Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

Black Indianapolis enjoyed a kind of first this week with state Sen. Jim Merritt, a mayoral candidate, responding to concerns raised by a broad spectrum of Black leaders in his announcement of “An Agenda for the African American Community of Indianapolis.”

This event occurred due to the work of pastor Wayne Moore of the Baptist Ministers Alliance and Rev. David Greene of the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis.

Before getting into Merritt’s proposal we need to pause and recognize Z. Mae Jimison, the first Black person nominated to run for mayor of Indianapolis who had an agenda that spoke to Black issues in 1995. I’m told that she did not call it a Black agenda, but she had a platform that spoke to our issues. 

Merritt’s presentation focused on education, economic inclusion and public safety but his agenda covers additional areas. And it looks like he did his homework.

Highlights that stood out at the policy level included the following:

  • The development of an Indianapolis Commission on African American Males.
  • There is clear focus on the Black male homicide problem.
  • Ending “zero tolerance” disciplinary policies in mayors sponsored charter schools.
  • A focus on trauma informed care in schools.
  • A focus on minority business startups with an emphasis on identifying capital for businesses.
  • Both increased transparency in the posting of MWBE numbers and breaking out what “minority” means within the MBE categories.
  • Tax increment finance reform that includes an emphasis on community led partner organizations.
  • Zoning reform to remove barriers to operate a business in low income neighborhoods.

Many of the other recommendations were very similar or outright adopted from the AACI Community Concerns and Recommendations and presentations presented by policy experts to the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis and Baptist Ministers Alliance.

Merritt also addressed some of lingering issues regarding his candidacy.

Merritt made it abundantly clear that he expects to be judged based on the agenda he provided to the community. He expects to own the agenda he outlined and was open to ongoing dialog with the community on how best to engage and to continue to build on what was presented.

He was able to clarify his previous comments surrounding the use of the “swarm” technique by stating that he would intend to use lawful practices.

The selection of Bill Benjamin as his choice for police chief was well received by those in attendance and I think a significant segment of the Black community.

Currently, every major office holder and appointed official making daily decisions about our criminal justice system are white males. Benjamin brings legitimate street credibility and a voting block. For Merritt, it is also a significant down payment on his efforts to show that he would strive to be a mayor that would be good for the Black community.

That Benjamin accepted Merritt’s offer will no doubt result in a significant movement of Black votes from the Democratic party to the Republican candidate.

But will it be enough to put Merritt over the top?

Merritt faced tough questions from the community, particularly about his voting record. He was able to speak to his evolution as a candidate. He says after 10 months in the community he has changed, and in a more interesting moment during his presentation, agreed to ongoing engagement with Black community leaders to help him navigate grassroots concerns.

Merritt may not have convinced everybody in the room, but he has an agenda for the Black community, which is actually more than any other candidate running in this election cycle — white or Black can say right now. Between his appointment of Bill Benjamin and his development of an actual agenda that speaks to our community’s concerns he won’t get every Black vote, but he will possibly get more than other Republicans who have run before him.

Of course, Merritt’s has made the first move and now we will see how Mayor Hogsett responds on Oct. 21. We are also interested in how other candidates on both sides of the aisle are responding to the discussion and policy ideas.   

Now of course, our community can’t just be pleased that someone finally responded to our community’s concerns in a document. A closer look at both agendas or responses will be warranted once our community has both. For now lets see what Sen. Merritt has to say. 

What I am hearing…

The next time someone asks what the Black church is doing about the challenges facing our community tell them some of our Black pastors are standing up. The Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance held a forum at 6:30 p.m. Oct. 18 at Gallilee Missionary Baptist Church and the Concerned Clergy held another forum at 10 a.m. on Oct. 19 at the Julia Carson building.

Pastors Dennell Howard and Dr. Preston Adams also hosted a Facebook Live Town Hall on Black Agendas.

Rev. Charles Harrison and Harold Bell hosted a discussion and will be hosting a follow up discussion on Black agendas. A salute to the Black clergy of Indianapolis and the community at large for talking about our challenges and our opportunities.

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