With its numerous universities and learning outlets, Northwest Indiana is rich in intellectual resources. Our emphasis on academic achievement and critical thinking is what shapes our productive workforce. Despite this, we are not immune to the scaled down version of universal problems. Valparaiso University held “Realizing the Dream in NWI: A Dialogue On Civil Rights In The Age Of Ferguson,” a public forum on civil rights, on the evening of February 17 in the Harre Union ballroom.
Valparaiso University President Mark A. Heckler introduced the subject matter and the group of panelists that would be speaking. They included Northwest Indiana Urban League President & CEO Dr. Vanessa Allen, Calumet College of St. Joseph President Dr. Dan Lowery, Bishop Emeritus Dale Melczek of Diocese of Gary, WBEZ Northwest Indiana Bureau Reporter Michael Puente, Gary Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson, and Valparaiso Mayor Jon Costas. The moderator for the evening was published author and current Valparaiso University professor Dr. Heath W. Carter.
President Heckler stated, “Together, through evenings like this, we can commit to making Northwest Indiana a better community.”
Although the initial topic appeared to be daunting, the speakers ensured to keep the conversation germane to the Northwest Indiana region and the audience members. The sole purpose of the event was to spread awareness and educate the pubic about issues that plague our nation today and how these problems could potentially threaten our region. Valparaiso University students posed questions based on socioeconomic and political patterns of Northwest Indiana. Many of these question pertained to the racial segregation of Lake, Porter, and La Porte counties.
Bishop Emeritus Dale Melczek of Diocese of Gary said, “We have to start somewhere. We need to make ending segregation a priority in our own hearts before we ask others to join us.”
Although interaction over county lines isn’t the easiest of tasks, Mayor Freeman-Wilson and Mayor Costas both talked of tackling the issue of socioeconomic segregation as a combined force. Both speakers emphasized the importance of resource sharing and its importance to economic stimulation. Additionally, both speakers spoked about how involving the community to promote social development is the key to success.
Mayor Freeman-Wilson said, “One of the things that I like to talk about is Gary’s work with Nipsco. Although the words “social change” might not be the first words you think of when you’re talking about Nipsco, our joint efforts with them have provided numerous jobs and economic progress.”
Speakers from both sides of the county line were eager to listen to the thoughts and opinions of others. Although Lake and Porter County may be close in proximity, the inner workings of each are very different. In comparison to Lake County, Porter County lacks the overall diversity of its neighbor to the west. Lake County’s vicinity to Chicago makes it an easy drive for many working class families. This being said, the number of minorities in Porter County has doubled over the past couple of years. Both areas are experiencing change, and all speakers stressed the importance of embracing these changes and preparing for a positive future.
All in all, the event served as an educational forum in which the public had the opportunity to interact with influential community leaders. Not only was the audience exposed to several different perspectives, but at the end of the forum they also had the opportunity to ask the speakers questions. Witnessing some of Northwest Indiana’s brightest minds come together and solve a pressing issue in our community goes to show that we are headed in the positive direction.
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