The Whitewater Valley Pro Bono Commission office on the third floor of the Richmond Municipal Building continues to click along with a steady flow of people coming through their doors seeking free legal help.
The office and executive director Shane Edington received over 650 applications for assistance in 2018 and are on pace to match that this year.
This week alone, Edington said, his office and its 12-or-so volunteer lawyers have helped a tenant whose landlord literally cleaned him out of every bit of personal property he owned; a young mother fighting to get her twin one-year-olds back from a father who refuses to return them; and has advised a mentally disabled man not to send money to unscrupulous collection agents while working to get those agents to leave him alone.
Why do I tell you this?
Well, the pro bono group, of which I am a board member, is once again trying to raise funds to keep their office and their work alive. They operate on a $65,000-a-year budget that comes entirely from donations, fund-raising and grants.
The group is holding its fifth annual “Race for Justice” fund-raiser Aug. 3 at Glen Miller Park. The event features a 5-mile competitive race and a 5K fun run/walk. The run is for runners, of which I am not a member, but the run/walk is ideal for joggers, trotters and walkers (I am one of those) and is ideal for the whole family.
By the way, the pro bono commission is a non-profit agency that offers free legal help for Wayne County residents in Wayne County civil cases. The agency started in November 2007 and has assisted over 2,000 clients in the past 12 years. The majority of agency cases involve families with young children, single parents and often domestic violence.
It remains the only full-time pro bono service in east central Indiana.
Registration for the event begins at 7:30 a.m. with the race to step off at 8. Runners and walkers can sign up the day of the race or can do so at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cost to participate is $10 for those 20 years of age and younger and $15 for 21 and older. It is the third fundraiser of the year for pro bono and is the most family-friendly.
Sponsorships range from $50 to $500 and donations of items like bottled water, Gatorade, bagels and fruit are also welcome.
O wonder how many goodly creatures come to Richmond each summer (o’er the last five years) to create a stage, a production, and ultimately, their own brave new world.
They entertain, they inspire, they challenge, they mystify, they outrage.
Legions of their kind transform the hollowed-out former piano factory in the Whitewater Gorge into an ancient setting for the annual tribute to William Shakespeare.
How appropriate that this troupe of actors, designers, directors and volunteers perform their magic in this temple of industry past!
It is the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, in its fifth year of creating all forms of life, drama, comedy, battling the wind and rain and heat of summer in Indiana.
But this creation, this life is thriving. In a fortnight they stage “Hamlet” and “The Tempest,” the former perhaps Shakespeare’s most famous work, the latter the true starting point of this festival.
Professional actors, designers and directors descend upon our Midwest community to explore and create, to make merry and sad, to show us love, loss, grief, lust, anguish and the desire for revenge.
The seed for this creation was a byproduct of a 2013 Richmond Civic Theatre production of “The Tempest,” the brainchild of Joshua Robinson, a Richmond man set on a path to professional theater by support and encouragement of many in his hometown.
That production, successful as a fundraiser for local theater, fueled speculation, which fueled exploration.
Why not a festival? Why not in Richmond?
A two-play festival with performances over a four-week period each summer? Was that possible?
That began a gargantuan effort to find financial support, players, technicians, stage and artistic directors and then stage the plays in Richmond.
“We wanted to be out in the community as much as possible,” said Ray Ontko, the festival board’s president.
“We decided that we have a community that is very supportive of the arts…” Ontko said. “So we gathered up some folks from RCT, from Earlham and IU East. We added some people from the business community and said ‘Let’s see if we can do this.’”
And so began what turned into hundreds of hours of work by hundreds of people, finding sponsors, recruiting actors, designers, technicians and volunteers with business and stage acumen.
Organizers also joined the Shakespeare Theatre Association, a national member service organization that provides support, membership and share best practices for productions throughout the U.S. and the world.
Soon people came from Ball State and Indiana University, from Oxford and Cincinnati, and others from around the country. The Shakespeare Theatre Association connection brought Patrick Flick, the association’s executive director, to Richmond to serve as festival artistic director.
