Building a stronger community
Impact stories from the community
Indianapolis Urban League
The COVID-19 pandemic, along with the economic impacts it has caused, and the continuing work to address racial inequities has had a huge impact on the Indianapolis Urban League and the communities it serves.
“Today, in light of what we see happening around us socially and politically, it just shows how important the work is,” President and CEO Tony Mason said.
The Indianapolis Urban League, one of 90 affiliates of the Urban League across the country, was founded to assist Black residents and other minorities to achieve economic and social equity. Their work focuses on education and youth empowerment, economic empowerment, health and quality of life empowerment, civic rights and racial justice empowerment, and civic engagement and leadership empowerment.
Their programs assist the community in multiple ways, including Project Ready that works with more than 500 high school students and has a nearly 100 percent graduation rate and college admissions rate; their workforce development programs that serve more than 1,200 people per year; and their Center for Working Families, a partnership with the United Way, to offer integrated services connecting families with resources, such as financial literacy and income supports assistance.
COVID-19 brought a slew of new challenges to both the Indianapolis Urban League as an organization, and the community they serve, Mason said.
Mason and his staff had to quickly shift to being able to work remotely, especially after one staff member tested positive for COVID-19. But at the same time, they were hearing about significant need in the community, including two nearby senior living communities whose residents were struggling with getting food during the city’s shutdown.
And the calls kept coming, from families struggling all over. They decided to set up drive-thru food distributions, where people could come to the Urban League offices and pick up food. The first week, the distribution snarled traffic around the Urban League office on Indiana Avenue, just off the IUPUI campus, so they worked with campus officials to use a parking lot, helping relieve traffic.
The distributions have continued for 25 weeks, distributing more than 75,000 meals.
“When people talk about the economy recovering, they are talking about the stock market, but most people really have not gotten their jobs back or wages fully restored,” Mason said.
The United Way of Central Indiana, along with the Lilly Endowment, the Cummins Foundation, the Lilly Foundation, and others, have been huge partners for the Urban League in its work to support the community. In addition to the food distributions, they have also assisted hundreds of residents with rent and utility expenses providing nearly $2 million in assistance.
“As long as there is a need, and we have the resources and can figure out the logistics, we are going to continue to do it,” Mason said.
But Mason also knows families were struggling long before the pandemic, and a key role they play is in advocacy to make sure their community’s needs are being addressed.
That work includes important community conversations around low wages, quality of living, racial inequity, homelessness, affordable housing, the educational achievement gap, opportunities for Black-owned businesses and health disparities, and addressing the historic, systemic issues that have prevented Black residents from achieving the quality of life other populations have.
The National Urban League was recently awarded $100 million from the Lilly Endowment for the Indianapolis African American Quality of Life Renewal Initiative, which will enable the Urban League and the African American Coalition to address systemic and root cause issues.
They know this not a problem that the Black community will solve alone, and that it will take corporate and government interventions, funders, legislation, and policy changes. But they also know the work is needed, and so important, Mason said.
“The reality of it is now, more than ever, we all need each other, and we need to be supporting each other, leaning in, we truly need to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers. We are all in this together and our fates are more intertwined than we could have ever imagined,” Mason said.