By Anna Shei
January 4, 2021
Martin Luther King Jr.’s historic “I Have a Dream” speech was the catalyst for the creation of what is now known as the Indiana Civil Rights Commission (ICRC).
You may not have thought about the ICRC or what they do, but they have an important role in Indiana, promoting and protecting equal opportunities for education, employment, access to public accommodations and fair housing.
Have you been discriminated against based on your race, gender or other factors? The ICRC makes decisions on all claims of discrimination submitted after a neutral, in-depth investigation involving intake units, investigations and dispute resolution.
The ICRC also oversees several commissions that take a deep dive into Indiana’s many diverse communities to spotlight groups that may need more advocacy.
Let’s dive into some more work they do.
Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. with the MLK Indiana Holiday Commission (MLKIHC)
You’ve probably heard of the amazing activities/events the MLKIHC hosts to honor the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Maybe you’ve even, joined them at an event.
Every January, the Commission hosts its annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Indiana Holiday Celebration. The celebration honors the effects Dr. King had, not just in Indiana, but throughout the entire nation. In past years, this has also included a day of service where volunteers help with various indoor and outdoor projects to support the Watkins Park Family Center and the neighborhoods along Edgemont Avenue in Indianapolis. While this year these events may be a bit different due to the COVID-19 pandemic, don’t forget to check out the ICRC website for more information.
The MLKIHC is also in charge of planning the State of Indiana’s annual Holocaust observance. In 2020, that remembrance program was held virtually, which also included a ceremony where names of those who died in the Holocaust were read.
Improving the Quality of Life for Black Males with the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males (ICSSBM)
The role of this commission is to improve the quality of life for Black males in Indiana. The ICSSBM focuses on issues in five areas affecting our communities: criminal justice, education, employment, health and social factors. The commission partners with leaders in your cities and towns to provide recommendations for community and legislative decisions. It also works to encourage residents to improve neighborhoods.
A major goal for this commission is to engage minority youth and to provide our kids with a strong student-centered education system and a well-educated, trainable workforce that sets up our economy for the future. They plan to close the achievement gap and increase the number of Hoosiers with a quality education to 60% or higher by 2025.
Be on the lookout for ICSSBM initiatives in 2021! ICSSBM gets involved in your community via programs like the Indiana Black Barbershop Health Initiative, Young Black Males Matter Day and the Indiana Black Male State Conference.
Giving a Voice to Hoosier Women with the Indiana Commission for Women (ICW)
This commission gives a voice to Indiana women’s needs, concerns and challenges, as well as celebrates their successes and contributions to our state. Their purpose is to keep moving women forward in the community by helping everyone learn about the opportunities and resources available to you or someone in your family. Their website has a list of resources for you to learn about how you can connect with your community like finding job leads, legal help, caregiving resources, paid family leave and even violence prevention.
The Commission for Women also organizes the Torchbearer Awards. This award goes to women in your communities who paved the way for others by breaking down barriers and overcoming obstacles to create equality or who have contributed to making our state a better place to live, work and raise a family. If you know of someone worthy of this award, nominate them today!
Ensuring Indiana’s Latino Community Is Represented with the Indiana Commission for Hispanic/Latino Affairs (ICHLA)
Much like the prior two commissions, this group works with Indiana’s Hispanic and Latino community, focusing on integration and representation along with welfare initiatives. ICHLA identifies, measures and reviews programs and legislation and then offers solutions and recommendations to our governor and the legislature. The ICHLA is passionate about hearing from our communities to get an insight into the evolving opportunities, challenges and concerns of their core group.
The ICHLA also partners with nonprofit organizations that address Hispanic and Latino community issues, activities, scholarships and/or provide assistance to the needs of the community. Nonprofits can apply for funding from the ICHLA to get these programs up and running.
Advising on the Needs of Native Americans with the Indiana Native American Indian Affair Commission (INAIAC)
The Indiana Native American Indian Affairs Commission works with federal and state government agencies advising them on issues common to Native American residents in our state. Special attention is given to employment, education, civil rights, health and housing.
The Michael Pace Education Grant Program supports organizations and programs that provide kids educational opportunities to learn about the rich Native American history rooted in Indiana. This grant program allows teachers and schools to bring their students to visit designated sites that have a focus on Native American culture and history such as the Eiteljorg Museum, Mounds State Park and the Terre Haute Native American Museum. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic field trips did not take place in 2020, however, funding is still available for 2021. In 2019, the grant program lead to nearly 1,100 students learning more about Indiana’s Native American history and culture.
In response to ongoing health concerns coupled with additional adverse effects of COVID-19, the INAIAC has also developed the Coronavirus American Indian Response Network Support (CAIRNS) Grant. This opportunity provides quarterly funding for organizations and programs providing COVID-19 relief in the following areas: health and mental health care, food security, mortgage and rental assistance and employment resources.
Wow, that was a lot of information and acronyms! But, summing up all the great work the Indiana Civil Rights Commission is no small task. If you feel like your rights have been violated, the ICRC will take a look at your case. Don’t forget, this agency and its commissions are about more than civil rights violations. It’s also working to make Indiana a better place to live for every Hoosier. Learn more at icrc.in.gov.