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'Back open for business' City encourages visitors to Indianapolis

Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett says the city is ready for visitors again and announced a $1 million marketing campaign to draw in tourists from around the state as restaurants and other businesses continue reopening.

"After a period of frustration, a period of mourning, a period of learning, we are coming back," Hogsett said during a press conference July 1. "Indianapolis is coming back."

The $1 million will come from federal COVID-19 relief funds. The city is partnering with Visit Indy for the initiative, and some hotels, restaurants and other businesses are offering up to 50% off normal rates to entice visitors.

The campaign will last through Labor Day. Go to visitindy.com/indianapolis-you-have-earned it to learn more about the campaign and special deals.

Visit Indy estimates that more than half of the normal 83,000 residents who are employed in the city's hospitality industry are currently unemployed. Hotels, which would normally be occupied at about 70% right now, are at about 7% occupancy.

"If we value things that make Indy unique ... then we must also realize that the reason those places are so special isn't because of where they are, but because of what they represent," Hogsett said.

Visit Indy President and CEO Leonard Hoops said it's especially important to get visitors who stay at hotels because they are more likely to then spend money at other businesses.

City-county council President Vop Osili noted that Black and brown residents have been hit especially hard by COVID-19 and the resulting financial struggles. He encouraged everyone to visit Black-owned businesses as the process of reopening continues.

Encouraging people to travel to Indianapolis right now comes with some risk, though, even as city leaders are quick to remind people that COVID-19 has not gone away. Some states were apparently too ambitious in their reopening and caused a surge in cases, forcing them to backtrack.

"When you see what's happening in other parts of the country, you're constantly monitoring and very wary," Hogsett said.

He said he'll continue to work with county and state health officials to make sure that doesn't happen to Indianapolis.

One day after announcing the marketing campaign, Hogsett and Marion County Public Health Department Director Dr. Virginia Caine announced Indianapolis will move into "Stage 4.5" of reopening, similar to the state-level approach.

Bars, theaters and entertainment centers can open at 50% capacity, and restaurants can be at 75% capacity. Hogsett also announced that residents will be required to wear a face covering when out in public, starting July 9.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.


'We haven't taught our own history'

"Thank you for fighting," a woman told a group of protesters young enough to be her grandchildren at a demonstration late last month. "I was out here when I was your age."

Many are calling today's protests the "second Civil Rights Movement." While communication methods such as social media and mobile phones didn't exist in the 1960s, historian and professor Paul Mullins said many of the conversations — such as the debate surrounding Confederate monuments — remain the same.

"When they were put up, the [Confederate] monuments were intended to distort history," Mullins, an anthropology professor at IUPUI, said. "They were rooted in white privilege and segregation."

Mullins said many of the monuments were first displayed roughly 50 years after the Civil War ended, "in a moment where North and South white combatants decided to make peace with each other."

Many Confederate monuments, including in Indianapolis' Garfield Park, have been taken down

in recent weeks after mounting pressure from activist groups around the country. Mullins said taking down these monuments shows "good faith" and is a way to move forward with meaningful conversations related to race relations in this country.

"There can be interesting discussions about monuments, but it's not productive until the vast majority are torn down," Mullins said. "Part of bringing people in good faith to have those discussions involves taking them down because they are material reminders of the past."

And while some — on both sides of the monument debate — view taking them down to be pointless, Mullins said it's exactly the opposite.

"Taking down the monuments is simply window dressing for addressing structural racism and privilege," Mullins said. "It's not simply meaningless. In Richmond [Virginia], Monument Avenue is a very different social space than it was just a month and a half ago. There are more conversations happening."

Several Confederate monuments have been removed from Monument Avenue in the wake of George Floyd's death in May. Virginia Gov. Levar Stoney recently announced plans to remove the remaining Confederate monuments in the upcoming months.

The issues surrounding history education go well beyond monuments, however. In many instances, there are chapters missing from American history books. While students learn about the Boston Massacre, the irony of a formerly enslaved Black man who escaped slavery — Crispus Attucks — being the first person to die for America is often overlooked. Students learn of Thomas Jefferson drafting the Declaration of Independence, but the story of Sally Hemmings — the 14-year-old girl, owned as a slave by Jefferson and who birthed at least six of his children — is often untold.

