Central Indiana Community Foundation Puts Race and Equity Center Stage

Photo credit: Central Indiana Community Foundation

Photo credit: Central Indiana Community Foundation

By Amanda Palleschi

In Central Indiana, a community foundation is hoping their community will want to have a conversation about institutional racism -- and then do the work of dismantling it.

The Central Indiana Community Foundation (CICF) is so dedicated to the cause that, in 2018, it officially shifted its central mission to focus more on antiracism and equity work. This month, the foundation took the next step when it unveiled a five-year strategic plan known as  “Inclusive City.”

The initiative spans almost every facet of racial injustice: from affordable housing and transportation access to maternal health and access to education and career opportunities. It will direct $17.5 million in proactive investment over five years to the effort.

In addition, an “Equity Partners Fund” will be dedicated to raising money to support the strategic plan in Marion County.

Its goals are organized into five categories:

  • family stabilization (including developing affordable housing, public transportation accessibility and homelessness);

  • economic mobility (scholarships and career pathway programs);

  • criminal justice reform (i.e. efforts to reduce expulsion rates in schools, reentry and violence reduction programs);

  • neighborhood empowerment (providing resources to programs and efforts already in the community); and

  • dismantling systemic racism, which includes funds for 5,000 community leaders to attend a comprehensive anti-racist training program.

In Hamilton County, the plan will focus on mental health, youth empowerment and inclusive economic growth, according to CICF’s fact sheet.

The plan also includes political advocacy.

In February, for instance, the foundation backed a hate crimes bill in the Indiana state senate, and spoke up, along with other groups, when the legislation failed to include specific mention of race, national origin, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation and disability.

“We’ve taken a very bold stance on the fact that our mission needed to change and we needed to be more definitive,” says Pamela Ross, CICF’s vice president for opportunity, equity and inclusion.

“The community and donors and everyone who wants to partner with CICF doesn’t have to wonder what it means: we have said we will do this through the lens of systemic racism.”

CICF President and CEO Brian Payne says he knows his community is not always comfortable talking about race.

After he learned that some of his staffers had taken the Undoing Racism workshop from The People’s Institute of Survival and Beyond, Payne took the training himself. The initiative’s dollars will now allow the foundation to scale the two-day training for other community leaders.

When interviewed on the foundation’s own For Good podcast, Payne said he now sees that a big part of the foundation’s job “is to shut up and show up, learn and listen from people of color in neighborhoods, what they want, not what we think they need, not what we think they want, not what we think their hopes are and their dreams are...and take in their knowledge, their hopes, their perspective, their expertise, and then bring resources to their wishes and dreams as appropriate.”

Both data and personal narrative convinced him to take this approach.

In the past, when the foundation evaluated economic mobility, it looked at data on poverty regardless of racial or ethnic background.

It was clear that upward mobility and opportunity  in the state and country was decreasing. But there was other data he couldn’t ignore: people of color have it a lot worse.

In Indianapolis, for example, working African-Americans and Hispanic/Latinx people are more than twice as likely to experience material poverty as white families, according to a CICF fact sheet.

And Indiana ranks seventh worst for infant mortality in the United States -- a country where African American families experience infant or maternal mortality at three times the rate of white families.

And those are just a few examples.

But Undoing Racism’s focus on narrative --  the ways in which people of color have been marginalized throughout American history -- also allowed Payne to reflect on how his white father’s naval service at the end of World War II had allowed their family entry into the middle class through the benefits of the G.I. bill; black servicemen were largely excluded from the bill’s education and home owning benefits.

And a community foundation is an ideal place to begin to right some of those wrongs.

“We have this incredible privilege of being in the middle of a lot of things. We know about a lot through funds. We can take a generational long-view of an opportunity or challenge,” Payne said on the podcast. “The mayor has a two- or four-year view and then they have to worry about getting re-elected. We’ve been here 102 years.”

Ross says CICF needs its partners, particularly those already doing the work in the community, to make the work happen.

“We really want to pay more attention to the actual people that we’re talking about,” Ross says. “We want to engage residents, to give them power.”

Amanda Palleschi