The Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network (RCRLN) is celebrating its 25th anniversary with events through September and into October. The RCRLN was established in 1994 at the recommendation of former Mayor Stephen Goldsmith and is part of the Greater Indianapolis Progress Committee.
The RCRLN is meant to start dialogues about race and cultural relations in and around Indianapolis. The last 25 years can be categorized into some successes and other areas where there is still work to be done.
Toby Miller, director of the RCRLN, said there will really only be two events that are supposed to be a celebration: a panel discussion on Sept. 6 and a community celebration Oct. 6 at the Kennedy King Memorial in Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Park. Everything in between, he said, is a look at what’s being done now to improve race and cultural relations.
“Racism is still there,” Miller said, “but our capacity to respond is still better. We’re still gonna have racially charged incidents, but our ability as a community to respond is infinitely better.”
For those who attend any of the events happening over the next month, Miller said he hopes they’ll have an opportunity to reflect on what’s been done and also look forward to see what still needs to be addressed.
If race and cultural relations have improved over the last quarter century, former co-chair James Garrett said it would be difficult to tell because social media has made incidents more visible. But he and other leaders attest that whatever progress has been made in Indianapolis, the RCRLN has played a role.
Garrett said the RCRLN was able to step in, for example, when an artist wanted to have a rendering of a slave breaking free from chains displayed on the Indianapolis Cultural Trail. The artist, he explained, thought this would be a liberating depiction of African Americans, but local African Americans didn’t want that. The RCRLN got in touch with the funders and artist and avoided the conflict.
The RCRLN has also expanded its vision over the years. It wasn’t until about a decade ago that the organization added the cultural element, which has allowed leaders to focus on issues such as religion and the LGBT community.
Still, progress hasn’t been at the pace they wanted from the beginning. Asked about what has changed in the last 25 years, Jan Clark, a founding co-chair, said she wishes things “had changed more.”
“The goal was to help people get comfortable with a dialogue about race and racism because that’s a very difficult thing to talk about,” she said.
That’s because, in part, the education system is failing students, according to Clark.
“The history we were taught is not the real history,” she said. “Race and racism is embedded in a lot of the institutions that are part of America. In order to undo it we have to first acknowledge it and then figure out what it is we need to change.”
Clark said that’s what she wants attendees over the next month to do: learn about the issues facing Indianapolis, acknowledge that they exist, and then do something to change it. For some, that will mean acknowledging their own privileges, whether that’s because of race, sex or wealth.
“If we’re gonna be the democracy we say we are, we’re gonna have to learn to live with one another a little better,” Clark said.
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.