That, too, has been a key to their success since Flick brings the kind of pluck, energy and savvy needed to mount and sustain such an effort.
“No, I’m not surprised by the festival’s success,” Flick said. “Richmond is a smart, sophisticated community, and we have had lots and lots of support.”
Each year, 50 to 75 people gather to stage two plays over six weeks. Over 1,000 people from a five-hour radius of Richmond come to see the shows.
“Things have evolved quite a bit,” Ontko said. “We’ve learned to deal with wind and rain and heat, got a sense of the size of the audience and how much intimacy we would need.”
Organizers have also learned how to maintain relationships with the many donors and patrons, the theater programs at area colleges and universities, how to collaborate with other theater companies in the region and how to apply for arts grant funding.
They have also met four initial goals of artistic achievement, educational outreach, community engagement and economic development.
“We would like to say we are up and running but we have to admit that there’s lots of runway ahead of us,” Ontko said. “My vision is that 50 years from now somebody will be looking back and saying ‘We’re glad this got started, and it’s had a huge impact on the community.’”
Five years up and running and the future is ahead. The community can be proud, even those not a fan of Shakespeare. It’s live theater. It is, as Ontko says, “Shakespeare done well.”
Something new is coming to Richmond this month that will continue a project started 29 years ago by a group of military veterans, their families and friends.
It is the newest addition to Veterans Memorial Park, a place built by a remarkable, and ongoing, grassroots effort to memorialize the military service and human sacrifice of people of our community through the decades.
I am a veteran of the U.S. Army and the Vietnam War, but that designation as a veteran didn’t mean much to me until I came to Richmond in 1987. It was here that I found a group of mostly Vietnam veterans, their spouses and friends who were truly engaged.
My first friend here was Palladium-Item photo chief Steve Koger, a decorated Vietnam veteran. We were kindred spirits from the start and remain close friends today.
Koger introduced me to the veterans community when, in 1990, they began work on a monument to the 40 Wayne County servicemen who died in the Vietnam War. Part of that remembrance was their bringing to Richmond the Moving Wall, a replica of the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.
Soon that effort blossomed into plans for monuments to those who served in Korea and World Wars I and II. Work has continued year after year and today a solemn and impressive veterans park stands in the Whitewater Gorge, a stones throw from the Wayne County Jail and Clinic. This month the newest addition — a UH-1 Huey helicopter — will arrive.
Just like the rest of the park, the Huey will pay tribute to men and women who went to war, those killed, wounded or missing in action and those who served in peace time. The park also includes the first monument in Indiana dedicated to women who served.
All are memorialized there.
The most amazing thing about the park is the dedication and constant hard work that has gone into its creation. Local folks, regular folks, have all pitched in to help, to donate, to come down to the park and build things, pull weeds and, when the time came, to stand in tribute.
There is no one person responsible for building the park. It was a community effort from the start and stands as a reminder that all things are possible when people work together. Its reach touches all parts of Wayne County.
The park is all-encompassing and includes tributes to soldiers, sailors, airmen, Marines, Coast Guard and Merchant Marine who served in places like the Persian Gulf, Lebanon, Kosovo, the South Pacific, Iraq, Afghanistan, Panama, Haiti and Somalia.
It contains touching messages from first responders, graduating classes at Richmond and Centerville high schools, local businesses and the Richmond Catholic Community.
Bricks surround all the monuments containing moving remembrances to and from moms and dads, grandfathers and grandmothers, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, reflecting the community’s love and loss.
The park pays tribute to people who all had one thing in common, other than being Hoosiers. They all wore the uniform.
The Huey comes in May 18 and will be dedicated on Memorial Day, May 27.
Now that the first step in this journey is over and, though I would have liked to have seen a few more people vote (actually a couple of thousand more), I’m pleased with the primary election results.
I want to congratulate all the candidates on their hard work and I look forward to joining them in the race to the finish this November.
I also want to thank all the people who have helped me with donations, guidance, hard work, creativity and encouragement. It has truly been an inspiration.
