“People are people. Community is community. And everybody wants a safe place, a nice neighborhood, but people are overlooked. To me that was huge—that the answers are the same. People may be different, but the answers are the same .”
—Valerie Davis, CICF community ambassador
We believes communities are most successful and thriving when investments are resident-driven and when neighborhoods have access to culturally relevant art, nature and beauty every day. Our community ambassadors help engage CICF in reciprocal relationships with residents and their neighborhoods. In this month’s podcast, meet our ambassadors and listen to a conversation about what they say are their neighborhood’s assets and challenges.
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Transcription of episode available below.
WHO YOU’RE LISTENING TO
- Pamela Ross – vice president of opportunity, equity and inclusion at CICF
- DeAmon Harges – CICF community ambassador advisor
- Annie Smith – CICF community ambassador representing the Far Eastside neighborhood
- Wildstyle – CICF community ambassador representing the Northwest neighborhood
- Lillian Bailey – CICF community ambassador representing the Crooked Creek neighborhood
- Beatrice Beverly – CICF community ambassador representing the Martindale-Brightwood neighborhood
- Valerie Davis – CICF community ambassador representing the Near Eastside neighborhood
- Learn more about our community ambassadors and how they support our mission and strategic plan
- The Learning Tree – Indianapolis organization of neighbors that specializes in asset-based community development
Welcome to For Good, Central Indiana Community Foundation’s podcast highlighting stories about passion, purpose, and progress in Central Indiana. At CICF, we believe in opportunity and equity. We believe that our communities and neighborhoods are stronger because of our diversity. And we believe that with innovation and boldness, central Indiana can be a place where everyone can reach their full potential, no matter their place, race, or identity.
This is our community. And these are your stories.
PAMELA ROSS: Hello and welcome to For Good. I’m Pamela Ross, vice-president for opportunity, equity, and inclusion at Central Indiana Community Foundation. In 2017, CICF launched a community ambassador program to engage and elevate the voices of residents. We tasked them with listening to people in discussions about assets in their community, where gaps exist, and where funding can make a difference.
Their feedback has made a significant and lasting impact at CICF. We have built invaluable relationships as a result, which is why I’m happy to be joined today with some of our ambassadors for a candid conversation about their neighborhoods and how we’ve been learning and growing together.
We have DeAmon Harges, who has been a longtime organizer for the community and for the City of Indianapolis. DeAmon was part of our first cohort of 36 ambassadors in 2017. We asked him to come back and he took a step further in saying that he wanted to play a role of leadership in this. I can absolutely say that DeAmon has made a big difference in my learning, in my journey, in being able to lead this for the organization.
DEAMON HARGRES: Pam, you’ve been very gracious, and thank you for that.
PAM: Next, Annie Smith. Annie, like all the ambassadors at the table, is a longtime resident of Indianapolis. She represents the Far Eastside and has been a true asset in the work that she’s been doing for the Far Eastside.
ANNIE SMITH: Thank you Pam, and thank all the team members here, the ambassadors, because I think we glean from each other and we’re supportive of one another and that helps us in the work that we’ve been charged.
PAM: Next we have Wildstyle. Wildstyle represents the Northwest neighborhood, more specifically Riverside. He is a profound voice, a very intelligent black man who does mind speaking the truth but absolutely is very engaged in leadership and bringing things to the forefront.
WILDSTYLE: Well, I’d like to say thank you for the introduction. It’s great to be here with all of y’all. It’s not a lot of people that understand what we’re all trying to accomplish, so as much as I can spend with all of y’all guys is helpful.
PAM: Next I have Lillian Bailey. Lillian represents Crooked Creek area. Lillian was not a part of our original cohort. We asked Lillian to come onboard as an ambassador to help us understand infant mortality, but she also brings great passion and understanding of the achievement gap in that area.
LILLIAN BAILEY: Thank you for the introduction as well. I’m just excited to work with everybody and just hit the ground running. It’s just a great opportunity to finally have a voice.
PAM: You’ve always had one, we’re just creating a platform for it to be more heard. Next, I have the pleasure of introducing Beatrice Beverly. Beatrice represents the Martindale-Brightwood area. Beatrice and her husband have been leading in the community for quite some time. They currently have a nonprofit called Stop The Violence.
