Marshawn Wolley

Marshawn Wolley

The people perish for lack of vision.

Black leaders have been digesting sobering facts about Black Indianapolis, the population of Black people who reside in Marion County and could constitute the third largest city in the state.

Black Indianapolis is dying.

From a Black infant mortality rate that is among the highest in the nation, to wide differences in life expectancy in Black neighborhoods versus white neighborhoods, to a perennially startling homicide rate — racial disparities and socioeconomic barriers are leading to physical, social and spiritual death.

Aspiration robbing statistics in declining homeownership rates, the loss of Black businesses coupled with an unemployment rate nearly three times the county rate, and escalating poverty forced Black leaders to take a hard look at our community.

This summer, members of the African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) met with both mayoral candidates. The meetings were an opportunity to share data informed concerns about issues such as community violence and police reform, affordable housing, food insecurity, education and Black business development. Supported by data and solutions our member organizations would undertake, AACI made recommendations for actions the candidates and their administration could implement if elected. A document describing the issues, data and possible solutions can be found on the Indianapolis Recorder website.

Our engagement was driven by political realities. While a mayoral administration can’t solve all of our challenges, they preside over progress or a continuing deterioration of our community; both progress or stagnation become part of their record.

The other reality is simple; we will need to execute our own Black agendas because we have no choice — we are dying but we want to not only live but thrive.

Our agendas have to be broader than politics, such as the values we believe should govern relationships between us, and how we will mentor our children and youth. How do we want to assist parents as they protect, teach and care for their children? What do we expect from parents and their children, so their neighbors and the elderly feel respected, safe and free from violence? What institutions must we build to sustain our future? These are issues we must address.

A good question from our community might well be what have Black leaders and groups been doing to address our multiple challenges? A short list would include the following:

  • Co-convened Community Conversations on police and community relations with the City-County Council resulting in the accelerated implementation of implicit bias training, the posting of IMPD general orders to increase transparency when engaging with citizens and implementation of a searchable citizen’s complaint database.
  • Launched the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis, an effort to raise an endowment and Giving Circle to harness the power of philanthropy to address Black issues and opportunities.
  • Expanded the Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League Leadership Fellows program to 20 young professionals who will learn about our city and methods for effecting change.
  • Indiana Black Expo has invested $1.9 million in infrastructure and programming for youth and focused their annual education conference on cultural competency in school discipline for students of color.
  • Black leaders served on city funding committees that provided support for emerging grassroots organizations seeking to address community violence. At present, approximately $300,000 dollars has been distributed and key introductions to major funders have been made for these groups.
  • Leveraged our relationship with Indianapolis Neighborhood Housing Partnership to raise the issue of housing barriers specific to the Black community.
  • Flanner House launched Cleo’s Bodega Grocery and Café in the state’s largest food desert.
  • Scholarships for post-secondary education, mentors and employment services have been provided by multiple groups including 100 Black Men, the Links, the Coalition of 100 Black Women, Indianapolis Urban League and African American fraternities and sororities.

But there is clearly more work to do and we need you.

On Oct. 15 the Merritt campaign will respond to information presented to them about community concerns including recommendations by Black community leaders and pastors. The Hogsett campaign will provide their response on Oct. 21.  Both events will take place at noon at the Central Library. 

On Oct. 18, the Indianapolis Recorder, the AACI and the Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance will host a forum at 6:30 p.m. at Galilee Missionary Baptist Church. The objective will be to continue the emerging conversation on Black agendas and to begin imagining a new future for Black Indianapolis.              Input is needed from individuals and groups who have their own list of community concerns and recommendations. All members of our community are invited to participate.

The AACI will hold another forum, in partnership with the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, 10 a.m. to noon Oct. 19 at the Julia M. Carson Government Center.  

At 6 p.m. Oct. 21, we will host the first mayoral debate on Black issues at Arsenal Technical High School. The doors will open at 5:30 p.m.

The community is invited to join any of these discussions about an Indianapolis Black Agenda and follow the African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) on Facebook page for event details and add your thoughts about this important conversation. The community is invited to post your own video or commentary on why a Black agenda matters. Your voice matters. Let it be heard.

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

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