I feel good about what we have accomplished thus far and I look forward to getting out and working, and learning, as we take the next step.
One thing I truly believe is ahead of all of us. We need to energize the electorate, to listen to them, to find out their hopes and dreams for our community and to inform them about what we believe and hope to accomplish.
Starting today and for the next six months, we need to make sure they join us on this journey.
The nation has lost a statesman and visionary leader with the death of Richard Lugar.
I met Senator Lugar three times in my career at the Palladium-Item, including once in 2004 when I accompanied a group of Hoosiers on a trip to visit Indiana National Guard men and women, many from the Wayne County area, on a peace-keeping mission in Bosnia, in the former Yugoslavia.
Those running the trip organized a 15-minute sit-down with Senator Lugar, who, we found, was traveling in Eastern Europe, pleading with countries like Bosnia, Serbia and Croatia to make a concerted effort to find and dismantle the thousands of land mines still hidden in the countryside.
Lugar was aware of the story we reporters had heard when we arrived that two weeks earlier a Bosnian farmer and his son were working a field near Tusla (that’s where our Guard troops were stationed) and decided to clear out a hedgerow bordering their property.
Both were blown to bits by a landmine from the Bosnia War of the 1990s. Landmines, still sitting there in the weeds waiting for someone to come along.
I can’t remember all the details of that interview (in fact I remember few) and my notes, if they still exist, are buried somewhere in my basement. But I do remember Senator Lugar as kind and patient, avuncular, eyes gleaming, a little tired but expansive and committed to his mission.
I remember him talking about disarmament and the fact that countries, including the U.S. and Russia, have a responsibility to work together to clear landmines from the countrysides of Europe and continue the work toward global nuclear disarmament.
I was impressed that Lugar cared about Bosnian farmers and innocents, those in present day Europe and babies being born throughout the world that day.
He had a vision of the future in which people lived, not in fear of nuclear annihilation, but in harmony, trying to solve their differences through communication, not warfare.
As a senator he practiced civility and compassion, freely willing to listen to opponents, to build consensus and work for the greater good. Eventually, that cost him his job and the nation lost a valuable leader.
His greatest achievement was passage of the Nunn-Lugar Cooperative Threat Reduction Program that resulted in deactivation of thousands of nuclear warheads, intercontinental ballistic missiles and metric tons of chemical weapons in the former Soviet Union.
During his career, Lugar also started a training ground for Republican female leaders, organized a series of health festivals in Indiana and founded a scholarship program for minority students.
We, as a nation, clearly miss him today. I suggest that everyone, especially young people, mark his passing by reading about his beliefs, his work and his accomplishments. Perhaps then his legacy will include inspiring future leaders to follow in his footsteps and work to make the world a safer and more sensible place.
As you may have seen recently, the Richmond Parks and Recreation board approved a resolution to move forward with spending $1 million on much-needed equipment, vehicles and projects in Richmond parks.
It is a lot of money but, as a member of the park board, I agreed with the decision. There is a need for replacing equipment and vehicles, ones that have been in use for 10 years or more. And there are other maintenance, compliance and beautification projects that will keep our parks in the best shape possible for years to come.
In my view, this is the type of foresight and planning that is necessary for dealing with the upkeep of our parks. Investments like these will ensure that your kids and grandkids will enjoy the same quality of parks that my kids did. Listen some time to the peals of laughter at the Cordell Pool, the fascination of JUKO field trips, the screams of enjoyment at playgrounds from Glenn Miller to Middlefork, Springwood Lake to Clear Creek. It’s obvious. Our kids are worth the investment.
But the process is not done. The park board has only approved a resolution to move forward with the plan. A public hearing will be held on the issue at its April 11 meeting and the final decision will, of course, will come from the Richmond Common Council. Council will also hold a public hearing on the question, presumably at its April 15 meeting.
The plan, as you may have read, is to secure a $750,000 four-year bond to purchase mowers, a skid loader and trailers for the parks, air conditioners for the senior center, dock floats at Middlefork Reservoir, a new slide and other work at Cordell Pool, along with a retaining wall in Starr Park and tree removal along Glen Miller Park.
