Marshawn Wolley: Black Indy is dying; candidates should pay attention


Marshawn WolleyIn the black community there is a saying: “The people perish for lack of vision.”

Black leaders have been digesting sobering facts about black Indianapolis—a population that would constitute the third largest city in the state if it stood on its own.

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 three times the county rate, and escalating poverty forced black leaders to take a hard look at our community.

This summer, black leaders met with both mayoral candidates. From our vantage point, the meeting was an opportunity to share concerns supported by data, identify solutions that we would undertake, and make some recommendations for possible actions for both candidates.

While our black children died in the streets and black families starved, we maintained the discipline of being polite and non-confrontational in our meetings, because we were looking to find a partner for our progress in city government.

The meetings actually went well with both candidates. How could they not?

Black leaders stepped forward to identify issues informed by data and to not only offer practical solutions but to commit to some actions ourselves. Sounds like a pretty good deal.

Our engagement was driven by some political realities. A mayoral administration can’t solve all of our challenges, but they either preside over progress or they preside over a continuing deterioration of our community—and progress or stagnation becomes part of their record.

The other political reality is simple: We will execute on our black agendas. A politician can’t stop the black community’s efforts at helping itself—a partner in City Hall only helps.

As a follow up from our meeting with the Hogsett administration, we asked administration officials to list their achievements specifically targeting the black community. Unfortunately, they have yet to respond to this request, but they might have pointed to a summer jobs program for youth, tying an $18 wage to new developments coming to the city which could positively impact a declining black median income, developments in black neighborhoods like Martindale Brightwood and a black incarceration rate that has declined.

Republican candidate Jim Merritt—despite serving in the Legislature for nearly 30 years and as the Marion County GOP chairman—is new to large segments of the black community. He faces a trust deficit, but to his credit, he has been aggressive in engaging the black community. He was first to commit to articulating his vision of a black agenda and his ideas will be heard by our community. For the Marion County GOP to be a viable county party, it must learn that black people aren’t Democrats—we are voters who respond to those who engages us.

It isn’t possible for Indianapolis to be one city if too many in the black community are unemployed, food insecure and even dying at unacceptable rates relative to the larger community.

The black community is developing a new vision for itself. Black Indianapolis will develop a vision for itself because we have no choice: We are dying but we want to live. We would appreciate a partner in city hall.

We want Indianapolis to be the best place for black people—and anybody else to live.•


Wolley is a lecturer, columnist and diversity and inclusion consultant. Send comments to

Click here for more Forefront columns.

Please enable JavaScript to view this content.

Editor's note: You can comment on IBJ stories by signing in to your IBJ account. If you have not registered, please sign up for a free account now. Please note our updated comment policy that will govern how comments are moderated.

{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining
{{ articles_remaining }}
Free {{ article_text }} Remaining Article limit resets in {{ count_down }} days.