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Jim Merritt talks 'Black agenda'

After the first mayoral debate Aug. 29, candidate Jim Merritt told reporters he would develop a Black agenda for his campaign.

It's noteworthy when any candidate says he or she will have a Black agenda, especially when it comes from a Republican such as Merritt, who has represented District 31 in the Indiana Senate since 1991.

Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett, who talked with media first after the debate, was asked the same question and said his proposals would already help African Americans in Indianapolis.

Now, a month and a half later, both candidates will get a chance to elaborate on what their administrations would do for African Americans.

The African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI), along with the Recorder and Radio One, will host a mayoral debate at 6 p.m. Oct. 21 at Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St.

In preparation for the debate, the Recorder, along with AACI and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, will host "Establishing a Black Agenda" at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, 2624 E. 25th St. This is where community members will be able to give their input on what should be included in a Black agenda.

"It's important for voters to have a clear understanding of where the candidates stand in regards to a Black agenda," said Rev. Antonio Alexander, communications and economics chairman for Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, which is part of AACI.

Alexander said it's a chance for Hogsett to "clarify his comments" from after the debate when he said he didn't have a specific Black agenda.

Former city-county council member Lonnell "King Ro" Conley said he can't remember a time in local politics where there was this much momentum behind a Black agenda and thinks this is an opportunity for more accountability from politicians. "The time has come to kind of hold them closer to their word," he said.

Merritt offered a preview of some of the topics that are likely to come up at the Black agenda forum and debate. He detailed his Black agenda Oct. 15 at Central Library in a room full of mostly media and AACI members.

The discussion centered around three so-called "deserts" in Indianapolis: education, public safety and

economics.

Merritt's Black agenda includes creating the Indianapolis Commission on the Social Status of African American Males and requiring companies to hire locally from low-income areas in order to get tax incentives.

On public safety, Merritt became animated when talking about how 117 of the 159 homicide victims in Indianapolis last year were African American. "This is sad, and it also makes me mad. It's overwhelming that if you're murdered in Marion Country, more than likely you're African American. This has to stop," he said, raising his voice until he was practically yelling at the end.

Merritt said his administration would have a community review of the Citizens Police Complaint Office's process and improve implicit bias and cultural competency training for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department officers.

Merritt's address came in response to a presentation from the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, and Hogsett will get the same opportunity at noon Oct. 21 at Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.

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

ESTABLISHING A BLACK AGENDA

This is the community's chance to weigh in on what mayoral candidates should include in a Black agenda.

When: 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18

Where: Galilee Missionary Baptist Church, 2624 E. 25th St.

INDY BLACK AGENDAS COMMUNITY FORUM

When: 10 a.m. Oct. 19

Where: Julia Carson Government Center, 300 E. Fall Creek Parkway. North Drive, 2nd floor

COMMUNITY FORUM AND HOGSETT RESPONSE

When: Noon Oct. 21

Where: Central Library, 40 E. St. Clair St.

MAYORAL DEBATE

Republican candidate Jim Merritt and Democratic incumbent Joe Hogsett will take part in a debate that centers around issues affecting African Americans in Indianapolis.

When: 6 p.m. Oct. 21

Where: Arsenal Technical High School, 1500 E. Michigan St.

"It's overwhelming that if you're murdered in Marion Country, more than likely you're African American."


Reset Center tries changing the perception of 42nd and Post

Looking north on Post Road at the intersection of 42nd Street, there was an unfamiliar sight peeking out above the trees. It was the zipper, that carnival ride where passengers hang on for dear life inside a cage as they get whipped around in a rotating oval.

It was the tallest ride at a carnival organized by the Reset Center, a new community center and church. Those who attended said they've never seen anything like a carnival in that area. "I've been over here for a minute, and I haven't seen anything like this," said Byron Webster, 35, who was at the carnival with his 12-year-old son. "... You got kids running out here and everything."

The area around 42nd Street and Post Road has a reputation that doesn't include carnivals, but that's the point. It's something for people to look forward to and enjoy.

The carnival was open Oct. 10-13. Napoleon Isabell was there every day with his 5-year-old son, even when it was cold and spitting rain Friday evening. "It's awesome," he said. "You don't have to go all over the city trying to find one. It's right here. I live directly across the street, so I don't have to drive east or west or north. I can walk."

Isabell grew up in Chicago and said he had it worse there than in Indianapolis, but he understands people see the place where he lives as run down and plagued with violence.

