Leveraging Opportunity and Responsibility to Advance Racial Equity

By Jeffrey Harrison, President & CEO, Citizens Energy Group

Business Equity for Indy (BEI) is a coalition of organizations with a mission to drive racial equity and economic opportunity across Central Indiana. To help guide our efforts, we are digging into demographic data and learning from the life experiences of Black residents and people of color. Together, we are shifting mindsets by prioritizing actions that improves access to jobs, healthcare, education, small business opportunities, and public policy advocacy. Our goal is to drive collaborative solutions that create a more inclusive and prosperous economy for every citizen of Central Indiana.

The relatively recent series of tragic events involving Black Americans represents a racial awakening for our country. From the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of the police, to the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color, a sense of urgency has been created across America to address racial inequity and injustice. BEI member companies believe this is the time for vigorous and positive action for racial and economic equity here in Central Indiana.

The leaders of the organizations represented by BEI believe the business community has a responsibility to help create a more equitable society and economy in Central Indiana. The collective experiences of our organizations demonstrate that advancing racial equity and inclusion makes our organizations better while enhancing quality of life and strengthening economic development in Central Indiana.

BEI has selected five critical action areas: hiring and promotion; procurement and participation; impediments to health; learning and talent; and public policy. For example, the poverty rate among Black people and other people of color in Marion County is still more than twice that of white citizens, and white households have approximately 10 times the wealth as those of people of color. As I mentioned earlier, the disparate impact of COVID-19 on communities of color certainly illustrates the impediments to quality health care faced by minority communities in America.

While we’re making progress, there’s still much to be done. I invite members of the corporate community and your organizations to join us in working together, speaking up on challenging topics, and prioritizing a bias toward action on advancing racial equity.

One specific way you can get engaged today is by joining our new Business Equity for Indy Procurement Roundtable. The collaborative leaders behind this initiative include the Procurement & Participation Task Force co-led by John Thompson (President & CEO, Thompson Distribution), Craig Reed (Chief Procurement Officer, Corteva Agriscience), and Ilya Yuffa (Senior Vice President, Eli Lilly and Company & Incoming President, Lilly International); several local Black-owned businesses; the Indy Chamber; and the Mid-States Minority Supplier Development Council. They have prioritized eight national best practices beyoand spending requirements that we believe will help drive progress locally. If you are looking for access to resources to identify local, diverse suppliers with capabilities to meet your business’s needs and need facilitation support of your investment to help local Black-owned businesses and businesses owned by other people of color grow and scale, join the Procurement Roundtable.

For educators, healthcare providers, policymakers, and advocates: Let’s shift mindsets and focus on synergies that will eliminate barriers and expand access to opportunities that improve the quality of life and experience for more citizens in every single ZIP code in our city.

For our Black residents and communities of color: Our commitment to you is to accelerate good work already established in the community as well as to bring new initiatives to bear. We are listening and will continue to work with the Indianapolis Urban League and other grassroots organizations to amplify and accelerate the efforts that matter and are needed most. We know that takes intentional collaboration and investment.

For our community: The benefit of building a more inclusive city means that we can have an equitable economy for the long-term health and wellbeing of our entire region.

Our success will depend on unwavering collaborative efforts among the business community, government, economic development groups, healthcare organizations, and community groups. The BEI leadership and task force members are determined to ensure BEI moves beyond being an initiative fueled by the passion of this moment and history, and instead becomes part of the fabric of our economy and community.

Everyone is a stakeholder in advancing racial equity, and we invite you to play a role as we continue to define and grow Business Equity for Indy.

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