Fishers Race Initiative in limbo as city parts ways with racial equity groups

IN Focus: Indiana Politics

FISHERS, Ind. — Fishers leadership is looking for what’s next after parting ways with the main organizations leading the Fishers Race Initiative.

“The “Soul Focused Group” has been teaching interrupting racism classes for almost a year now. The city sponsored 500 classes for people in Fishers. Bonnie Meier was one of the people to take the class.

”They went through the history of race in our country, especially for Black Americans, and they just explained what institutional racism is, systemic racism, and how it impacts all of us. Then we got to discuss ways we can do better and make our society more equitable,” Meier said.

Now she’s worried if the program will continue.

“It is absolutely essential for Fishers to have this training course available to everybody,” she said. “It is a growing city, it is growing in both population and diversity.”

But not everyone agrees.

Ashley Elrod, the Fishers director of community and public relations, said they’ve gotten several complaints about the Fishers Race Initiative. Elrod said they eventually parted ways with Soul Focused Group when a past podcast was brought to the city’s attention comparing whiteness to a virus.

”What we found is that it was actually to the detriment of our diversity and inclusion work here at the city to continue with that consultant,” Elrod said.

In a statement, the Soul Focused Group said this was a misunderstanding:

The Soul Focus Group is extremely proud of the work we have done with the Fishers Race Initiative. The work has been extremely well received across the social and political spectrum in Fishers and great progress has been made towards racial equity. It is very unfortunate that 1 podcast title was taken out of context and politicized in a divisive manner. The Soul Focus Group is now and will always be committed to unity and a return to cross racial human solidarity. We truly wish Fishers the best moving forward.

The Soul Focus Group

The other group the city of Fishers was working with was “Favorite Part of My Day”

”Their goal was to look internally both at H.R. practices and look for ways that we could grow our reach in diversity and inclusion,” Elrod said.

Elrod said the group chose to sever its contract with the city, and they parted amicably.

Now, with both groups gone, residents and city leaders alike are worried about what happens next.

”It’s beyond disappointing,” said Meier. “I thought the Soul Focused Group was so great and everything was incredible, so it’s really disappointing.”

”I thought each of the organizations that were contracted to the city brought a lot of information and expertise, and I was really encouraged by the work they already performed.” said Jocelyn Vare, a Fishers City Council member.

Going forward, Vare said she’s choosing to look at this as an opportunity for other groups.

”There are many organizations and people in Fishers that are really taking equity and diversity issues and really working on them and trying to promote and make good forward steps,” Vare said. “This is their opportunity to step forward.

”Diversity, equity and inclusion are very important topics in this community, and I’m certain we’ll move forward,” Vare said.

Elrod said they’re focused on continuing the interrupting racism training but with a different group.

”We paused that training. It’s definitely not a cancelation, but we paused it with that vendor specifically and are currently weighing our options with contracting with another consultant there,” she said.

Elrod said they’re dedicated to continuing racial equity work.

”The work has not stopped, and it won’t stop, and we look forward to continuing it in months to come,” Elrod said.

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