That bond will replace a bond that expires later this year and the plan is to keep the tax rate the same — 1.5 to 2 cents per $100 of assessed value.
Another $178,000 will be spent on equipment for Highland Lake Golf Course from a cash balance in the park fund. Again, park officials will be replacing equipment that has been in use for more than 10 years. It includes a variety of mowers, vehicles and other equipment.
We in Richmond have a park system that is a point of pride for our community and a parks department that labors throughout the year to provide facilities and programming for every citizen.
If we are going to have parks we have to take care of them. Same with a pool, golf course, senior center and baseball stadium. We will have ongoing maintenance, beautification and compliance needs. They are our parks and we must protect them.
That’s why we have to plan critically and think strategically about the parks and every other department in the city. What do our parks need? How can we afford it? How can we make it the best park system it can be and keep it that way?
Park staff is beginning work on a five-year master plan, which is essential to the ongoing operation of our park system. Community partnerships, as in the past, are vital, as is an effort to find funding and support on a state and national level.
Mayor Snow has been a strong supporter of the parks department over the last three years and I hope that mayoral support continues in the years to come. I encourage all of you to join in our ongoing effort to make the Richmond park system a thing of community pride.
As always, if you have thoughts, suggestions or ideas please let me know.
The Number One question I’ve gotten since announcing my candidacy in District 3 is: “Where is District 3?”
It’s confusing. A lot of people don’t know which district they live in, let alone which precinct. It’s especially complicated now that we vote in Vote Centers around the city. But District 3 is in the heart of the city. Slightly east and slightly south of downtown.
The easiest way to figure it out, of course, is if Bruce Wissel was on your Common Council ballot in any of the elections over the past 23 years, you’re in District 3. If Clay Miller (or Karl Sharp before Clay) was on your ballot, you’re in District 4.
If Doug Goss was on the ballot, you’re in District 1, Kelley Cruse-Nicholson, you’re in 2, Gary Turner (or Larry Parker before him) you’re in 6 and Jeff Locke (Don Winget or Bing Welch in years past) you’re in District 5.
But if you really want to know, District 3 is the squarest of districts in the city. District 4 encompasses the city’s east side. District 1 snakes around the city’s southern expanse from Wernle Children’s Home past Elks Country Club, all the way to Earlham College.
District 2 snakes through the heart of the city, including the downtown district, running along the Whitewater Gorge from South Q and Eighth streets north to Spring Grove.
District 6 covers the city’s west side, from Sim Hodgin and North West G west to the city limits, skipping Earlham College and Richmond High School, picking up at Clear Creek and including Hidden Valley.
District 5 sprawls across the city’s northwest side, including the Saddlebrook and Oak Park neighborhoods, up to the Reid, IU East and Ivy Tech campuses, west to the Midwest Industrial Park and south to the Wayne County Fairgrounds and the Richmond State Hospital.
But District 3 is a little easier to define. It includes one precinct north of East Main, running to Railroad Street on the north from North 12th to 20th.
District 3 also extends south of Main Street from South 17th to 30th. It is bordered on the south by South L Street and includes the Reeveston and Meadow Park neighborhoods and the area around Charles School.
It also includes the Genesis apartments and the city’s Southview Geier Apartments.
Hello friends. The race for Richmond Common Council has begun. In District 3 where I am running, the primary is over. I won. As of this writing I am running unopposed in the General Election in November, but I may have Republican challenger.
That said, I am savoring my first election win and getting ready for the fall campaign. With or without an opponent, I plan to campaign for the council seat and try my best to let people know what or who they are voting for.
After I filed to run, an old friend asked me why I decided to “get into politics.”
I didn’t know how to answer that because I guess I’d never really thought of it that way. When I worked at the Palladium-Item I covered 15 years of city council meetings, county council meetings, county commissioners, park board, sanitation board, plan commission (city and county), board of works…
Well, you get the idea.
