Thursday, March 31, 2011

First 2011 State of Black America (SOBA) "I Am Empowered Health Award" awarded to IUL President

March 7, 2011 

Joseph Slash 
Indianapolis Urban League 
777 Indiana Avenue 
Indianapolis, IN 46202 

Dear President Slash: 

I am pleased to inform you that the National Urban League (NUL) has selected 
you to become the first recipient of the 2011 State of Black America (SOBA) “I Am 
Empowered Health Award”

The I Am Empowered SOBA Awards allows NUL to recognize outstanding 
advocacy efforts among our affiliates. This year’s awardees have been relentless 
advocates – within the areas of Jobs, Education, Housing, and Health – for the Urban 
Communities they serve. 

We would like to present this award to you on Thursday, March 31, 2011, at our 
annual Closing Awards Luncheon from 12:30 p.m. to 1:30 p.m. within Howard 
University’s Blackburn Center

We eagerly await your response and respectfully request that your staff 
contact Rejane Frederick, Special Assistant, National Urban League Policy 
Institute, at, or by phone at 202-898-1604, to confirm your 

Congratulations on your selection for this important honor. We look 
forward to seeing you on March 31st. 

Very truly yours, 

Marc H. Morial 
President & CEO 

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Change urged in hiring at IMPD, IFD

Mayoral task force cites reasons diversity is declining, notes ways to reverse trend

by John Murray

A report issued by a mayoral task force says efforts to boost diversity in the Indianapolis police and fire ranks have been stymied by forces ranging from recent department mergers to changes in law and policy.
The Indianapolis Metropolitan Police and Fire departments -- and elected officials -- must adapt to such challenges by restoring flexibility in hiring and promotions, says the report, issued recently by the Public Safety Personnel Diversity Task Force. It also calls for renewed vigilance to guard against diversity numbers backsliding further.

