Editorial: City should diversify partnerships

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

Figuring out how to root out systemic racism can be especially hard work because, by its nature, the problem is deeply embedded in the way we as a society go about our everyday lives—in business, government, social services and even entertainment, travel and more. It’s the idea that opportunities for Black Americans—and other underrepresented groups—are squelched by the very way institutions of all kinds operate.

After all, nearly all of those institutions and systems were developed by white people—often men, and often men of means.

Opening opportunities for Black Americans and other groups means rethinking not just how we do things but why we do them the way we do. And then amending or even ripping those systems apart and rebuilding them.

It is against this backdrop that we are thinking about the Indy Black Chamber of Commerce’s call for the city to provide it with financial support. President Larry Williams told IBJ for a story and a podcast last week that the Black Chamber should receive about 15% of all the money the city sends to Indy Chamber.

That’s not as easy as cutting a check. The city doesn’t simply give the Indy Chamber money or provide it an unrestricted grant. Indy Chamber has a contract with the city to provide economic development services, which accounts for about $1 million in annual funding to the chamber.

In addition, during the pandemic, the city has poured more than $30 million—much of it federal money—into Indy Chamber in an effort to get loans and grants into the hands of small businesses devastated by the government-imposed shutdown.

Much of that funding went to Indy Chamber because it has a qualified community development loan program, which means it already was certified to provide the kinds of loans allowed by the federal CARES Act.

Some of the money didn’t require that designation. But Mayor Joe Hogsett’s deputy mayor for economic development, Angela Smith-Jones, told IBJ the city went with Indy Chamber because of its long-standing relationship with the organization.

We’re not criticizing that decision. A crisis is probably not the time to hand a young and still developing organization millions of dollars that need to be distributed quickly under strict and complicated federal guidelines.

The systemic problem is that the city did not have a relationship with the Black Chamber before this crisis occurred. It has not invested the time and energy to try to help the organization develop, which is the right thing to do and more directly important given that the city needs stronger Black businesses to help fill its minority hiring goals.

When IBJ asked Jones whether the city would be willing to work with the Black Chamber, she told podcast host Mason King to tell Williams the city would welcome a proposal to provide it with services. That is certainly a roundabout way to develop a relationship with an organization that clearly wants to be a bigger part of the process.

We’re calling on the city to do more to expand its relationship with the Black Chamber and other community organizations—and to help them grow—so it has a diverse set of options for partnerships.

Start with small projects. Work up to bigger ones. Change the system.•

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