I also covered 12 to 15 political campaigns for mayor, for state rep and senate, city and county council and other various county offices.
But I never really considered myself political. I was never much of a Democrat, nor a much of a Republican. Actually, the newspaper forbade it. My role as a journalist was remain apart from any political fray. Instead, it was to listen, to learn, to decipher and to translate.
Ultimately, it was to report as fairly and accurately as possible. Thus, politics for me was trying to understand the political landscape and those who inhabited it.
So to say I’m entering politics is a bit of a stretch. Instead, I hope to bring to council that same training, that same approach I employed as a journalist. If elected to council, my role, as I see it, will be to listen, learn and represent my constituents by making educated, fair and sensible decisions, and to make sure the public understands what we’re doing and why.
Included in that is making sure to protect the public’s right to know what their elected officials are doing. Since retiring, I’ve enjoyed my time on the park board, plan commission and plat committee of the plan commission. I’ve gained a reputation for being thorough — just ask park superintendent Denise Retz.
I ask a lot of questions. I cannot make good decisions without asking questions. I ask questions until I truly understand what I am being ask to vote on. If it turns a 30-minute meeting into a 60-minute meeting then so be it.
That’s what I will bring, if elected, to council. Not that I like long meetings. Not that I like being annoying. Not that I want to be “political.” I just want to make sure I know what I’m doing.
Let me know what you think and feel free to ask me your questions.
Editor’s note: This is a piece I wrote this year for and is published here with permission from The Earlhamite.
One of Richmond’s most influential citizens of the past hundred years began his days in the city at Earlham.
But, though Andy Cecere spent only one year at Earlham before serving his country in World War II, the school’s influence has lasted a lifetime.
Hence, at a mid-September (2017) Earlham convocation, President Alan Price ’88 beckoned Cecere to the stage of Goddard Auditorium. Cecere, 95, walked carefully, cane in hand, to Price’s side.
Price praised Cecere, who came to Earlham as a student in 1942 but left to serve as U.S. Marine Corps officer in the South Pacific, for a career in law and service to the city, leading Richmond through a period of change and growth.
It was that lifetime of accomplishment that Price honored as he placed a Presidential Medal of Merit in Cecere’s hands.
“Andy Cecere represents the leadership, courage and forward thinking that helped transform Richmond into a more just and inclusive community,” Price said. “We honor him for a lifetime of commitment, struggle and achievement.”
Cecere’s path to Earlham and Richmond was unlikely. The son of immigrants, he grew up poor in an Italian enclave of Pittsburgh, Pa.
“People in our neighborhood did not go to college. We were different,” said Cecere. “People in other neighborhoods made it clear that we were not welcome. They called us names. I made the decision that I wanted to do something about changing that.”
His family was his rock. His father worked on the railroad. Two older brothers quit high school to work and support the family. But his parents insisted on education for Andy and his younger siblings.
Growing up, he spent time at a neighborhood settlement house, the Kingsley House, where he learned to swim and box, played football and basketball. There he met staff member George Badgley, a Quaker from Poughkeepsie, New York.
“Here I was this Italian kid from the neighborhood, and he was this college-educated man. He was my first mentor. He loaned me books and stressed the importance of learning. That’s where I first learned about college.”
Badgley, who spent one year at Earlham in 1932-33, pointed Cecere to the neighborhood Carnegie Library.
“It was an age when they purposely planted a settlement house and a Carnegie Library in these neighborhoods that had recent immigrants to give the kids something to do and the residents a chance to have books,” Cecere said. “We didn’t have any books in my house.”
He was determined to learn. Through high school he sold the city’s two newspapers on the street and, every day, he read both papers. He became a student of the U.S. Constitution, the document he believed was the source of all citizen rights.
“By the time I was in high school, I had memorized the Constitution and I knew the rights and opportunities it offered all citizens,” he said. “Right then I knew what I wanted to do.”
Cecere would be the first in his family to attend college, but first he had to work. A job in a Pittsburgh steel mill earned him enough money to enroll at George Washington University in Washington, D.C., where he studied history and political science in the hope of one day entering the foreign service.