Beatrice BEVERLY: It’s just been a pleasure and I am humbly grateful to have known you guys in this season in my life. I look forward to what’s to come.
PAM: As are we. Finally, last but not least, we have Valerie Davis who represents the Near Eastside. It’s important to us to make sure that we do have people sitting at some of these tables so that resident voice is heard and that we’re supporting it.
VALERIE DAVIS: Thank you Pam for those glowing words. I’m so happy to be a part of this program.
PAM: It’s a pleasure to have all of you. One of the things I wanted to be really careful about as the person trying to develop the relationship with all of you is that CICF was not taking the lead. Can you talk about how we developed this program together, what you saw happening that made us get to this place where we are. Beatrice.
BEATRICE: Okay. I think for me it started when we … The core, the 36 of us. It was 36 individuals that were tasked to go out across the Indianapolis area to say gather data without speaking, without trying to give solutions, listening with open ears and empathy so that all that information could come back. What was so amazing was that all the various areas came back with almost the same stories and data points.
LILLIAN: Right. Exactly.
BEATRICE: Wait, you did that? Wait, that’s going on over there? Wait, we had that connection, didn’t know you were doing over that. It just opened up this whole world of possibilities.
VALERIE: I wanted to say that, piggybacking on Beatrice with the core group of 36, people are people, community is community and everybody wants a safe place, a nice neighborhood, but people are overlooked. To me that was huge that the answers are the same. People may be different, but the answers are the same.
PAM: Absolutely. I think that’s pretty profound to say, and that the fact … I think if I were to take that further is that we have to recognize that the people in the neighborhood have the answers.
DEAMON: I was going to say, to contrary I was very skeptical.
PAM: He was. We had to … I had to ask him more than once to do it.
DEAMON: Here’s the thing, if there isn’t a mechanism or a fabric to allow people to contribute what you say you notice in them, then it’s a sin to waste those questions. But the reason why I stayed involved because I saw the way Pam’s commitment.
VALERIE: And your transparency and your willingness to say, “You know what guys? I’m with you. We don’t know, but I’m going to be there.”
DEAMON: There’s some integrity. You really helped us create the fabric so I want to speak that first and then all of y’all have helped me feel like a part of something.
PAM: Thank you very much. Anytime you all do that I’m so humbled by that. Being someone who has worked in the community all of my life. I thought I had it figured out how you serve community, but I had it figured out through the way of how institutions work and that’s not a bad thing. It takes both institution and community organizing and activists to make this whole thing what it is that we all wanted to see. But you definitely did make me have to sit back and really learn and become a part of our culture.
WILDSTYLE: I know I wasn’t at the meetings for the original 36 but I can attest that we were all a little skeptical at first. I like Brian and I think he’s been very bold and brave in doing this because I’m sure people are going to be coming after him when things … When people that aren’t as interested about equity start seeing the direction things are going and seeing that Brian puts you in that position and seeing the type of person that you are let us all know, okay well Brian’s serious and he does want this to succeed and develop for the community.
Oftentimes community is not put the position where you end up having much trust in the institution, but this was one of the times where we at least know that right, wrong or indifferent the effort was made to try to do the right thing.
PAM: Yeah. Exactly. That’s awesome. Thank you for saying that. I think that’s going to be one of the things, Wildstyle, as we continue to go down this path we hope that the community remembers. We are putting the effort in, the integrity of it is there, the authenticity of the people who are involved is there, the accountability internally to work authentically and genuinely and do things different is here and continues to be the path that we’ll go down.
LILLIAN: I was skeptical as well because a lot of people have good intentions but you sit around talking and nothing gets done. I’ve had the opportunity of working with CICF staff, small box, and when you had a question, when you needed something, they were there and they backed me up either silently or giving me direction. Even I would reach out to you because I didn’t know which way to go and it made a lot of the things I was working on start to be successful and people are starting to listen and people are reaching out to me. It’s a great opportunity and it’s great to work with people that are about action and not about talk.
PAM: One of the things that especially keep driving home with us is that we’re an organization that always has a sense of urgency, that we always understand anything that we’re doing to make a difference in this work of equity, inclusion, race, opportunity, what needed to happen yesterday, so urgency is necessary. That’s one of the things that we always want to make clear to the community. If you don’t see us acting, it’s not necessarily because we don’t feel it and understand and know it’s urgent, but sometimes it’s just simply, this is not the time to act. We haven’t gathered enough knowledge, we haven’t built enough relationships, we just do not know enough.
