KAREN FREEMAN-WILSON: All NWI communities' growth uplifts region

2014-03-09T00:00:00Z 2014-03-15T23:21:32Z KAREN FREEMAN-WILSON: All NWI communities' growth uplifts regionBy Karen Freeman-Wilson nwitimes.com
March 09, 2014 12:00 am  • 

It is an honor to add my voice to others who care as much about Northwest Indiana as I do.

There are some who reject the concept of a regional community and point to the political dilution that has accompanied Unigov in Indianapolis as their best evidence. There is no question that we must protect the assets that belong to individual communities, but we also can leverage them for the greater good.

I love my hometown of Gary, but I understand clearly the future of my city and the larger Northwest Indiana community are inextricably linked. Below, I have suggested ways that we can all contribute to the greater good of our community.

Confront racism

We must intentionally confront the challenge racism presents in our region with the energy and commitment that we have invested in so many other important endeavors.

We have garnered passion about the extension of the South Shore Line, ethics in government, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority and many other important endeavors. But the factor that has prevented us from being our best selves always takes a back seat.

Whenever racism rears its ugly head, we want to attribute a decision or action motivated by racism to some other rational factor because to confront the actual cause would require us to engage in self-examination in a way that makes everyone uncomfortable.

Race has long been the “elephant in the room” for this region. The best evidence of this problem are the daily online comments to local news articles that allow anonymity where people make racial comments and references that are better left to the 1950s.

Ways to address this issue are through the development of innovative curricula in our schools, through the use of study circles first introduced by the Race Relations Council and through the willingness of those who know better to speak up whenever appropriate.

If we refuse to confront the scourge of racism, individual cities and towns may prosper, but we will never prosper as a regional community.

Develop inclusive culture

We must move away from a culture of condemnation toward a culture of inclusion. Too often we focus on elements and characteristics that divide us rather than promoting the common goals that unite us.

The overwhelming majority of residents want to lead law-abiding lives and provide our children or those we care about with better opportunities than we had.

If we devote our time and energy to these endeavors, we would have little time to attempt to ostracize and oppress each other because of our race, gender, sex, sexual orientation, religion or association. This country was built on the premise that we all have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Boost standard of living for all

All of our children should have a sense of entitlement. Adults who have power and influence must commit themselves to ensuring that all children have quality education, health care, housing and cultural and recreational opportunities. Your birthright should not be a lottery ticket that determines whether you have basic resources to achieve greatness.

While I acknowledge that to ensure this entitlement we will be required to use more resources in some areas, our willingness to do so will ultimately reduce the number of impoverished communities This will, in turn, reduce the need for disproportionate resources in Northwest Indiana to communities like Gary, Hammond, East Chicago and Lake Station where poverty exists. We all gain by increasing the standard of living for children in Northwest Indiana.

Foster spirit of volunteerism

We must promote a culture of volunteerism. We have started to require service hours and service learning in many schools, but we must also encourage volunteerism among adults.

Many Northwest Indiana communities have limited resources, but citizens can work together to improve the appearance of their respective communities. Volunteers also help young people achieve dreams and senior citizens achieve a sense of security. This need includes our corporate community as well.

So often, corporate leaders focus on their contribution to taxes or donations and forget about how valuable the time of individual employees can be. Corporate leaders from NIPSCO, Peoples Bank, The Times Media Company, Centier, Majestic and Horseshoe casinos, Indiana University, Ivy Tech and others have created a culture of volunteerism that has had a positive impact on communities throughout Northwest Indiana.

The Boys & Girls Club in Gary and the American Heart Association have benefited greatly from corporate volunteerism. If corporations and individuals in Northwest Indiana all embraced volunteerism, our communities would improve exponentially.

Regional growth benefits all

There must be universal support for economic development opportunities in the region. Whether it is the Gary/Chicago International Airport public/private partnership and land-based gaming in Gary, the port in East Chicago, investments in the lakefront in Whiting and Portage, water projects in Hammond, or the Illiana Expressway, we must acknowledge the value that comes from supporting the growth of neighboring communities.

Each community has the ability to grow by supporting the other. Our region is small enough that residents can live in one community and work in another. This spirit also lends itself to regional commerce. It is not a matter of control or competition, but cooperation.

Mary McLeod Bethune said: “If I touch you with one finger, you may not even notice me; if I touch with two or three, you may begin to feel me; but if I assemble fingers into a fist, I can strike a mighty blow.”

Our communities represent individual fingers. By joining together we can strike a mighty blow. It does not in any way deny the unique characteristics of each community; it just reminds us there is undeniable strength in numbers.

Some may view these suggestions as idealistic or naive. Others might believe them to promote socialism in a world that values capitalism. I would argue the ideas outlined above, if considered and implemented with care and introspection, have the ability to move us toward a more improved Northwest Indiana.

Karen Freeman-Wilson is mayor of Gary. The opinions are the writer's.

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