EDITORIAL: Black community’s conversations are key to closing economic gaps

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One of the most interesting issues to emerge from this year’s Indianapolis mayoral race is the question of whether the city—and therefore the candidates running to lead it—should have a black agenda.

It’s an idea that bubbled up from within the city’s black community, which makes up 28% of the population. A coalition of faith-based groups, black elected officials and civic leaders have been working together to try to define the problems impacting African Americans, develop a list of priorities and offer solutions for the community.

The African American Coalition of Indianapolis met earlier this fall with incumbent Mayor Joe Hogsett, a Democrat, and his Republican challenger, Sen. Jim Merritt, to go over the data and priorities and talk about ideas.

Merritt was quickly on board with crafting a black agenda. Hogsett was not, saying that he had an agenda that was meant to improve the lives of all residents.

The candidates are meeting again with the group to discuss their plans for specific issues. And they are set to debate at an event hosted by the coalition, Radio One and The Indianapolis Recorder on Oct. 21 at Arsenal Technical High School.

We are thrilled with the conversations. IBJ will leave the question of whether the candidates should detail a specific agenda for the African American community to black leaders and black voters. But there’s no doubt that the candidates should be addressing how to close the poverty and educational gaps between black and white residents.

As IBJ’s Lindsey Erdody reported on Oct. 4, 28% of black Indianapolis residents live in poverty, compared with just 13% of white residents. The median income for black households is $32,000, compared with nearly $54,000 for white households.

Far more blacks than whites are unemployed in Indianapolis, far fewer have bachelor’s degrees and their home ownership rate is much lower.

“The numbers are abysmal,” Tony Alexander, assistant pastor at Purpose of Life Ministries, told IBJ. “For us to be a great city, that has to be addressed.”

How to do so is complicated. And as Erdody reported, there’s not unanimity within the black community about the solutions—or even who should be developing them. And of course there isn’t. The black community is not monolithic. There is no one voice representing black residents. Nor should there be.

But the conversations are incredibly important—not just the conversations with the white candidates running for mayor but within the African American community as well. It’s precisely because the city’s black community is so diverse that discussing the issues is so important.

There are good ideas and differing perspectives from the Urban League, the NAACP, the Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis, the Indianapolis Black Chamber of Commerce, and so many other groups. And the coalition has asked black residents to post on social media with the hashtag #IndyBlackAgendas about the issues important to them.

The result is a community conversation that must continue long after the election. After all, the goal is not just to have a candidate commit to action but to have a mayor make good on it once in office.•


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