EDITORIAL: Endowment’s $100M gift is hedge against status quo

Keywords Editorials / Opinion

As millions of Americans took to the streets to protest George Floyd’s killing and denounce our country’s centuries-old plague of racial inequality, one persistent question hung in the air: Would this flashpoint moment really make a difference, or would it give way once again to the status quo?

In Indianapolis, we now have 100 million reasons to hope positive change is possible, that the civil unrest of 2020 will lead to lasting improvements in the lives and livelihoods of Black residents and the community at large.

Lilly Endowment announced Aug. 5 it is giving $100 million to the National Urban League to help create the Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Renewal Initiative—a long-term, Indianapolis-specific effort to address challenges facing the city’s Black community. As protests continue and as communities across the country have difficult conversations about the best path forward, the endowment is putting its money to work with a gift that last year would have been one of the largest in the world.

We are beyond fortunate to have at our disposal a charitable organization whose assets exceeded $15 billion at the end of 2018, making it among three largest foundations in the country.

The endowment has gotten a lot of press over the years when its gifts helped bankroll the city’s amateur sports movement or led to the construction of sports venues, but its bread and butter has always been donating to causes that prioritize religion, education and community development. And it’s no stranger to issues of race. For example, in 2015, it gave $50 million to the United Negro College Fund to distribute to four-year historically Black colleges to help train their students for successful careers.

What’s promising about the endowment’s latest gift is its potential to turn grassroots ideas into action.

In the first months of the renewal initiative, the African American Coalition of Indianapolis—a 16-year-old collaboration of more than 20 African American civic, social, professional, service and community organizations—will work with the Indianapolis Urban League to gather input from all corners of the city’s Black community to assess needs, establish priorities, explore best practices for addressing those priorities, and establish a team to guide the strategy.

The gift will be for staffing, organizational infrastructure, policy development and eventually grants to organizations, secular and faith-based, with the capacity to turn plans into action.

“This initiative will seek to combine the resources, infrastructure, expertise and passion of Indianapolis public, private and civic institutions in a way that could have a profound effect not only on Indianapolis’ economic future, but the national recovery,” said National Urban League CEO Marc Morial.

Organizers are eager to turn the initiative into progress on a variety of fronts: education, family stability, public health, housing, education, entrepreneurship and civic engagement.

Just as protesters hope for attention to the problems of systemic racism, we hope for a sustained focus on the programs the endowment’s generous gift will make possible. Their success will benefit us all. We should all know by now that our city can’t prosper if a significant percentage of its population is left behind.•

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