SOUTHERN INDIANA — Jaime Hunt became the first black member of the Clarksville Town Council when he was selected during a caucus in August 2018.
The Clarksville Town Council has mostly been made up of white men, Hunt said, and when he sits in council meetings, he can't help but notice that he's the only person of color of its seven members.
In both Clark and Floyd counties, racial minorities make up only a tiny percentage of the communities' elected officials. Neither of the county councils includes people of color, along with many of the municipalities' councils.
Hunt, along with other community leaders, said say they see a continued need for expanded minority representation in local government, including elected offices and other government positions.
Hunt said there's always a need for diversity at all levels of employment and government, and he wants to makes sure all people feel welcome to participate in local government.
"There just has to be an interest within the community to be part of that local government," he said. "I believe that Clarksville has diverse groups that just aren't taking advantage of the opportunities as far as local government is concerned."
Hunt believes that recruitment within minority communities and more access to employment opportunities could help create more diverse representation. Many people might not know about the job opportunities, he said, so when he sees a job posting from the town of Clarksville, he shares it on social media to help get the word out.
He also hopes his presence on the council will help make a positive change in terms of government representation of racial minorities.
"When people see that there is a potential, that there is an avenue that is open for them, that kind of grabs their attention and allows them to say, 'hey, that guy right there is the first African American council member — I could do that as well,'" Hunt said. "Sometimes they have to be able to see it with their own eyes that there is that potential there, and that kind of motivates them."
Jeffersonville is the most racially diverse of the municipalities in Clark County. According to the Census Bureau, the city's population is 80 percent white, 14 percent black, 5 percent multiracial and 5 percent Hispanic or Latino.
The representation of racial minorities in elected offices is also higher than those in Clarksville, Sellersburg, Charlestown and New Albany.
Jeffersonville City Council member Dustin White said while the city government can always improve in terms of racial diversity, he said he feels that the council has a strong representation of racial minorities. He and Ron Ellis are the council's two black members, and the rest of the members are white.
There are also several black candidates running for city council in this year's primary election.
"It is very nice to see that people feel that they have an equal chance to run," White said. "I believe that the voters in Jeffersonville make that possible. I think everyone gets a fair shot based on their message, and I think that speaks to my election four years ago. Basically, the message that's out there is equal opportunities for everyone."
He said he serves with fellow council members who value diversity and are interested in improving quality of life in areas of the community that traditionally have not been areas of focus. For example, the council has supported infrastructure improvements on Spring Street from Eastern Boulevard to 10th Street, including the Claysburg neighborhood at the north end.
Antia Fields, president of the Jeffersonville/Clark County NAACP, said she thinks Jeffersonville has made progress in terms of racial diversity, but she feels there is still plenty of more work to be done. She sees a minimal representation of minorities in local city and county government, and she feels there is not enough outreach to minority populations.
"I don't think that anyone can say that we can sit on our laurels." she said. "We are going to have to have more open dialogue and outreach among diverse people who live in Jeffersonville — African-Americans, Hispanics and all other nationalities — so we can all come to learn, educate and just be better citizens in the community."
She would like to see more meet-and-greet events and forums with elected officials and community members to help make the local government seem more accessible to minority populations. Right now, she doesn't see enough of these interactions in the various neighborhoods in Jeffersonville, she said.
Fields sees plenty of potential for greater diversity among elected officials and those working in other areas of government.
"There are plenty of educated and qualified minority people here in Clark County, and I think a lot of times that goes overlooked," she said. "As far as our elected officials go, I think more and more people of color are running for the different races as they come open. I think you see more and more of that, and I think that's a plus."
NEW ALBANY/FLOYD COUNTY
In Floyd County, people of color represent only a handful of those serving in elected offices.
In 2018, Shawn Carruthers was elected as the first black Floyd County Commissioner, and his wife, Ann Carruthers, became the first black New Albany Township Trustee. Both the New Albany City Council and the Floyd County Council consist only of white members.
New Albany is the most racially diverse municipality within the county. The population is 85 percent white, 9 percent black, 3 percent multiracial and 4 percent Hispanic or Latino, according to the census bureau.
Ken Brooks, the most recent member of the City of New Albany's Human Rights Commission, was appointed in January by Mayor Jeff Gahan. He is one of two people of color on the commission, along with vice president Jennifer Ortiz.
While he believes the city's current elected officials are in touch with the community, he sees a need for people of color in New Albany to have a stronger voice in local government.
He said one obstacle for minorities might be that they don't typically see other people of color in positions of power within local government.
"It gives a whole new perspective," Brooks said. "A lot of times it's like, 'well that's not for me, or that's not for us.' You don't ever see it, and until you start to see it, you can never make it real to yourself."
He said the commission's goals include keeping community members informed about city government decisions and helping to ensure that certain communities aren't better represented than others. The commission hears discrimination complaints from the public.
Nicole Yates, president of the New Albany NAACP, said it is important for local political parties to encourage people of color to run so that the community can be properly represented by its elected officials.
She also wants all agencies, including local governments, to be more intentional in hiring and recruiting people of color to their departments.
"I don't think that the [New Albany] government reflects the community that it serves, but there are ways they can do that by recruiting, going to job fairs and things of that nature and being intentional in looking for brown and black folks to fill those positions," she said. "So I think that government could do a better job in looking for those folks and making sure boards, commissions and other jobs are equitable."
By the numbers: Community demographics
Community demographics for Clark and Floyd counties were compiled from the U.S. Census Bureau's 2017 estimates. More information is available at https://factfinder.census.gov.
|American Indian/Alaska native
|White alone (not Hispanic/Latino)