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Leadership Indianapolis: Examining poverty and wealth

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“Societies are built on great wealth disparities, and thus need an exploited class to develop that wealth.”

Those are the words of Dr. Chenjerai Kumanyika, a researcher, journalist and assistant professor at Rutgers University, as heard on the podcast “Seeing White” produced by Scene on Radio.

Dr. Kumanyika said this in 2017 and three years later, we are likely worse off than at that time due to many factors — one being a global pandemic that we are still living through.

But on that note about wealth disparities, the mention of an “exploited class” deserves more examination. Here, he is talking about people. People in our families, our workplaces, neighborhoods. People who are us.

In the Indianapolis Recorder, writers Breanna Cooper and Tyler Fenwick have penned the real-life stories of the people behind those statistics in their recent reporting.

People like Chris Busbee, a young father balancing the debt of child support, rent and utilities on less than $15 per hour and Kyerra King, a 25-year-old who put her education on the back burner to work at age 16 to help support her mother and three siblings. Chris and Kyerra represent the reality of the situation in our city and unfortunately their stories are not unique.

In Indianapolis, studies show that about 1 in 4 residents is living in concentrated poverty. Additionally, 17.2% of residents and 24.5% of children live below the federal poverty line — a figure that outpaces the national average.

How did we get here? Experts of course point to systemic oppression, discriminatory labor practices and education inequities to name a few of the usual culprits.
However, in the face of insurmountable odds, those who care are daring to make a difference.

This month Leadership Indianapolis launched our Poverty & Wealth discussion series which will feature data experts, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, community organizers and those with lived experience not only discussing the issues but also offering insight into ways civic leaders can become involved in creating more equity in our community.

Our roster of speakers include community development leaders such as Ashley Gurvitz of Alliance for Northeast Unification, Dr. Una Osili of Lilly School of Philanthropy, LaShauna Triplett of MLT Outreach, Unai Miguel Andres of SAVI and others.

In addition to the discussion series, we will also host an audio book club on “Self-Made,” the foremost autobiographical text on Madam CJ Walker and a skill workshop on the power of philanthropy with Kiahna Davis, chair of the African American Legacy Fund of Indianapolis.

It is our hope that through this programming, we will be able to examine the concerns at hand and chart a path forward centered on equity, collaboration and change.

Rebecca Hutton serves as president and CEO of Leadership Indianapolis. Ebony Chappel is program and communications manager. Leadership Indianapolis educates, inspires, connects and mobilizes community leaders to serve and strengthen greater Indianapolis. Learn more at LeadershipIndianapolis.com.

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