Corporate and Civic Leaders Pledge to Take on Systemic Racism

***This piece is part of our content presented at Inclusive City 2020. On Oct. 28, 2020, from the stage of the Madam Walker Legacy Center, we revealed plans to dismantle systemic racism in Central Indiana at Inclusive City 2020. Learn more about that event here.***

A group of corporate and civic leaders—white leaders—are boldly taking on systemic racism at their companies across the systems they represent and in their personal lives, their efforts and commitment are part of the growing momentum that is building throughout our communities that clearly states that the time for change is now.

Marya Rose
Cummins, chief administrative officer

I grew up in Indianapolis and I have lived and worked in this city, almost my entire adult life. I have known on an intellectual level that structural racism exists in our country and—yes, right here in Indianapolis. Yet I have not appreciated the economic and emotional toll that this racism has taken on our Black community. For far too long we have turned a blind eye to this issue. The time is now for us to act, to rid our city of the systems, processes, and structures that perpetuate racism. As members of the Indianapolis business community, we have a responsibility to act now. We need to give our citizens everything that they can to help them succeed. On Friday, Cummins will announce a program to actively participate in effecting change in our communities. Please pledge your time and talent to help make Indianapolis a city that is in the forefront of this change

Lisa Harris
Eskenazi Health, CEO

At Eskenazi Health, we know what centuries of racial and social injustice can do. Our entire mission, our health system—and everything we do within it and within our community—is focused on pushing back, but we know better than to rest on our mission.

We know that despite our best intentions and all the ways in which we succeed, we are at the same time, products of the mistruths of the deliberately created policies and institutions that have resulted in this disproportionate burden of poor health.

We’re unwitting carriers of the biases required to perpetuate the very injustice we work to address. So we know there’s much to do. I’m listening and I’m hearing gut-wrenching stories from employees who have candidly—and with compassion—shared with me, their lived and witnessed experiences.

My personal pledge is to act on what I’m learning. And to be just as deliberate in leading the examination of all of our organizational goals, our policies, our practices, our processes, outcomes, and experiences of care, where we direct our resources, which organizations we partner with and support all through the lens of racial equity with transparency and humility. To continue to listen carefully and to read widely with the singular goal of being just as effective in systematically hardwiring racial equity as we are the efforts that got us to this place of unacceptable inequity.

For example, a career ladder for entry-level workers and a structured fellowship and pipeline for future leaders, adding to our longstanding partnership with the Center for Leadership Development, a developing partnership with Martin University. Supporting student internships and recruiting from historically Black colleges and universities, hiring from our patients’ neighborhoods, addressing the disadvantages those without cars face in seeking care and getting to work, recognizing all Black mothers to be as high risk, and intensifying our prenatal care accordingly. Our energy for this work is high. We will not lose focus over time or be distracted by competing priorities. Given our role and our responsibility to our community, there is no higher priority.

Dan Evans
Indiana Biosciences Research Institute, board chair

I pledge to support the CICF goals for Marion County of family stabilization, economic mobility, criminal justice reform, neighborhood empowerment and placemaking, and dismantling systemic racism. I pledge to do so on behalf of myself and those over whom I have some influence. This effort must be measured by both words and action. The action must lead to measurable outcomes, which benefit as many people and families as possible, actions are required now. To that end, I pledge to redouble and measure the efforts of the Indiana Biosciences Research Institute of which I am chair located at 16 Tech—up the street, ironically, adjacent to the neighborhood that, Chancellor Paydar referred to a few minutes ago, To help 16 Tech to engage in the surrounding community in efforts to expand educational opportunities in STEM. By way of one example, these efforts to date have included working with Code Black Indiana.

We must create sustained enhanced educational and internship opportunities and IBRI will lead in doing so. We now stand at a crossroads. We have stood here before—, I have stood here before in almost this very spot—justice has not been achieved.

Our efforts now must focus on creating and fostering a community of mutual support and accountability.