The report by the 30-member task force largely echoes concerns expressed in recent years both inside the city's Department of Public Safety and in the community.
But the challenge facing public safety officials and others has long been to boost representation of racial minorities and women while ensuring fairness for all candidates.
Even before the task force began meeting in September 2009, public safety officials had started work on an overhaul of recruitment, hiring, training and promotions.
Public Safety Director Frank Straub said Mayor Greg Ballard will announce details of new approaches in those areas in four to six weeks.
"He's going to have a very comprehensive announcement -- one that I think the community should be extremely proud of," Straub said. He declined to reveal details until then.
Indianapolis Urban League President Joseph Slash -- the diversity task force's co-chairman, along with the Rev. Richard Willoughby of Promise Land Christian Community Church -- expressed hope that the report, which has been in the mayor's hands since January, would only add to the sense of urgency.
Slash says it's telling that except in public safety, the racial makeup of city and Marion County employees largely reflects that of the community.
"That suggests that we have an institutional process where minority candidates are screened out instead of screened in," said Slash, also a member of the Indianapolis Civilian Police Merit Board. "We have to change the whole process so we can recruit, hire and promote in the police and fire departments to gain an employed group that reflects the population."
Task force members included community and business leaders, clergy members, city officials, and the police and fire union presidents.
The report identifies key events that, after years of gains, contributed to dips in the departments' minority ranks in recent years, particularly among blacks.
That group makes up about 13 percent of IMPD, down slightly from three years ago, and about 14 percent of IFD, down from 18 percent two years ago -- and the lowest level in more than 20 years.
Why is that? A big reason lies in recent consolidation that added mostly white officers and firefighters to their ranks. The city police department merged with the sheriff's law enforcement division in 2007 to create IMPD, and IFD has absorbed five township fire departments.
Other factors that the report says have worked against efforts to diversify the ranks:
A federal court's dismissal in 2008 of consent decrees that for three decades set rigid racial and gender benchmarks. With backing from Ballard, a Republican, the U.S. Department of Justice sought to end the oversight, saying the goals largely had been met. Ballard's predecessor, Democrat Bart Peterson, had resisted the move.
A 1996 change in state law that removed a county residency requirement for firefighters and police officers. The Justice Department later used that to justify changing the target benchmark for blacks from the county workforce -- now about 26 percent -- to the metro workforce, about half as high.
The removal, upon IMPD's formation, of a provision in city/county code that had allowed the police chief to hire or promote 20 percent of candidates from the eligibility list without regard to score, allowing more discretion.
Though Straub is keeping new plans for hiring and promotions under wraps, public safety officials in the past have said they were considering moving away from a list-based approach. That has meant ranking candidates based on test scores, interviews and other criteria -- some of them subjective -- resulting in candidates separated by a fraction of a point.
One alternative would involve grouping eligible candidates into tiers based on scores in a "banding" system that eschews a straight list.
The task force's report urges restoring the previous ordinance provision allowing the 20 percent flexibility in selecting from the list. But it also endorsed consideration of a banding approach.
Earlier this week, the City-County Council's minority-party Democrats introduced a merit board expansion proposal that also included restoration of the 20 percent flexibility for police. For both departments, the proposal would give preference in hiring and promotions to candidates with local ties, another task force recommendation.
The council's Law Enforcement Study Commission is expected to discuss the proposal.
A year ago, Straub said, the departments began implementing performance evaluations, a tool the task force report says should figure into promotion decisions.
Ballard said that while many reforms are already under way, the task force's report adds a vital community voice.
"It all adds to the conversation, which is very much needed," he said this week, "so I appreciate what they've done."
The list-ranking approach, in use for decades, had long invited lawsuits by both white and black officers and firefighters.
A 2-year-old federal lawsuit, spearheaded by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, is still pending. The NAACP is awaiting a judge's ruling on its request to reconsider a September decision tossing out many of the plaintiffs' claims and weakening the suit.
NAACP attorneys and other critics have said the city is moving too slowly, with its efforts bringing little payoff in diversifying the ranks so far.
At the same time, the departments' unions have sought to guard against new approaches that place too much value on racial diversity at the expense of fairness.
Bill Owensby, the president of the Fraternal Order of Police, said he was happy with the task force's report overall.
He intends to discuss the new approaches further with Straub, he said, and sees the most hope in the director's plans to make recruitment efforts more aggressive and proactive.
"I think if we improve recruiting, we can get to where we want to be all around," Owensby said, including boosting the ranks of racial minorities.
Straub and Benjamin Hunter, the Republican chairman of the council's public safety committee, noted a need to keep representation of all minorities in mind, not just blacks.
"My growing concern is making sure we are also recruiting Hispanic officers as well" to attract more Spanish-speaking officers, said Hunter, noting that Hispanics are the fastest-growing ethnic group in Marion County. The 2010 census showed they make up 9 percent of the population.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Urban League's Morial urges job creation

By Carrie Ritchie

The leader of a nonprofit that advocates for education and job opportunities for blacks kicked off a three-day jobs tour today in Indianapolis.

Marc Morial, president of the National Urban League, encouraged Hoosiers to focus on jobs and education this afternoon at a luncheon hosted by The Economic Club of Indiana.

Morial said those two components will be crucial to establishing a successful economy in the 21st Century.

"These are, no doubt, difficult times for the nation," he said.

Most of the country's urban areas are struggling with high unemployment and the problems that come with it, but Morial, the former mayor of New Orleans, thinks urban areas can find new strength by focusing on job creation and incentives to drive it.

Training and educating people are a must, he said. Morial called for a long-term commitment to education, noting that other countries are ramping up their efforts to provide quality education to their citizens.

"Our children need to be in school more hours and more days," Morial said.

He also said the government shouldn't raise academic standards for students without giving them better teachers and technology and investing in initiatives that will help them learn.

Morial will travel to other Indiana cities during his jobs tour.

He's touting a 12-point plan that the National Urban League developed to boost job creation.

Follow Star reporter Carrie Ritchie on Twitter at Call her at (317) 444-2751.


