February is Black History Month, the perfect time to reflect on our community’s diversity. It’s also a time to challenge ourselves, take a hard look at where we fall short – we’re not as diverse or welcoming as we’d like to believe – and take steps to strengthen those areas.
In the past year, the Chamber has made a commitment to supporting the work of black business owners in Bloomington and Monroe County. We’ve started an affinity group that meets regularly to strategize about how to raise up their voices and tackle issues specific to growing their businesses.
We also surveyed black business owners to get a better handle on their economic impact. The 27 respondents reported a total of $2.557 million in gross annual revenues, employing nearly 60 workers. In total, they reported 237 years in business, reflecting a depth of experience and the important role those businesses have played in our community’s history.
The Chamber is honoring part of that history – and acknowledging the often-uncomfortable legacy we share – by placing an historical marker at People’s Park to highlight the significance of that location.
In 1968, an African American student named Clarence “Rollo” Turner led protests against racial discrimination that were met with open hostility in Bloomington. That fall, he opened the Black Market in the location where People’s Park is located today. It sold books, clothing, records, artwork and other crafts made in Africa or by African Americans and acted as a cultural center for black students at Indiana University.
On December 26, 1968, the Black Market was firebombed, and the entire store destroyed leaving Bloomington residents to grapple with the brutal and harsh realities of racism. Two Ku Klux Klan members were eventually convicted of the arson. In 1970, IU students began developing the vacant lot into People’s Park, a place for activism, recreation and free expression.
The marker, awarded by the Indiana Historical Society, will be placed in People’s Park with a celebration on May 1. We’ll be providing more details about the event soon and hope you can join us.
Before then, February is full of Black History Month events: discussion panels, lectures, performances, film screenings and other activities throughout the community. I urge you to check out the calendars for Indiana University and the City of Bloomington to find at least one way to get involved.
Our past is still very much present – the things that make us proud, as well as the things we struggle to overcome. I hope you’ll join me in working to build a community that embraces everyone.
Note: This column by Chamber CEO Erin Predmore was published in the February issue of BizNet, a Chamber publication in partnership with the Bloomington Herald-Times.