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Friday, January 22, 2021

At Expo time; leadership past, leadership present; future leadership challenges

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Not a week goes by when I don’t have callers on Afternoons with Amos castigating the “lack of leadership” in our African-American community. Despite having more Black elected and appointed government officials in Indianapolis than ever; despite more African Americans in major positions in Indianapolis’ business and civic institutions, there’s a pervasive feeling that our Black community is leaderless and drifting.

I think many believe our Black leaders are those anointed by the TV newscasts or white editorial writers and columnists. However, I believe in the truism that our community’s leaders have always been drafted, not anointed. They’ve come from the bosom of the community, not anointed from on high.

If there is a vaccum of leadership in our Black community, it’s because potential leaders/servants in our neighborhoods haven’t yet accepted the call to face our community’s challenges of 2009.

If we’re lacking in leadership, it’s because we’ve not replicated the likes of those unsung men and women who created the unique institution of Indiana Black Expo 39 years ago.

If we’re lacking in leadership, it’s because we’ve not duplicated the likes of Dr. A.D. Pinckney, the former Indianapolis NAACP President who died last week at 85.

Dr. Pinckney headed the NAACP during a pivotal time in Indianapolis’ history. Through his dogged, stubborn (in a positive way) leadership and determination, Pinckney cracked the color barrier in our county’s schools and institutions.

His fight led to Blacks moving into the leadership ranks of the Indianapolis Police and Indianapolis Fire Departments. The first Black chiefs of those departments (James Toler and Joseph Kimbrew) were because of Pinckney’s battles.

Dr. Pinckney’s fight to truly integrate all Indianapolis schools and neighborhoods is what should be most remembered about his legacy. It was a fight that cost Pinckney friends, finances, peace; but he helped open up Indianapolis, making it attractive to new investments, new ideas and ways of doing things.

Dr. Pinckney didn’t ask for that role. But our best leaders don’t seek leadership and service. It seeks them.

Dr. Pinckney was blamed for desegregation’s perceived negatives, such as the closing of schools in Black neighborhoods and the perceived end to the social and economic benefits of neighborhood segregation.

But because of Dr. Pinckney’s leadership, some 40 percent of Indianapolis’ Black residents today live in white-majority neighborhoods. Today, 55.4 percent of the city/county’s Black students attend township schools; 48.3 percent of Indianapolis’ Blacks live in neighborhoods outside of IPS. Including 6,891 Black residents and 1,306 Black students who live in the three southern Indianapolis townships that fiercely fought Pinckney and desegregation.

Today, though, Dr. Pinckney’s legacy is under sharp attack. The percentage of Blacks on the now merged police departments and increasingly merged fire department is declining. More ominous, there are fewer Blacks in leadership positions in the Indianapolis police and fire departments than a decade ago!

Mayor Greg Ballard and his administration are bragging that they’ve increased the percentage of minority businesses getting city contracts. But in other areas, Black progress in that administration and through the city/county is being eroded.

Currently, there are no Black top managers in the Parks Department. Entire Black-majority neighborhoods are being ignored, like the far Eastside and far Westside, who’ve been ignored and abandoned in terms of infrastructure and development investment.

It doesn’t help that this mayor is the first in decades to routinely ignore Black media, granting just one prime time broadcast interview and one newspaper interview in 19 months.

The disrespect doesn’t end there.

I’m stunned by the Indianapolis Chamber of Commerce’s silence while the Indiana Legislature decimated funding for the Indianapolis Public Schools and fiscally harmed five other Marion County school districts.

The Chamber always speaks loudly about improving IPS and local education. But they sat as silent as Sphinxes while school districts containing 68.5 percent of the city’s African-American students were fiscally violated.

One of the major challenges this city faces it owning up to the fact that we have some serious racial problems that must be addressed. But the ability of the city’s mainstream media to understand and report on those problems got a severe setback last week, when among the 37 employees laid off by the Indianapolis Star Media Group was Jacqueline Thomas, the newspaper’s assistant managing editor for features.

Thomas was the highest-ranking African-American journalist at the Star. Her departure leaves no African-American in a senior management position in the Star’s Information Center (i.e. Newsroom).

Finally, it doesn’t help our community’s self-esteem when President Barack Obama’s Secretary of Education cancels his heavily promoted visit to Indiana Black Expo.

Secretary Arne Duncan’s Press Secretary John White, told me the cancellation was because “the Secretary’s schedule has changed unexpectedly.” Other sources tell me Secretary Duncan may have been scheduled for a meeting this week, possibly with Vice-President Joe Biden, as part of the Obama Administration’s efforts to shore up sagging white independent support for the president’s economic initiatives.

In Duncan’s place will be Peter Groff, an African-American and former President of the Colorado State Senate, who’s director of the Department’s Center for Faith Based and Community Initiatives Office. Nevertheless, the cancellation of the first major speech by a cabinet officer for a Democratic President to Indiana Black Expo is disheartening and somewhat disrespectful to Expo and our community.

In his prime, Dr. A.D. Pinckney would have had something to say about Secretary Duncan’s cancellation. And he’d be angry and distressed that Indianapolis was backsliding on the gains he and his NAACP had won.

Our community can’t afford those gains to be lost. We can’t slide back to a virtually white controlled police and fire department. Or schools with uneven and unequal funding. Or less diversity in mass media management. Or politicians and institutions who feel they can stick their thumbs in our community’s collective eye.

Dr. A.D. Pinckney was instrumental in making Indianapolis a better place to live. He was one of our community’s giant lions, like Henry J. Richardson, Andrew Ramsey, Dr. Frank Lloyd, Sam Jones, Julia Carson and Rev. Andrew J. Brown.

My deepest sympathies to Dr. Pinckney’s family. And on behalf of our community I say thanks for sharing him with us. We are better for his service, dedication and leadership.

A.D. Pinckney epitomizes what Black leadership really is. Ordinary persons, not anointed by media or others, who do extraordinary things.

See ‘ya around Black Expo and here next week!

Amos Brown’s opinions are not necessarily those of the Indianapolis Recorder Newspaper. You can contact him at (317) 221-0915.

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