National Urban League CEO speaks to the Economic Club of Indiana

Marc Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, was the guest speaker at the Economic Club of Indiana lunch at the Indiana Convention Center. Tuesday Feb. 23, 2010. Alan Petersime/The Star

Click here to see the photo gallery.


Friday, October 29, 2010

Cash crunch hits Indianapolis Urban League

Indianapolis Urban League is facing a cash crunch after its leaders spent more than a year trying to save a program that lost its funding source.

Now the civil-rights organization finds itself in a precarious financial position, something that’s become increasingly familiar for not-for-profits in recent years.

“It’s at the point where you have to stay with it on a weekly basis,” President and CEO Joseph Slash said of the agency’s finances.

Earlier this month, west-side community center Christamore House said it had laid off seven of its 19 staff members and might have to suspend services before the end of the year because of a funding shortage.

Both Urban League and Christamore House receive money from United Way of Central Indiana, which cut its distributions to all agencies by 10 percent last year. United Way CEO Ellen Annala said she and other grantmakers expected to see widespread financial problems in 2009. As it turns out, she said, many did not reach the breaking point until this year. “We know there are several organizations who are concerned going forward,” she said.
Indianapolis Urban League’s budget last year was about $1.8 million, and revenue fell short of expenses by about $70,000. This year, Slash said, the shortfall will be about $112,000 on a budget of $1.6 million—after tapping a line of credit and other sources of reserves.

In addition to playing watchdog on issues of racial equality, the Urban League provides a variety of social services. One of its most successful programs has been what Slash described as “wrap-around” services for ex-prisoners.

Until July 2009, the Urban League received a $202,500 contract from Marion County Community Corrections to work with offenders recently released from jail or serving sentences on home detention. Participants would check in at the Urban League’s offices at 777 Indiana Ave., where they could get help finding jobs and making the transition back to society.

Community Corrections changed the way the program operated in 2009 by having its service providers work out of jails. Slash said he didn’t want to compromise the Urban League’s method, which had lowered the rate of recidivism, and let the contract go.

At the same time, he didn’t want to lose the two staff members who had experience working with offenders. 
“There are roughly 550 people being released back into Marion County monthly, and they still come here,” Slash said.

So he decided to keep the two employees, who were supported by other, smaller grants, on the payroll while looking for alternative funding sources.  

The new funding never materialized. Meanwhile, another grant that propped up the payroll came to an end. Slash laid off the two staff members and a part-time clerical worker at the end of August, leaving 16 employees on the payroll.

One of those former employees, Dennis Jones, said Urban League failed to remit three months’ worth of withholdings into his retirement account. He made a complaint to the Labor Department’s Employee Benefits Security Administration, and the $600 showed up in his account earlier this month.

Slash chalked the incident up to general cash-flow problems. The Urban League, which handles other city and state contracts, has to wait for reimbursements,  compounding the problem, he said. That was not the first time Urban League had to catch up on remitting an employee's retirement money. United Way Director of Agency Services Christie Gillespie said she was aware of a similar incident in 2008, but it was remedied.

“To be responsible financially, you really just have to retrench,” said Michael Twyman, director of Indiana grant programs at the Nina Mason Pulliam Charitable Trust, which has provided some funding to the local Urban League chapter.

Though many charities are dealing with reductions in government contracts, grants and donations, Twyman said he hasn’t heard of any others that failed to follow federal rules on the timely remittal of retirement funds.

It’s common for charities to survive from one grant to the next, Twyman said, but that’s not a sustainable business model. To avoid crises, charities have to look for ways to lower their cost of operations and “continue to beat the drum for individual giving,” he said. “You have to do it all at the same time.”

The Urban League's largest sources of funding have been its United Way allocation, followed by its county contract and a deal with the Indiana State Department of Health to provide testing and prevention services for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. 

Many charities have stretched their budgets to avoid laying off employees, Gillespie said.  “If non-profits are guilty of anything, they’re probably guilty of trying to be as humane as possible with their own staff.”

Christamore House was in jeopardy months before interim Executive Director Tina Sullivan let go seven staff members this month. “Since June we were aware they were in trouble,” Gillespie said. The previous executive director, Dionne Leslie, went on maternity leave in August and later resigned.