What impact, then, does that have on Americans' understanding of our own history?

David Olaleye, a Ben Davis High School graduate, remembers learning the Founding Fathers owned slaves, but was taught they were "different."

"I think that my history classes tried passing them off as being nicer owners," Olaleye, 23, said. "Saying that they tried to set them free in their wills. I remember that I knew about Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings while studying for a Black history contest that I was doing in high school, and ended up learning about a bunch of things that weren't taught in school. That definitely disillusioned me with a lot of what I learned in some history classes. ... I stopped saying the pledge of allegiance after that contest."

Olaleye recalls Black history being reduced to lessons on slavery in February, and reading about Nat Turner's rebellion, which garnered just a paragraph in his history textbook.

"As if [slavery] was the main thing to learn about Black history," Olaleye said. "Not Black Wall Street in Oklahoma, not the Haitian Revolution, not about Black inventors ... but slavery. In retrospect, it feels really repulsive."

Jessika Jones, 24, didn't learn the Founding Fathers enslaved people as a student, but said it would have changed her perspective.

"Man, that would have been a big help in shaping how I felt about things," Jones said. "They [teachers] sugar coat it and I had to basically do all of my own research."

Jones said she took it upon herself to learn more about history through independent reading, which she said opened her eyes to issues she never considered to be racist before.

"Before, I don't wanna say that I didn't care," Jones said, "I just think my learning was white washed, so I just wanted to get over it like everyone else. I've met people who have helped me in ways that school could never. ... I've had a lot of guilt being a Black person and ever thinking the way that I did but it all came down to what I was and wasn't taught."

Mullins said history classes often avoid the complexities of historical figures and events to keep things simple and keep students comfortable.

"We haven't taught our own history," Mullins said of IUPUI, whose creation displaced several predominantly Black neighborhoods. "And in that respect, we are not at all unique. ... Most people are comforted by a good versus bad, easy story. ... History isn't like that.

Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.


Masks required in Marion County

Marion County residents will be required to wear face coverings starting July 9, which is the same day the county will also move forward with its reopening plan, Mayor Joe Hogsett announced during a press conference July 2.

Masks will be required when indoors most of the time, as well as outdoors when it's not possible to socially distance.

Hogsett cited the flu pandemic of 1918, when Hoosiers were required to wear masks and saw only a .3% death rate, one of the lowest in the country, he said.

"It's a piece of cloth," Hogsett said. "It's a piece of cloth that could save your life."

Children age 2 and younger, as well as anyone with a medical condition that prevents the use of a mask, are exempt from the requirement.

The requirement applies to office settings, though Hogsett said it's not necessary to wear a mask if someone is just sitting at a desk. Masks are also required at restaurants, except for when eating and drinking.

Hogsett said he has sympathy for those who feel "overwhelmed" by the pandemic and resulting public health measures.

"I'll be honest," he said, "I don't have sympathy for those who may argue in the coming days that this simple scientific argument is an unjust burden."

There could be fines for people or businesses that don't comply, said Dr. Virginia Caine, director of the county health department.

Following Gov. Eric Holcomb's announcement July 1, Marion County also began "Stage 4.5" of reopening.

Bars, theaters and entertainment venues will remain open at 50% capacity. Restaurants will remain at 75% capacity, and Hogsett said while most outdoor activities are safe, residents must continue to practice "extreme caution" while indoors.

Road closures at Broad Ripple Avenue, Georgia Street and Massachusetts Avenue will remain in place until at least July 19 to help local businesses stay open and allow for social distancing.

Unlike the lift on restrictions statewide, however, assisted living centers and nursing homes will remain closed to visitors, and overnight camps are still closed.

Events, conventions, fairs and sporting events are permitted — many with decreased capacity, according to Hogsett — but any organization hosting an event expected to have a crowd of more than 1,000 people must submit a public health event plan and get approval from the Marion County Public Health Department.

Marion County currently has 11,760 COVID-19 cases and 689 deaths.

Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick. Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.