Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

The Black population in Marion County would be the third largest city in Indiana based on population—and its time we moved out of our numerous policy deserts through the thoughtful Black agendas —because there ain’t no boats in deserts.

Based on the 2018 Census, Black Indianapolis had over 238,000 people — more than Evansville’s entire population of 117,000 and just under the 267,000 people in Fort Wayne.

Of course, we are not an incorporated city, but if we were, we would be in deep trouble.

Fort Wayne had a total of 45 homicides in 2018, while Black Indianapolis had 117 murders.

Our economic base as Black Indianapolis is in decline.

In 2007, there were 1,353 Black owned firms with paid employees and by 2012 that number increased to 1,584. But by 2016, there were only 1,025 Black owned firms in the entire Indianapolis-Carmel-Anderson MSA.  

Black unemployment was nearly three times the white unemployment rate in Marion County.

Our median income has been on a consistent decline while our poverty rate is more than twice white households.

We’re losing our homes.

According to U.S. Census data, Black homeownership rates in Indianapolis from 2000 to 2010 dropped from 44.1 percent to 39.1 percent. The Black homeownership rate has since plummeted to 33.3% (2017).

We’re losing ground in education.

The prospects for Black Indianapolis would look grim given the racial achievement gap on standardized tests across Marion County. We’ve been told that to expect worse on the new ILEARN test, but on the 2017-2018 ISTEP+ exam, 70% or more of Black students tested in third and eighth grade failed one or both parts of the test in every township district in Marion County. The high school test results for Black 10th grade test takers were worse.

If you look at the percentage of people over 25 with a bachelor’s degree the racial gap is widening.

And we would be food insecure as a city as most of the food deserts, according to SAVI are in Black neighborhoods.

And while some of this information may be new to some — its not like there hasn’t been a response in the community.

Entities like the African American Coalition of Indianapolis have increased their activity on a host of issues including violence, police reform and other areas. The coordination of so many different Black organizations on issue after issue is unprecedented.

We’ve also launched the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis in an effort to leverage philanthropy to address challenges and invest in opportunities.

Even the 100-year-old Central Indiana Community Foundation changed its mission to address institutional racism. Other major nonprofits are talking about race in specific ways throughout the city.

But when both candidates for mayor where asked if they would have an agenda that would specifically address some of the challenges facing the Black community the Democrat said “no” and the Republican said “yes.”

And before Black Democrats pass out; according to some independent polling, Mayor Hogsett enjoys strong support from Black people who are likely to vote and more of these voters seemed to believe Indianapolis is on the right track.

Hogsett didn’t say he was ignoring the Black problems, nor is he being blamed for the problems. The problem is the 20th century rising tides lift all boats approach to policy. (Obama even provided a list of what he did for the Black community)

And candidly, I am suspicious of a Republican wanting to have a Black agenda when there was no outreach to the Black community when Sen. Merritt was chairman of the local GOP.

The inconvenient truth is that Black Indianapolis did not arrive at this situation by accident. Government housing policy including city ordinances restricting where Blacks could live and the destruction of our neighborhoods, employment and education segregation and indifference to Black-owned businesses by policymakers, is in part responsible for the creation of some of the challenges of Black Indianapolis.

For much of the 20th century, there were race-based policies meant to control and even diminish Black Indianapolis ranging from where we could live, who could have certain jobs and even the education of Black children.

But then we decide to go color blind when it is time to address the problems created or sanctioned by government?

Because now a rising tide lifts all boats.

By no means am I trying to argue that government is the solution to all of our problems. Nor do I think there will be only one Black agenda. I do think Black agendas should consider what our community must do for self — in part because history teaches us that we can’t rely on government.

But just stopping pernicious racial discrimination leaves the institutionalized racism and its outcomes.

So, when Black civic leaders and elected officials suggest policy concerns and offer recommendations — it might be a good idea to listen.

Especially since, ain’t no boats in deserts.

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

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