And Lupe, the letter to our leaders does exactly that. So I appreciate that. And I hope when you all listen to this again, you’ll fast forward to both the manifesto and the three articles. I’m a lawyer, so I focused on those right away. The tactics—which is what those things recommend and ways in which we will achieve our goals—require a focused and steady effort by all. Leadership matters now more than ever. For my part, I pledge to redouble my efforts and do all I can persistently and with focus and to pursue the goals mentioned above without hesitation or mental reservation.

Ryan Mears
Marion County prosecutor

On behalf of the nearly 400 men and women who work in the office, we pledge to help make the criminal justice system a more fair and inclusive place. When I first became prosecutor, we made the decision to no longer prosecute, simple possession of marijuana cases because we solved the disproportionate impact this law had on communities of color. We also launched our Second Chance initiative, which allowed individuals to apply for early expungement, meaning that the prosecutor’s office would help people get criminal convictions removed from the record so they could apply for more meaningful jobs and have access to better housing.

All of these initiatives were designed to help reduce barriers for people in the criminal justice system and send a message of hope and fairness to the community. But we understand that there’s still much work that needs to be done and we must confront the issue of systematic racism in the criminal justice system. That is why the Marion County prosecutor’s office pledges to create a conviction, integrity review unit, to root out past convictions that were based on bias or prejudice. We also pledge to make sure that our office reflects the community that we serve and together—working together—we will make sure that the criminal justice system is a more fair and inclusive place.

Michael O’Connor
Indianapolis Public Schools, commissioner & board president

Recently IPS became the first school system in the country to establish a racial equity commitment and plan. What does that mean? It means that every action we take as a board must be viewed through the lens of racial equity. It means that we are piece by piece dismantling the racist policies of school boards past. What does it look like in action? Recently, we created a policy that stated any student interaction with our IPS police will not result in a referral to the criminal justice system unless required by state or federal statute.

The result—IPS students will now be referred for counseling, for social and emotional supports and to community programs for the help they may need. It means at IPS, we’re doing our own little part to end the school-to-prison pipeline.

The commitment to racial equity can’t stop at the office or in board commitments. I must make my own commitment to racial equity and social justice. I must be willing to address my own white privilege.

I can no longer look in an issue and simply ‘say something should be done.’ I must be the one doing something. That perspective is what caused me to get personally involved with the City of Indianapolis’s effort to include community appointments to the IMPD general orders committee, to make sure that the entire community has say in how it is policed. I must be willing to step out of my own comfort zone and into personal action.

Scott Fadness
Mayor of Fishers

When I took the oath of office to become the mayor of the city of Fishers, I took the oath of the office for each and every resident in my community. It is my solemn responsibility to create an environment where each and every individual can reach their true potential. What has become clear to me over the last couple of years is that nothing in my life experiences would prepare me or equip me to talk about the conversations around race. So I sought information and enlightenment, and I had the opportunity to go through a course, a two day course on Interrupting Racism. And it fundamentally changed the paradigm for which I view this problem. It so inspired me that I compelled each and every one of the leadership members on my team at the city to go through the program as well.

And what has been truly, truly inspiring is to watch how it ignited humanity in each and every one of them to try to mobilize and create solutions in their own ways to address this issue. We all got together and decided that one of the most compelling things that we can do is provide that same resource, that same experience, for each and every resident in our community. Today, as we stand here today, hundreds of residents are going through this process. They’re going through this journey to change their paradigm, to understand how they can solve these problems in different date ways. Now, some of us on this stage today may not agree on the tactics for which we’re going to accomplish this but what we are unified in is that we have to create an environment where each and every individual is treated with dignity and creates the opportunity to reach their true potential. And that is my commitment as long as I’m in my administration.

