Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

Black Indianapolis has been engaged in a discussion on the future of our community. We’ve been talking about a Black agenda, but the effort hasn’t been just talk. Work is being done. 

The African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) has taken the lead on the development of a policy agenda while others are leading economic and social policy efforts. There are additional conversations about community economic development led by Kephrw Institute. Grassroots organizations like the Economic Freedom Fighters have been hosting forums as well. I personally continue to appreciate the role of Black pastors groups and their leadership on a Black agenda. They keep us strong and unbossed. 

Collaboration remains key to the effort. 

The beauty of our current situation is that no one group controls the Black agenda, but we do have a level of collaboration that is ostensibly unprecedented. 

This isn’t the first time the community has worked to develop a Black agenda, and it should be noted that this collective effort builds on the success and failures of many numerous efforts large and small.

We continue to stand on the shoulders of giants.

While there’s plenty of folks who have not yet participated in the dialogue, a concerted effort has been made to engage the Black community. Certainly, more work is left to be done. 

One of the lessons learned has been to share progress with the community. 

As we continue the outreach effort, the elders in the community deemed it is appropriate to provide an update on where we are in this still-unfolding and evolving process. 

The AACI identified nearly 30 recommendations as part of a policy agenda. Some of the actions require community effort and others call for action from city leaders. In just a couple of months there has been movement on several items: 

Education

• The city is moving forward with enhanced community input in the charter school development process. Input would occur earlier in the process and applicants are being asked to justify their application using data about the community. The AACI wants to make charter schools responsive to community needs. The process outlined is a first step in that direction.  

• The city is beefing up its cultural competency evaluation efforts, including evaluating how charter schools are leveraging cultural competency as part of their operations. Cultural competency can be linked to trauma informed care, but we will need to continue to push for trauma informed care for students in mayor-sponsored charter schools. 

Affordable Housing

• The city included several Black professionals knowledgeable about finance and the government funding programs on the Community Development Block Grant committee, a group that determines where federal community development block grant dollars will go. The city-county council will likely vote on the committee recommendations in February.  

• The mayor is moving forward with an ordinance that will make it harder for landlords to evict tenants seeking fixes to properties. The ordinance will be introduced to the city-county council this month and includes $250,000 to support tenants and their legal fights with landlords. We will want to study the proposed language and consider support — but at a minimum it looks like a step in the right direction. 

Food Insecurity

• The city made a 25-year commitment to a food innovation fund, which would receive approximately $500,000 annually. 

There’s also been some pleasant surprises. 

We got a Black police chief. And the chief recently appointed a Black woman, as Major Ida Williams will provide leadership at the IMPD training academy. 

The city also got a significant grant to improve its reentry efforts. 

City-county council President Vop Osili managed to get all three branches of government in a room to discuss equity issues in city government. 

The Republicans announced a commission to look at violence — specifically the disparate violence occurring in the Black community. Democrats called for an inquiry into violence as well as broader criminal justice issues, including who is getting arrested. Notably, the Democrats missed the opportunity to say Black and inaccurately used people of color. The data doesn’t support that term. Nevertheless, when both parties fight on our terms, we win.  

Conversations with Chief Taylor and Camille Blunt, director of the Office of Minority and Women Business Development, which just released a 600-plus-page disparity study on the city’s dismal spend with Black businesses, have been promising, but we remain mindful that promising isn’t the same as progress. More formal and constructive engagement is planned. 

For an agenda that was formally presented to the community in October, we’ve seen solid progress, and the elders wanted this known.

A Black agenda must be broader than a policy agenda. 

The Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League continues its work with young professionals. 

The African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis will begin its inaugural programming year soon.  

A summit has already been planned to look at community economic development issues in March by Kephrw Institute. 

I should also note that the principles of endorsement, reconciliation and restoration have worked to resolve some conflict amongst community leaders. 

The AACI will announce future policy sessions soon. 

We’ve got a lot of work ahead but despise not humble beginnings.

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

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