INDIANAPOLIS — James Wilson was only a teenager when he went to prison.
“I was gone at 17, came home at 26,” he said. “When I came home from prison, I saw all the young people that were in the streets before I left, now they’re in there.”
“They’re telling me they’re not connected to resources, there’s no opportunity for jobs, there’s nothing out there, and it’s just floating ducks,” he added.
Those comments are what started the idea of a Peace Festival for the city.
Now CEO of Circle Up Indy, Wilson says the Peace Festival is a one-stop shop, bringing access to vital resources directly to people who need them.
“The goal was to mend and bring everybody together, present resources from employment, education, health definitely, mentorship, all the factors to minimize any issues, any excuses, to really build self-sustainability,” he said.
Another goal is to address the root causes of violent crimes in the city.
“I speak on it all the time about why violence exists, and why we continue to ignore it, but our numbers right now? They’re not going to allow us to,” said Wilson.
“You have a lot of individuals that are stuck in their silos and not understanding that it actually hurts our people,” he added. “When we have to go out here, and rob and kill you, because you wouldn’t listen to me when I told you that I was homeless and had mental health issues and whatnot, bringing those needed resources that’s really supportive to the community, and really breaking those silos to build outside the norm, that’s important.”
Bringing peace to the city, and allowing people to connect with each other, is another goal of the festival. That’s as the impact of gun violence, and rising crime, in Indianapolis is only getting stronger, especially for Wilson and his family.
“Last Tuesday, IMPD alerted me and my family that my little brother was killed, and so I bury him next Friday,” said Wilson. “So I’m hit by the violence. I’m angry. I’m hurt about what I see, not just in my family, in our community.”
“These families and individuals are dying,” he added. “They’re my family and friends, I grew up with them. When I had nothing, or nowhere to go, they took me in their house and now they’re not here. It hurts. We kill each other over nothing.”
In its fifth year, Wilson says Saturday’s Peace Festival is looking to be bigger than before. That’s with a variety of vendors, games, live entertainment, food, resources and everything for everyone. The event’s theme, “Spirit of the City”, also includes guest speakers in Mayor Joe Hogsett, Congressman Andre Carson and a host of others.
Set to be held at Frederick Douglass Park, from noon to 7 p.m., the event also falls on the park’s 100th anniversary.
“We’re literally going down in the history books as of Saturday,” said Wilson. “Indy Parks wants to review it years from now and show all of the showcasing and everything!”
Wilson is still accepting volunteers for this year’s event, if you’re interested, you can register here.
In the meantime, Circle Up Indy, which focuses on economic development, is continuing to support families behind the scenes. Wilson says there are still funds left to help families with rent and utility assistance.
If you’re interested in getting involved with Circle Up Indy, you can contact Wilson at 317-455-9272 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.