That ended after one year when he learned that first-generation immigrants were not allowed in the foreign service.
“I’m thinking to myself, ‘I could enlist and go fight and die for my country, but I could not serve as a diplomat.’ I was dumbfounded,” he said.
Fighting and dying were a real possibility. In 1942 the world was in flames as Axis powers surged across Europe, Russia and the South Pacific.
He told Badgley of the incident at George Washington U. and Badgley suggested Earlham.
“He said there were good people there and it was a very good school,” Cecere said. “It was a place, he said, I could continue my studies and ponder my future. He also found me a job there, which was a big thing for me.”
Earlham greeted him with friendship.
“The Earlham experience showed me that I can be accepted despite the fact that I’m an Italian,” Cecere said. “It confirmed that equality was worth fighting for. That carried through the rest of my life.”
His roommate was Bob Heywood, a Quaker from Wellsville, New York, and conscientious objector.
The two men seemed an improbable pair. Cecere entered Earlham in September and enlisted in the Marine Corps in October while remaining in school.But they forged a lasting friendship.
“He never once questioned my decision to join the Marine Corps,” said Cecere. “Nor did I question him. It was just understood. He was a conscientious objector at a time when it was not accepted at all. I respected that conviction. We remained close friends ’til the day he died.”
During Cecere’s lone year at Earlham, he studied history, economics and government and washed dishes in Bundy Hall. Once activated, he spent a year at Dennison University in a delayed enlistment program before joining combat troops on the final push to take the island of Okinawa. At the war’s end he served with the occupation force in China.
Returning to the States, Cecere received an honorary undergraduate degree from Denison, entered law school at the University of Michigan in 1949 and studied under Paul Kauper, a Richmond native and a nationally recognized authority on constitutional law.
Kauper convinced Cecere to return to Richmond where he built a law practice that lasted 50 years.
During that time, he served 12 years as city attorney under two mayors and wrote local legislation and lobbied to establish public housing in Richmond. But, instead of placing it in one neighborhood, he fashioned the law to create housing in all four sections of the city.
In doing so he helped desegregate Richmond schools.
“Most people thought we should just build it in the north end, mainly the African American section. But I wanted to have public housing throughout the city,” he said. “I believed that would open up the city for all citizens, especially black citizens.
“When we did that we integrated all those schools without busing,” he said.
“Andy was the engine, the initial force that got funding for public housing,” said Derek White, executive director of the Richmond Housing Authority. “He went to Washington and made the case for affordable housing because there was a need. He was a catalyst and key player in this important part of our history.”
As head of the city’s Board of Public Works, Cecere hired the first black man on the Richmond Fire Department and helped rebuild downtown Richmond after a 1968 explosion killed 40 citizens and destroyed a huge section of the district.
“Andy Cecere was never given the credit he deserves for the rebuilding of the downtown,” said Wayne Stidham during a 2013 cable television interview. In 1968, Stidham was president of Second National Bank and of the city’s Chamber of Commerce.
“Andy did all the legal work and did a remarkable job,” Stidham said. “It was really a great team effort by a lot of people, but Andy was at the forefront of that. I will always be grateful to him.”
Cecere also joined civic leaders who raised money and bought land to keep one of the city’s largest employers, and its 1,200 jobs, in Richmond. He also was part of the effort that raised money to bring Ivy Tech Community College and Indiana University East to Richmond.
Politically, he helped rebuild the city’s Democratic party, registering voters and finding candidates for local and state office.
“There wasn’t a two-party system here. You have to have a two-party system,” Cecere said. “I recruited volunteers, including from Earlham, and we went into the neighborhoods. Within five years we had a Democratic majority on city council and elected a Democratic mayor, city judge and city clerk.
“However, I would propose that my greatest achievement was bringing the people of the north end into the community as a whole, especially African Americans,” Cecere said. “They could go out in the community and get homes, get jobs.”
Cecere was born into a Catholic family but left the church at age 16. He and his wife Betty, to whom he was married for 50 years, attended Presbyterian church in Richmond. When Betty died in 2007 he became a Quaker and has been an active member for the last 10 years.