But every day as we continue to grow in the work that we do together and continue to bring on more ambassadors, you all are a very key part of us being able to vet, is it time now or should we wait?
BEATRICE: When I work on something I always want to know, what can I learn? What can I learn that I can take back? We’ve got to find the assets that’s within the communities and utilize them to help their communities grow. I have a conversation forthcoming with a young woman who’s 101 years old. I’m going and recording the whole conversation because, to your point, those are assets. Let’s get that information. I look at my community differently.
ANNIE: It’s important for us, and what I’ve learned through this whole process in those relationships that we continue to build. I’m all excited because I’m close to the work and I’m in the neighborhoods and I’m talking to the residents. I’m listening to the residents and I’m excited, but I still get that skepticism all around me, well let’s see what’s going to happen. But I keep saying that who else is doing this?
At least the CICF, I think, is taking a good stand and people are listening and they’re watching. But the good thing that’s coming from all of this, it’s definitely coming from our neighborhoods because we are seeing positive results in the action that’s taking place and the action is being executed by our neighbors. They are feeling more empowered and that’s the joy and beauty in this work that we’re doing.
DEAMON: And actually I think what is a revolutionary act is CICF not acting, because acting is sometimes stopping the act, that’s what white power institutions have been known for doing is acting. But listening is an honorable act. I think …Annie talked about presencing. That’s something you can quantify over time, that’s what you quantify over generations when our children inherit. Thank you for that Annie, that was beautiful.
PAM: Also one of the things that I’m hearing you all say is that we wanted to inspire hope, so at a minimum if we can give people the feeling of hope, especially within your communities because of you, not just because of CICF, and you start to see that hope feeds more hope, then we will start to see some different things happen. One of the things you all have taught is that it’s not just about the resources and it’s definitely not just about money, it is about people being able to believe that things can be different and that they have a role in it. That’s one of the biggest things that we want to make sure we lift up that is of value to us.
Let’s talk a little bit about the assets. What is it you want people to know about what’s happening from an asset base as well as here’s a place for you to come and partner with me.
LILLIAN: In the Crooked Creek area we have strong assets there that are underused, and I think being wasted. We have a lot of small businesses, entrepreneurs and over my time there I’ve had the opportunity to speak with business owners that’s been there for decades. But I’ve also met young entrepreneurs. For example, a young lady was selling baked goods at the local barber shop so I bought it and I’m glad I did because the baked goods are amazing and with that introduction and that relationship, they were able to be one of the small businesses we highlighted at our event.
Neighbors are coming out, because before they were just driving by. In some conversations people still had that mindset, well is everything free? And they missed the whole message of why we’re there, to celebrate the children, to celebrate the neighborhood, just about being together as a community. It’s about getting to know each other and what you can bring to the table.
PAM: Sure. I think that sometimes, especially if you’re in communities where we’re not used to coming together like that, so I think that the more often that is modeled the more that becomes a part of who I am in this community and then moving to what is it that I do bring. I think DeAmon, again, what he’s always brought to this is that we have assets. People are assets in their community and so if you’ve not ever … If you have been trained to think that you’re not an asset …
PAM: That you are always there to receive something.
PAM: Then when something happens, I’m looking to see what can I get versus what can I give. But the more that is modeled … That’s great that you brought that to Crooked Creek, Lillian. Beatrice.
BEATRICE: I think what I think about the Martindale-Brightwood area, but what I see is there are three types of assets that I’ve kind of categorized in my thinking, in my interactions and in my well-being. The first asset I will call the legacy, the historians. That’s an asset in my head because they bring to the table something that goes back as far as 1941 when Edna Martin started going out in a community saying, “You know what, I’m going to teach kids about Jesus and then I’m going to teach families and parents about life skills and entrepreneurship and businesses.” Right?
But then you have the other asset that I think is important is the institutional assets. I see that being the Edna Martins with all the education zoned and all the works that they’re doing out there. But also I see the Kountry Kitchen, right? It’s a restaurant, it’s a … I’m going to put it in that label of institutions. When we had our meeting, we all came together and Pam said, “Hey, you ain’t gotta go to Panera. You ain’t got to go to Chipotle. Find someplace in your neighborhood. Oh, we’re getting Kountry Kitchen. We’re getting Kountry Kitchen today, okay?” That’s what we did. That’s the second set of assets I see.
