-by Brian Payne
President and CEO of CICF
and President of The Indianapolis Foundation
My dad was an 18 year-old ensign in the Navy during the end of World War II. And when he came home from serving his country, he was able to take advantage of legislation designed to provide immediate rewards for returning servicemen. He got an education through the G.I. Bill that led to a long career as an aerospace engineer, providing middle-class security and more opportunity for his family, including me. Until I attended Undoing Racism, The People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond’s two-day workshop, offered by Child Advocates of Marion County, I did not realize the privilege my dad’s access to the G.I. Bill afforded me.
My father was white, but black servicemen who served just as honorably and in much more dangerous environments in defense of their country were blocked from many benefits of the G.I. bill, like home loans and assistance with education. For instance, of the first 67,000 mortgages insured by the G.I. Bill, less than 100 were taken out by people of color. About 1 million black men served as draftees or volunteers in World War II and their service did not lead to the same opportunities that their white counterparts received.
I’ve been thinking a lot about opportunity, lately—opportunity and the American Dream.
CICF and its affiliates have always worked to give Marion and Hamilton County residents access to opportunity. I strongly believe this is our duty as a community leadership organization. But, beginning with our new strategic plan in 2018, we are codifying this work and making it richer, in part, with a deeper knowledge of the structures and institutional biases that make the American Dream unreachable for many.
We want every person in Central Indiana—no matter the zip code they are born in, their native language, their challenges with disabilities, the makeup of their family or their skin color–to grow, thrive and succeed.
This is critical, because research shows that today many of our fellow residents will not fare better than their parents because of a vast opportunity gap.
To tackle this problem locally, the CICF team has been gathering and synthesizing regional research and data; talking to a variety of communities about the specific barriers they face; and participating in the Community Foundation Opportunity Network (CFON), along with 39 other community foundations across the country that are committed to closing the opportunity gap in their communities. Our entire staff and the majority board members of CICF, The Indianapolis Foundation and Legacy Fund also attended the Undoing Racism workshops.
If you’ve listened to our podcast about Undoing Racism, then you know the profound impact the program has had on individuals and organizations in Central Indiana. It is transforming work at CICF, too. Many factors can create inequity, including socioeconomic status, ethnicity, community wealth and familial situations. We need to be smart about all of these things, but we know that we cannot seriously create equal access to opportunity without understanding institutional racism.
Over the next few months, working with staff, CICF will take everything we’ve learned, including regional data and information from a grassroots corps of community ambassadors, Undoing Racism and CFON, to craft a strategic plan that will guide us for the next several years, beginning in 2018. But acknowledging the impact that institutional racism has on people of color in Central Indiana is not just part of our strategic plan, it is now and will forever be part of our organizational values. And changing systems so that everyone has a fair chance at opportunity will forever be a part of our mission.