As members of the Indianapolis bar and aspiring leaders, it is incumbent upon our group, the Bar Leader Series Class X, to work to understand important challenges facing our community and to contribute to the public discourse. For some of us, we will be further charged with addressing these challenges head on throughout the course of our career.
To that end, we took the opportunity to hear about these various challenges “straight from the horse’s mouth” at the November session of the Bar Leader Series. This session gave us the chance to delve into significant challenges in the community, with the discussion highlighted by speakers who personally spoke to the spectrum of issues and opportunities facing Indianapolis and the State of Indiana.
First, our group hosted Marilyn Schultz, a former state legislator and budget director for the State of Indiana. Ms. Schultz has been involved in Indiana politics for some time, getting her start with a campaign for state Senate in 1972. She shared with us the various challenges she faced as a woman in leadership at that time, including a mention of an instance of litigation involving a well-known downtown club located on the circle. Ms. Schultz disagreed with that club’s membership requirements and would not accept being “shown the door” simply because she was a woman. Frankly, listening to her experiences facing discrimination reminded me of how far we have come, but also it caused me to reflect on some of the groups, including women, who still are pushing towards truly equal treatment. Again, this illustrates how BLS offers unique experiences to interact with trailblazers from throughout our society.
It was particularly interesting to hear the sundry ways politics have shifted since that time. Ms. Schultz made it clear that the collegial atmosphere of state politics has largely vanished and politicians work less in the “gray areas” of compromise than during her time. She suggested that the oversaturation of media attention has altered the landscape of state and local politics, focusing less on understanding the commonalities of the parties and more on the divide. Reflecting on this, I found it difficult to remember a time before the 24 hours news cycle and the “us” versus “them” posture of many news outlets. This discussion provided useful context for me in considering how our elected leaders deal with issues facing our Indianapolis community in the Internet age.
We next discussed the very tragic and very real problem of human trafficking with Abby Kuzma of the Indiana Attorney General’s Office. I think I can speak for the group when I say this was an eye-opening lecture about a challenge that goes largely unnoticed in many circles within our community. In fact, because of the Super Bowl and other large-scale sporting events, our community is particularly susceptible to an influx of human trafficking victims. These numbers are exacerbated because Indianapolis is a transportation crossroads. It is difficult to imagine the prevalence of such appalling crimes taking place in the shadows of our city.
We then moved on to the prospective issues concerning light rail and transportation infrastructure in Indianapolis with Ronald Gifford of the Central Indiana Corporate Partnership, while Dale Chu of the Indiana Department of Education shared details on the reforms to our State’s education system that are currently being considered and implemented. Both of these issues touch on two fundamental challenges Indianapolis faces: how to educate and train people so we can develop a qualified workforce to attract economic growth and stability; and, once we develop economic growth, how to ensure Indianapolis and the surrounding communities have an efficient and reliable transportation infrastructure to support and promote further that growth.
Such a discussion boils down the challenges facing our community to their essence. Indianapolis has experienced remarkable positive change in the last few decades. Just ask anyone living or working downtown fifteen years ago. It was these speakers and many like them that have spurred these changes and confronted our challenges. It was our privilege to share this time with each of them and learn more about the challenges and opportunities facing Indianapolis today.•