Then there is this third set of assets that I think that society in the past has tried to throw away, and that’s that person, that people, that youth, that child, that mother who may not be working, right? She may be on public assistance, but you don’t know her story so let’s listen to it. For me, when I put all three of them together across Martindale-Brightwood area, look how much better we will be. Not just for us now, but for everybody to follow. They see the value, they claim it, and they own it.
We have to collectively … No, we have to as an individual stop placing blame and saying, “They used to do. They did.” Okay, I know that. Let it go, because at some point if you don’t let it go you’re going to miss that blessing, right? I need you to come to the table and I’m going to come with you, right? I think we need to empower and keep feeding into and saying, “It’s okay. I know you’re hurting. I know you feel like this ain’t going to be heard again, but let’s just walk this out one more time. Just walk this out with me.” And then when they do that, everybody need to make sure that door is open because if I get this person to walk through, I’m going to need you not to shut them down.
DEAMON: Go on girl.
VALERIE: That was a good word.
BEATRICE: I’m learning.
VALERIE: On the Near Eastside it is I think a very organized side of town as far as the corporate assets or mortar and brick assets. However, I think that for all the organizing that they had been involved in since the 70s when I bet went back through the archives, there were never any people that looked like me. That’s what I … When I became involved I brought that up. How do you do all this on this side of town and never include people that look like me, because we’re over here? To me, I’m indebted to CICF for being a positive way to open the dialogue. It seems to me on the things that I’m involved with, there’s going to be no more kicking the can down the road, we’ll talk about it at next month’s meeting or we’ll talk about it at the quarterly meeting. No, we need to talk about it now and we’re not going to move on.
When I am asked, “Do you know any more ‘black people’ that can come to the table?” My question to you is why you don’t? Because you asking me like I know everybody that’s of color and why in your circle you don’t have anybody that you can mentor or that you can support or that you can ask to come and be a voice to make awareness in our neighborhood and make our neighborhood better.
I am indebted to CICF that now people are listening, now it’s important, now you’re … Hmm, it’s more than just a thought, we really might need to act on this.
PAM: I’m almost speechless, which really doesn’t happen very often, but … Valerie, everything that you said is very profound truth. We do have to challenge institutions and people, specifically white people, to figure out how they can also build the relationships and not rely on those who have been marginalized, oppressed, left out, to do the work that they have to ultimately do.
DEAMON: Wildstyle, what do you want to say about our neighborhood, because I’m curious.
WILDSTYLE: Particularly in our community, I love the fact that everybody takes agency and goes out and does things for themselves. We have an incredible underground economy, Harding Street, that we have a lot of entrepreneurs and businesses there that fly under the radar, they don’t have a storefront or all this other stuff. I think the challenge I see is that they’re still not really being listened to, not being looked at by a lot of the people that are doing initiatives around entrepreneurship or the different plans out there.
We’ve got a great underground economy; how do we give them the support to get that mainstream economy so that they can make more of a living wage and be more sustainable and build a culture right there in our community? We have so much history and multiculturalism in our community that I think we just have to … It has to be cultivated and that’s part of the act of listening.
PAM: That’s what we’re here to do is cultivate the relationships and that understanding. We’re trying to figure out, through you all we’ve come to know some of that underground economy and then how do we … We have many vendors. We cater, we are supporting the economy, and so how is it that we can come to know who those entrepreneurs are and how can we support them? That’s a good example of someplace that we are stepping into more so from a relationship level but then over time it does become, how do we actually support small business entrepreneurship with people who have been doing it for a long time and have not gotten recognized? How do we use our influence to elevate that more so that our partners will also do some of the same. Thank you for bringing that up, Wildstyle.
WILDSTYLE: Thank you.
ANNIE: Well, I’m just busting at the seams to talk about the Far Eastside. When you speak of assets, truly we saw the assets at the Far Eastside First Annual Festival, it was amazing. The planning started around seven months ago and the planning team included residents and public allies. Present at the festival there were over 600 people in attendance. There were about 60 volunteers. They had 65 vendors that were there providing resources and information to resources. There was a kid zone with face painting. The Indianapolis Fire Department was there. You had entertainment, dancing on the stage, a DJ. And just families visiting the booths, not just coming and just walking but actually visiting.
