Discussion addresses economic, cultural divides in Madison County

May 2—ANDERSON — Efforts to foster economic development and improve overall quality of life are being undermined by a lack of trust among racially diverse groups in the city and elsewhere in the county.

That's how a group of business leaders framed issues that members of the Anderson Madison County Black Chamber of Commerce want to address by forming a Diversity and Inclusion Committee.

During a 90-minute discussion in the Sherman Street Church of God Annex building Thursday, 15 people gathered in a conference room and spoke candidly about troubling trends they've seen locally in business and education.

With voter turnout in next week's primary elections expected to be low, Chamber leaders bemoaned residents' lack of engagement with their government as one factor in a complex series of issues.

"This has to do with something that is very simple: participation," said Thomas Clem, a retired Madison Circuit Court 5 judge. "I'd like to see us make more of an effort to get basic civics back in the schools. We need to revive the idea that participation (in government) is a big deal."

Others said the perceived reluctance to engage with local governments — either by voting or attending public meetings — is symptomatic of another problem.

"I think there is a low level of trust that undergirds everything," said Kellie Kelley, founder and volunteer with Community Lens of Anderson. That lack of trust, she added, has led to "a learned apathy" that threatens to disillusion younger generations.

The formation of a Diversity and Inclusion Committee is intended to foster more honest conversations about race, socioeconomic mobility and other topics, particularly education, according to Rev. Manuel Hunt, board chair with the Anderson-Madison County Black Chamber of Commerce.

"You can't get past anything in this community without talking about education first," he said. "You simply can't do it."

Hunt said the Black Chamber plans to host another roundtable discussion with business leaders in early June.

Follow Andy Knight on Twitter @Andrew_J_Knight, or call 765-640-4809.