“I never became a Quaker while at Earlham but I loved their ideals,” he said. “I never knew people like that; people dedicated to helping others; people who would stand up for those who were denied rights. That’s what I dedicated my life to.
“In the end, I suppose some of that George Badgley Quakerism rubbed off on me. Similarly, some of that Earlham Quakerism also rubbed off on me,” he said.
More than 50 years after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a new generation of organizers along with some veterans of the sixties are reviving the movement that King started to fight for economic and human rights for the nation’s poor.
That movement, the Poor People’s Campaign, A National Call for Moral Revival, will host an informational and old fashioned mass meeting at 2 p.m. Saturday at the African Methodist Episcopal Church, 200 S. Sixth St. in Richmond. The theme is “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Us Around.”
The goal is to change the moral narrative about this nation’s systemic racism, poverty, the war economy and environmental degradation.
“We are picking up on Dr. King’s focus,” said Bob Hunter, former Earlham College adjunct professor and former chairman of the defunded Richmond Human Rights Commission. “Today, it’s a national call for a moral revival. We are saying that these are a moral issues; that poverty and the way people are treated in this country is a moral issue.”
Hunter is one of three campaign co-chairpersons in Indiana. The plan, Hunter said, is to mobilize hundreds of people in the state to challenge the status quo and change the narrative.
“We will be making a series of actions at the state capitol that will challenge the way this country has dealt with these issues,” Hunter said. “Our first actions will focus on challenging the state to protect women and children since poverty strikes particularly hard on women and children.”
The Poor People’s Campaign was started by Dr. King and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference in 1967 and culminated with an encampment in Washington in June 1968. Unfortunately, Dr. King was assassinated in April 1968 and, coupled with the assassination of Robert Kennedy, a key proponent of the campaign and presidential candidate, that movement never reached its goals of better housing, better education, better jobs and better lives for all peoples living in poverty.
So why the re-emergence today?
“Poverty is clearly growing and inequality is of particular concern,” Hunter said. “You have over half of the resources in the nation concentrated in the hands of about eight families. When you have that as a nation something has gone terribly wrong in an economic system that has built that much inequality.
“Couple that with the increases in racism and especially the increase in racist acts under this (national) administration, more and more we are seeing the degeneration of 50 years of work that the civil rights movement and other justice groups brought to the country,” he said.
Hunter said the national effort is being organized in approximately 41 states with a goal of activating hundreds of thousand citizens.
“We will have direct action singing and various messages of challenge to the way our country and this state are treating many of its neighbors and citizens. The actions are designed to bring people together in moral challenge.
“Our movement is committed to non-violence, but we are actually going to challenge the power of our country’s distorted moral narrative,” he said.
The protests will begin in May. The movement is led by faith leaders and leaders from the affected communities.
Hunter said Saturday’s rally will also address gun violence in solidarity with recent student protests and in keeping with the Poor Peoples Campaign’s original challenge to militarism and the war economy.
The need for change is real in Indiana, he said, pointing to the resignation letter of Mary Beth Bonatentura, former executive director of the Indiana Department of Child Services.
Bonatentura resigned in December 2017 with a scathing letter to Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb in which she said that Hoosier children were being systematically placed at risk without her office’s ability to help them.
“I feel I am unable to protect children because of the position taken by your staff to cut funding and services to children in the midst of the opioid crisis. I choose to resign rather than be complicit in decreasing the safety, permanency and well being of children who have nowhere else to turn,” Bonaventura wrote.
“What’s wrong with our state and our country when they will not designate money to protect our children and protect our citizens,” Hunter said.
Hunter said Saturday’s rally will mark the beginning for Richmond in the effort to raise awareness and challenge the legislatures in multiple states, including Indiana.
“I’m an optimist and I believe we can make a difference,” Hunter said. “We want justice for poor people. We are not trying to be nasty and shut things down. We are just trying to demand that our government take care of its citizens, especially its children.”