With an outpouring of support from the Christamore House Guild and other community members, Sullivan said the community center—which serves the depressed Haughville neighborhood—likely will make it to the end of the year without shutting its doors. Next year, its budget will be reduced from $1.3 million to about $650,000.

“We’re very pleased with how the board is stepping up,” Gillespie said of Christamore House.

United Way conducts regular evaluations of the charities it supports, but it doesn’t make the results of those reviews public. The reviews are conducted every one, two or four years, depending on the agency's previous score.

Christamore House was on a four-year review cycle, while Urban League gets an annual review, Gillespie said.

The Urban League has been one of United Way’s largest grant recipients over the years. This year it will receive $343,689, making it 20th out of 103 charities in the size of its allocation.

The Urban League’s leaders are looking to beef up their fundraising and their profile in Indianapolis. Board Chairman Jerry Martin said younger generations aren’t very aware of the Urban League’s role in the national civil rights movement, or the local chapter’s work in race relations.

“He does a lot, and he doesn’t get a lot of pub for it,” Martin said of Slash.

Slash, 67, was a deputy mayor under Bill Hudnut and a vice president at Indianapolis Power and Light before working at Urban League. He took over as CEO from the local chapter’s iconic founder, the late Sam Jones, in 2003.

The Indianapolis Urban League hasn’t conducted a major fundraising campaign since 2001, when it raised nearly $5 million for the current headquarters building.

Urban League chapters elsewhere have been successful in drumming up widespread support, Twyman said. The Pulliam trust recently funded a two-year pilot program at the local chapter to coach fathers on parenting skills. The grant ended this summer.

“I would like to see the Indianapolis branch get in lock step with the creativity at the national level,” Twyman said.

Source: Indianapolis Business Journal

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Education is the New Civil Rights Issue for Our Time – Get Outraged and Make a Difference

Recently, the city of Indianapolis made nationwide headlines with the instances of youth-related violence during the Indiana Black Expo’s 40th Anniversary Summer Celebration. The latest shootings in a single night, involving young people from age 10 to 18, are among several instances of community violence in a recent rash of incidences in Indianapolis over the past few months. The community is outraged, demanding immediate action and rightfully so.

Youth-related violence isn’t a new challenge for Indianapolis. It isn’t a new challenge for our country. We’ve been battling gang violence and out-of-control teens for as long as I’ve been an adult. The issue isn’t that we don’t recognize the problem; the issue is what do we do. What do we do that provides an immediate and impactful solution? What do we do that causes global change to a nationwide problem? Where do we begin to address this cycle of violence that seems to get increasingly worse year-after-year?

I believe education is the key and the beginning of systemic change.  It’s been said that education is the new civil rights issue of our time, and I agree. So, why don’t we see the same level of outrage about our city’s low high school graduation rates?

We can’t begin to count all of the positive unintended consequences that come from a solid education. For example, children learning to add two and two in math, aren’t just learning addition, they’re learning to apply logic and reasoning. Its unintended consequences like this coupled with the social/behavioral skills imparted by good teachers that kick in when a child finds himself in a potentially violent situation. These skills support the child in making a good decision in the heat of the moment. Without a solid educational foundation, our children are 100 percent unprepared for life’s challenges.

Community violence is EVERYONE’S problem. But so is education… Whether you are a parent or not, the quality of education provided to Indiana children is an issue that affects each and every resident. Get outraged about instances of violence in this community, and get outraged about the lack of good education in our schools because the two go hand-in-hand.

When little Bobby next door doesn’t pass his I-Step exam, get outraged. When little Sherry at church doesn’t make it to the next grade level, get outraged. Get outraged when the state of Indiana has to take over public schools. Get outraged. And then do something!

The Indianapolis Urban League staff, board and volunteers encourage you to get outraged and get involved to help us make change for the youth of our community. We’re planning to tackle this issue head on and we need you. We’re open to your comments and ideas. Stay tuned for more details concerning upcoming activities.