We had entrepreneurs there. It was just supported primarily from a variety of in-kind donors and CICF and the Finish Line Foundation, which is a business on the Far Eastside. I saw all kind of assets there just in the planning and organizing of that and just … It was so amazing. There are a lot of good things that are happening as a result of that, not as a result of that but because that happened.
There was an artist there, Demetrius, and I believe his last name was Green, but he was there getting feedback from residents about art design that he’s getting ready to do, actually it’s July 18th. I’m just excited. There are challenges still, challenges of getting more and more people together to be a part of it because what I’ve seen grow more is there’s not so much isolation. People are coming together and that’s making a huge difference on the Far Eastside.
PAM: That’s exciting. Just listening to you talk about it excites me. I think that I spend … I do spend a great deal of time on the Far Eastside and I’ve come to know it better than I have ever in the past. The work that you’re doing is awesome, thank you for your leadership.
DEAMON: I want to respond to the challenges stuff. I could give more examples and we can all give more examples, and I’m glad we have this platform to do that because it’s not done enough. We need to shift the culture of where we see agency, and that takes time. It takes some money too because we should be paying people who do this naturally. CICF is an example of paying neighbors for what they already do. Not paying them, but saying here’s an incentive, we see you. What can we do to buy more time?
This country was made on discovery, not deliverables. Nobody knew what was in this land until they had to go out and do it, right? Those are innovators. I think CICF has bought us some time.
PAM: I just have one last question for you before we go. You’ve kind of already talked about it to a certain degree, but if you were to really truly sum it up, why are you a CICF ambassador? Why do you do this?
WILDSTYLE: I know I do it because I really do want to help shed light on my community and the people that are doing great things. I want this to be a better city and a better neighborhood for them and their kids and for people to prosper.
PAM: Awesome. Thank you Wildstyle. Annie?
ANNIE: I know that I’ve always been doing it. I think now I’m just more intentional about what I do and how I do it. I’ve always been one right in the heart of the community. It’s just natural and I’m passionate about it. What makes it even more valuable to me is I have a platform that’s supporting it.
VALERIE: I think I do this because I’ve always been involved in the community, but when I went to a neighborhood summit and we talked about the quality of life plan and I brought up a resolution that maybe we could have lunch or dinners and just interact with each other and learn our neighbors and your people that live beside you that don’t look like you, it was voted down. They didn’t want to do that and it hurt me to my core. I have to do this because if not me, then who?
Half the point of it is having the dialogue. You may not agree with me, but I need you to listen, that it does affect me and this is what I’m concerned about. This is what is on my heart and I need you to know that this affects a lot of people. I’m deeply indebted to CICF to put the ambassador behind my name when I go to these meetings and organizations. It’s huge, they’re listening. They should have always been listening and we can’t say why they didn’t listen, but now they are, so I thank you.
PAM: Valerie Keep it Real Davis. DeAmon.
DEAMON: I think there are a few reasons I do it. One, most of all is friendship. I value the friendship with Brian and I know for like 10 years we’ve pushed each other about conversations and I think honoring that I’m willing to follow somebody like that. I’m also … When I say friendship I mean with all of the ambassadors here have become people that I really admire because they’re authentic.
The other is, my neighbors are affected by decisions that institutions make all day. Even though they’re the masters because of civic life, they don’t feel it. They have power. We don’t need to empower them, they have power.
The third is, I want to go to more parties or places that people experience joy. I want people at CICF who don’t experience joy to come experience parties in my neighborhood that bring out joy.
PAM: We can’t pay you for what you do to make this better for CICF, what you’re doing to make it better for your neighborhoods, what you’re doing to make it better for this community. We need to honor relationships. We need to honor voices. We need to quit doing things that are about having different colors and races of people at the table but yet they’re not listened to. You all are making a difference in that. CICF continues to be committed to making a difference right alongside you as well as with anyone else who wants to get into this journey with us. I’m just going to end with saying it’s been a great joy. I talk to you all all the time, but every time I’m around you it totally changes the way I walk away from you each time.