We know from experience that talking about racism doesn’t make it go away. But talk can enlighten us. Talk backed by action is even more powerful. It can erode the racially rooted economic disparities that harm families and neighborhoods and limit the city’s growth.
That’s why Central Indiana Community Foundation’s bold new focus on fighting racism in Indianapolis is so important.
CICF, which controls more than $800 million in charitable assets, is serious enough about confronting racism that it recently altered its mission statement to drive the point home. Its previous mission, a general nod to leadership and service, was changed to this: To mobilize people, ideas and investment to make this a community where every individual has equitable opportunity to reach their full potential—no matter their place, race or identity.
The 41-employee organization is starting by looking in the mirror—putting its staff through special training, seeking out minority vendors and making sure its internal culture focuses on equity and anti-racism. And it’s flipping its funding guidelines. Instead of making 70 percent of its gifts to place-making initiatives and 30 percent to neighborhoods in need, distressed neighborhoods will get the bigger share.
The focus on racism and its role as an economic barrier follows compelling research from the Brookings Institution and Stanford University showing that a person’s race has a profound impact on whether he or she has access to opportunity.
CICF’s new mission, the fine details of which won’t be announced until the first quarter of next year, complements efforts by city government, the Indy Chamber and other organizations to build awareness of and narrow the widening economic divide that threatens the city’s economic future.
The divide is stark. While the city’s tech sector boomed, median income fell—in some cases dramatically—in a third of Indianapolis ZIP codes from 2000 to 2016. In that period, the gap between the ZIP codes with the biggest gains and steepest drops spanned 152 percentage points.
The growing gap detracts from all economic development initiatives launched by the public, private and philanthropic sectors. For example, CICF’s long-held dedication to place-making—creating thriving urban places that attract and retain young professionals—can go only so far if wide swaths of the city are in economic crisis.
As Drew Klacik of the Indiana University Public Policy Center told IBJ reporter Hayleigh Colombo in her continuing series on poverty, “One City, Worlds Apart,” inequality is ultimately everyone’s problem.
“The most left-leaning do-gooder and the most right-leaning capitalist both can see a reason to address income inequality and reduce opportunity disparity,” Klacik said. “If you don’t have enough thriving people, it’s hard to have a thriving company and thriving economy.”
Thanks to CICF, the role racism plays in the disparity is something we expect to hear a lot more about in the years to come. We encourage skeptics to listen. And we applaud CICF for shining a bright light on an uncomfortable subject. If the effort succeeds, lives will be changed and we’ll all notice the difference.•
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