Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

In 2009, then-U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder observed that the nation in many instances failed to deal with the issue of race. In Indianapolis, we have not all been cowards in this respect.

We have had the Race and Cultural Relations Leadership Network (RCRLN) maintaining a sustained conversation on race relations for about 25 years now. Their work has been mostly behind the scenes, but it has been impactful. From advocating for a more inclusive, local fair housing ordinance that included the LGBT community, to pushing back against a ban on hip hop music in the local club scene years ago, there have been hard fought victories. 

But in this still-young century, I wonder if RCRLN and the city have what it takes to truly move our city into the 21st century on race relations. 

When is the last time you’ve heard any elected official or civic leader say “Black,” “Latinx” or “Asian American” within the context of a policy discussion? It’s almost like it is impolite to mention some very sobering realities. After all, race relations often is impacted by policy decisions, or the lack thereof. 

Indiana has been in the top 10 for Black homicides almost every year that the Violence Policy Center has tracked the data. We had 103 Black male homicides, compared to 21 white male homicides, last year alone, but no one talks about the Black male homicide problem in this city. 

The Black and Latinx home ownership rates are below 34%. Black unemployment is three times the county unemployment rate, and we’ve lost a significant number of businesses that employed people in the Black community. 

But it isn’t even just about Black people. Indianapolis has a white urban poverty problem. Yes, there is a large number of poor white people in this city, and we don’t talk about it. The Latinx community also has an achievement gap on standardized tests. 

In many respects, we are colorblind and thus muted when it comes to race at the policy level. Our challenge is both our heroes and our history — decisions made in different times reflect poorly today.

UniGov captured white households fleeing a Black urban core and in doing so diluted the political power of a Black community, just at the moment other large cities where getting Black mayors. UniGov excluded the consolidation of public schools as well as open housing provisions in order to make the reform palatable to white people. 

City officials failed on school desegregation, which only began with about all of the “deliberate speed” of about 27 years after the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education decision. 

In building up our status as the amateur sports capital of the world, philanthropic institutions neglected social service programs. Highway interchanges were placed in Black neighborhoods, continuing the destruction of our communities. 

Hindsight is always 20-20. Decisions were made that got us where we are today as a city but came at the cost of people of color. Those were different times. The objective shouldn’t be to prosecute the past but rather to understand and act on its implications to move Indianapolis to its most equitable future. 

It is a tough challenge. Indianapolis ranks 220th out of 274 cities in racial inclusion. Can we handle the reality that either intentionally or unintentionally Indianapolis has produced institutions that established institutional racism and that those institutions support institutionalized racism today?

Do we have the courage to take that on? 

More of us will need to find our courage to deal with race, but there is good news. A good first step would be attending an RCRLN meeting on the first Friday of the month at the Indianapolis Urban League, usually around 8 a.m. Not every community has our infrastructure to address racial issues — we do well to support its continued development. 

What I’m hearing….

Our community mourns the loss of Byron Ratcliffe Sr., a longtime member and vice president of the Greater Indianapolis NAACP. He served as state chair of the criminal justice committee for the state NAACP, and under his watch, important legislation moved forward that would lead to the governor’s office banning questions about criminal background for new hires. He was a good and faithful solider.

Well wishes to Marion County Prosecutor Terry Curry, who is resigning to continue his fight against prostate cancer. The truth is, among Prosecutor Curry’s first acts was prosecuting IMPD officer David Bisard for reckless homicide. His office would prosecute 78 officers and advance diversion programs to divert prosecutions. Prosecutor Curry also made it a point to go after white collar criminals. He also championed hate crimes legislation. The community didn’t always agree with Prosecutor Curry on a variety of issues, but I always knew he was doing what he thought was right. We wish him all the best.

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

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