while his administration advances policing reform. The administration is leveraging every resource including federal dollars and relationships to address the problem.

You can’t say that they Hogsett isn’t concerned about the issue or not trying to address it.

But the reality is that the mayor has also presided over multiple record years of homicides.

Sen. Jim Merritt, as the challenger, has to prove that he will keep us safe. This means providing a detailed plan for what he would do differently to make us safe. Merritt started his campaign focused on the issue of public safety and as the former Marion County GOP Chairman, consistently critiqued Hogsett’s record on homicides.

Merritt believes this is an important issue and wants to see the city safer. The question is what is the Merritt plan? What will he do different and will it work? There is also a question of trust — why should our community trust him?

As the candidates speak to our community on this issue, my expectation is that they talk about quality of life issues, racial achievement gaps in education, socioeconomic disparities, food deserts, trauma informed care and mental health issues, as well as workforce development — root causes of violence and their strategy for addressing them.

Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter School East suffered the loss of a student. I don’t know if they received the grief counselors and trauma informed care that other schools receive when these incidents happen but our community needs to wrap our arms around the children at that school.

Finally, the 41 Black high school juniors and seniors from area high schools completed their rites of passage into manhood with the support of their families and Jack & Jill of America, Indianapolis Chapter and the 100 Black Men of Indianapolis. Julian Neely earned top honors as Mr. Beautillion and will receive a $32,000 scholarship from the program.

Marshawn Wolley is a lecturer, commentator, business owner and civic entrepreneur. Contact him at

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