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It is with great honor that I accept this responsibility of being a regular voice of our great region through this monthly column.

I see this column as a platform to inextricably link us together as Northwest Indiana residents. As Bishop Desmond Tutu said, “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”

The world we live in, the world our children are growing up in, will be a more just and beautiful place when we share in one another’s triumphs and our struggles.

Through the years, I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to work with a multitude of leaders and organizations committed to closing the achievement and opportunity gaps impacting the lives of black males across our state.

In 2012, I was appointed to the Indiana Commission of the Social Status of Black Males and elected the chairman in 2014 by my fellow commissioners. The Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males was formally established to study and recommend legislative remedies to address the critical social problems facing the black male population in Indiana.

As chair, I have committed to setting an ambitious strategic plan for the organization. Part of our plan involves convening leaders together for a conference — bringing back a foundational event that hadn’t occurred since 2008. After tireless work from our commissioners, we are ecstatic to be hosting this year's ICSSBM state conference on Tuesday in Indianapolis.

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The ICSSBM conference is geared toward sharing best practices from people, organizations and communities that are improving the lives of black males in areas such as education, criminal justice, health and employment. The day will begin by diving into the data provided by state agencies that capture the realities of the achievement and opportunity gaps that exist across our state.

For example, according to the 2013 Schott Foundation’s dropout report, only 51 percent of Indiana black males graduate high school in four years. Throughout the day, attendees will hear strategies from state and national subject matter experts and organizations that are models of excellence in closing these gaps.

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One of the featured speakers will be Dennis Lacewell, founding principal and current senior director of Institutional Effectiveness at Chicago’s Urban Prep Academy, the nation’s first public charter for young men with the accomplishment of having 100 percent of its senior classes accepted to four-year colleges for six consecutive years.

We will conclude by discussing recommendations on a local and state level to equip legislators with data driven strategies to effectively inform policy decisions related to improving the lives of black males.

I see this column as the opportunity to shine light on the inspirational stories of people, organizations and events, such as this conference, that are committed to improving the lives of all people. I look forward to continuing in this conversation, as we work to collectively make our region a better place for everyone.

Eddie Melton is NIPSCO’s manager of governmental and community relations, a member of the State Board of Education, and a local mentoring advocate. He is also chairman of the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males. The opinions are the writer’s.

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