"It's a rough neighborhood," he said. "You talk to anybody outside, it's a rough neighborhood."

That's what Howard Harding, pastor and executive director of the Reset Center, is trying to change. Harding said he grew up in a similar neighborhood in Detroit and has envisioned starting a community center since he was a kid.

"When you think 42nd and Post, you don't think carnivals," Harding said. "You don't think fun rides, and you don't think kids running around having a good time. I think until someone comes in and just truly shows the community that they care about them for being people and give them some of the resources that they need, we're not going to change it."

Harding, who's been a pastor since 2011, had an old location for his church closer to downtown. The church purchased the building for the Reset Center, 4330 N. Post Road, in 2017, but renovations were halted for about a year after a follow-up measurement of the building found it was 3,000 square feet less than originally thought. The bank took back a portion of the loan, and Harding had to fundraise for the remainder.

The Reset Center opened in early July and has been much more of a community center than a church.

The organization offers Spanish classes for English speakers and English classes for Spanish speakers. There's group and individual counseling with a psychologist on staff. Taco Tuesday brings in as many as 500 people each week, Harding said, and there are separate mentoring programs for boys and girls.

The Reset Center doesn't have a website yet, but more information can be found at cityoflawrence.org and on the organization's Facebook page. The only religious component so far is a Bible study class, and there won't be Sunday service until next year. Harding said he talked to community members and learned they didn't just want another church.

"Instead of me just trying to throw a praise team on the stage or a band on the stage, we started putting some of these programs around what the people said they needed," he said.

The logo for the Reset Center has a backward "R." The idea: People who go to the Reset Center may not be walking down the best path of life, but they can turn that "R" around and reset it.

"Don't count the 42nd and Post Road area out," Harding said. "Because they're people. They just need someone to care about them, and that's what we're doing."

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


IPS 'State of the District'

Indianapolis Public Schools Superintendent Aleesia Johnson delivered the first "State of the District" speech Oct. 9 at Shortridge High School, where she highlighted increased student enrollment and reiterated her priorities that include racial equity and being transparent with families.

Johnson, the first African American woman to lead the state's largest school district, made racial equity one of the most prominent themes when she was the interim superintendent earlier this year and vying for the permanent job.

About 44% of IPS students in the 2018-19 school year were Black, according to data from the Indiana Department of Education. In numerous achievement standards, including recently released ILEARN scores, Black students lag behind their white and Asian peers.

In the 2015-16 school year, Black students in IPS made up well over half of in-school suspensions, out-of-school suspensions and expulsions, despite enrollment being less than 50%, according to data from the U.S. Department of Education Office for Civil Rights.

"IPS is not unique in this regard," Johnson told the audience. "It holds true for most districts across our state and country, and it should not be so. This is why having a racial equity mindset is a non-negotiable for our district."

Johnson recognized Dr. Patricia Payne, who leads the district's Racial Equity Initiative, and Francis W. Parker Montessori School 56 principal Christine Rembert, who couldn't attend the event because

she was at a racial equity conference. After a steady decline in enrollment for at least the last 15 years, IPS is projecting a second straight year of increased enrollment, up to more than 32,000 this year. The state's next largest district, Fort Wayne Community Schools, had an enrollment of 29,404 last year, according to the state.

"We will never consent to being viewed as a second-class school district," Johnson said. "We will never consent to our students being defined as less than the brilliant, resilient and capable young people that they are. We are inferior to no one."

Those 32,000 students are spread out across multiple school models. IPS operates 48 schools and is partnered with 21 Innovation Network Schools, which have autonomy but are still considered part of IPS in exchange for the district getting to count their enrollment and academic data.

About 25% of IPS students attended innovation schools at the start of this school year.

Once IPS began approving partnerships with innovation schools in 2015, district parents became frustrated with what they felt was a lack of transparency and communication about how the district was changing. It was a major theme in the 2018 general election, when two critics of the district's direction were elected to the school board.

Johnson emphasized this year's theme for the district — "Stronger Together" — throughout her speech and highlighted the newly branded Office of Communications and Engagement. The school board also approved the creation of the Family and Community Engagement team, part of the Office of Communications and Engagement, which will work with families and local organizations.

"We have renewed and re-energized our drive to engage families, team members and the community in authentic and collaborative partnerships to improve student outcomes," Johnson said.

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