Commentary: Rep. Smith Says Strategic Plan Targets Disparities

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By: Lakeshore Staff

November 26, 2014— The Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males (ICSSBM) has released its strategic plan for fiscal years 2015-18. State Rep. Vernon G. Smith (D-Gary) says the plan not only offers opportunities for Hoosier African-American men, but also provides challenges to the state’s elected officials.

“The plan looks at reducing disparities in the areas of criminal justice, education, employment, health, and social factors,” explained Dr. Smith, an education professor at Indiana University Northwest. “Currently, African-American men are at a great disadvantage in each of these areas. The four-year plan involves a variety of goals, including forums, workshops and educational presentations that will expand in various parts of the state each year as the number of black men served grows.

“The meetings and events are great beginnings, but our state’s elected officials need to become committed and actively involved to ensure lasting changes are realized,” continued Dr. Smith. “I request that Indiana Superintendent of Public Instruction Glenda Ritz share with schools ‘best practices’ to use to close the achievement gaps. I also challenge her to continue to develop strategies to encourage black males to complete their high school education and provide a quality education that is on par with the wealthy suburbs around Indianapolis.

“I challenge Gov. Mike Pence to create good-paying jobs for African-Americans and medical care that covers all Hoosiers, rather than leaving out large numbers of the poor,” said Dr. Smith. “In addition, I challenge the governor to reform the criminal justice system which has a disproportionate number of black males in prison compared to other racial groups. Recidivism remains an issue. Inmates need education and assistance in finding jobs after they pay their debt to society.

“It is also essential that proper funding be offered for educational intervention programs for black males which will help prevent future incarcerations,” added Dr. Smith. “There is a strong correlation between lack of educational opportunities and the high rate crime and imprisonment.

“And finally, I challenge my fellow members of the Indiana General Assembly,” said Dr. Smith. “We appropriate the money that can enable these challenges to be met. In particular, funding for urban schools, where most of Indiana’s African-American children attend, must be increased so these public schools can provide the needed educational opportunities and programs to ensure that black children be given a fair chance to succeed in college and the workplace following their high school graduation. These are the challenges I issue to Indiana’s elected officials.

“The ICSSBM is doing great work, but it takes everyone to change a society that too long has lagged in its pursuit of equity and the end of disparity,” concluded Dr. Smith. “Unless all of us commit ourselves, included those elected to office, nothing substantial will change. One of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s many great quotes states, ‘Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.’ The words have great depth of meaning and are as true today as they were when Dr. King first spoke them.”

The ICSSBM Strategic Plan includes the development of local ICSSBM commissions in Gary, Anderson, Bloomington, Evansville, Fort Wayne, Indianapolis, Jeffersonville, Michigan City, Muncie, and South Bend by the end of fiscal year 2018.

In addition, the report outlines efforts to address the disparities in criminal justice, education, employment, health, and social factors. Those issues will be addressed in a variety of forums, workshops and events.

For instance, there will be an increasing number of forums each year to discuss and share information about second chance expungement which was passed as a law during the 2014 Indiana General Assembly.

The ICSSBM will host youth empowerment summits and conferences as well as an annual statewide black male youth day at the Statehouse. In addition to job fairs, the ICSSBM will host skill and resume building workshops.

Cooperation and assistance with the Indiana Black Barbershop Health Initiative will continue as well as participation in the annual HIV/AIDS awareness program at Crispus Attucks Medical Magnate High School in Indianapolis.

Additionally, the ICSSBM will promote a statewide Dad’s Expo that will focus on the importance of fathers and the impact of being an effective parent. A Million Father March is also in ICSSBM’s plans as well as the establishment of an annual conference or symposium that would provide training workshops and information for black men and youth to help them create positive and supportive relationships in addition to the discussion of issues affecting African-American men.

The ICSSBM will continue its efforts to disseminate information to key stakeholders throughout the state as the issues and disparities facing black males in Indiana continues to become better known and understood so action can be taken to correct those disparities.

Source: Indiana House of Representatives

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