Norman Burns
Conner Prairie, President and CEO

The past couple of years, we’ve worked diligently on our diversity, equity, accessibility and inclusion promise statement for Conner Prairie to be a place where the doors are always open to a diversity of voices and limitless experiences. We’ve made progress in some areas of accessibility and inclusion, but are now facing the difficult conversations and decisions surrounding diversity and equity as a museum. The goal of our DEI promise is to identify and address exclusionary practices and policies within our organization. Conner Prairie recognizes we have been falling short of meeting the needs of our staff and community around race and inclusion. We openly and honestly acknowledged that racism remains a problem within our own organization, just as it is within our community and nation. But by acknowledging these truths, we can begin to address the systemic issues facing both our own organization and the greater society.

That’s why we vow to work for systemic change and growth within our own institution. We vow to learn from that growth so we can better educate our visitors on the full story of America and we recognized the need to engage all Americans to step into the story. One that they have created and recognize to be true. Connor Prairie has sought out the resources that are needed to examine our organizational systems, our policies and procedures to address these systemic challenges. Our multi-pronged approach to D&I training called opening doors to inclusion as an initiative that incorporates lessons learned from our focus period of DEI exploration, analysis, planning, and practice. The goal of this is to ensure a consistent, inclusive decision-making processes happening across all levels of our institution for all decisions at all times. As the president and CEO of Conner Prairie, I acknowledged the privilege afforded me as a White male and promise to work with the community and others to ensure that Conner Prairie is taking the appropriate steps to hold our teams accountable.

At this moment in my life and career, my white privilege has allowed me to not only be the CEO of the Smithsonian Affiliate Museum Connor Prairie, but also to be the chair of the American Association for State and Local History. And next year, I’m very honored to be co-president of the Indianapolis Consortium of arts administrators, along with Keisha Dixon of Asante Children’s Theatre. Keisha and I are really looking forward to this co-leadership opportunity and what it means for our community. I personally pledge to work side by side with all of my colleagues at all levels to identify and begin removing the systemic issues and systematic policies of racist, racism constraining us so that we can become an inclusive society that speaks with one voice. As an organization, Conner Prairie will continue our pledge to live our mission statement that focuses on serving everyone.

A mission that we realize is generational in its approach, can only be achieved with the help of many community partners. We pledge to apply our DEI promise statement to all decisions that we make around our institution, including hiring practices in the board recruitment process, exhibit and program development, evaluation and promotion of all staff and doing this. We believe that the community’s voice will be heard throughout our organization. Conner Prairie will continue to listen and remain diligent and committed to social justice activities. That diligence is because we know that we have generational work ahead of us. As a history museum, it is our responsibility to invite this generation and the next to step into the story, to learn from the past to inform the present so that we can make tomorrow’s story even brighter for everyone.

In response to these pledges…

Tony Mason
Indianapolis Urban League, president & CEO

Our Urban League has been working to address racial inequity for decades. It’s been a long-standing challenge in our city and in our state. I appreciate the commitments, the openness and the transparency of everyone involved, but just know that accountability is important. In the past, accountability and commitment have not been there. 28% of Indianapolis’s 248,000 African-American residents are poor. 70% are or were employed in what had been classified as ‘bad jobs with low wages’ by the Brookings Institution. The average median household income for Black households is less than $28,000 compared to nearly $57,000 for White households.

Black homeownership has declined from 46% to 31% since 2007. Our under-resourced schools are struggling to address the achievement gap. 70% of our Black students are failing standardized tests at a time when 62% of the available jobs in our new economy, according to the State of Indiana will require some level of post-secondary education and training. So we’ve got work to do because the list goes on. We’re partnering with each of you. We’re also partnering with the African-American Coalition to address many of these systemic and institutional racist challenges that exist in our community, but it’s going to take each and every one of you leaning in honoring the commitments that you’re making here today to do this work. The reality of it is, we’ve got to be here to support CICF with this challenge. We have to be our brothers and sisters’ keepers.

If we don’t do it now, when are we going to do it? History is repeating itself.

So it requires each and every one of us—those who are here present today, those who are participating virtually—to do your part, lean in, and let’s get to work.

UP NEXT: Jennifer Bartenbach, executive vice president and CFO at CICF, offers perspective on answering the question “what can I do”

Return to Inclusive City 2020: Our Plan to Dismantle Systemic Racism

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