Salih Booker may be from Ohio, and his audience may have ranged from older men born on the African continent to young Caucasian female students, but the Africa Action executive director emphasized that everyone is separated just by generations.
"We are all of African descent," he said during a Feb. 15 community forum in the Monroe County Public Library Auditorium. "The first soul to take a breath was an African."
After traveling and working in 26 of Africa's 54 countries, as well as serving in a staff position for the congressional Committee on Foreign Affairs, this past year Booker focused on making Africa the centerpiece for G8 and U.N. summits.
On eight streets running north and south, from Indiana to Rogers, 91 restaurants and 200 stores are tucked away in Bloomington's ever-changing Downtown/Kirkwood district. Recent, small venue changes gave Opie Taylor's a new image and brought Utown to B-town. But large-scale additions face controversy and expose differing views about the city's future skyline.
Another major project on the corner of Fourth and Indiana near the Sample Gates is underway after difficult negotiations. The building that houses Dagwood's Deli is being demolished for a three-story complex, with office space on the top levels.
Dagwood's owner John Santos said his five-year lease gave him limited influence in negotiations about the impacts the six-month project will have on his business. 'I might as well be on the right side of the fence or be left out in the cold,' he said.
As the costs of institutionalizing criminals escalates, local elected officials and concerned community members debate the continued use of 10 state juvenile facilities that require transporting children out of county to places like Muncie and Kokomo.
Although secure detention is used sparingly, court-ordered shelter placement and treatment generate large numbers. According to the Monroe County Juvenile Probation Report for 2003, of the 880 referred cases, 200 were sent to secure detention, eight to the Indiana Boys School and three to the Indiana Girls School.
A task force, created to discuss the need for a juvenile facility in Monroe County, has initiated costly consultations. Due to the scope of the problems, no quick decisions are forthcoming. But concerns about limited bed space and planning for future increases have been identified.
Monroe County's 19.9 percent poverty rate includes a large proportion of single-parent homes, according to the Service Community Assessment of Needs (SCAN) 2003 report.
Although nearly half of those living in poverty have some income, many families of three or four earn less than $25,000 a year.
"We are talking about people we know," said Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) Director Meri Reinhold, who said many in need of help are thought of as isolated. "They are us."
Half of the low-income households in Bloomington surveyed by SCAN worry about paying for food, with one in three families concerned about needing supplemental assistance. Often on tight budgets, without benefits or paid time-off, these families are always at financial risk from illness or a death in the family.
Religious hate crimes have a small number of offenders when compared with individual racial attacks. But on average, these perpetrators affect three times as many victims in one action, demonstrating violent aggression against entire communities.
The FBI "Summary of Hate Crimes Statistics" reported 1,343 incidences of crimes nationwide against distinct religious faiths in 2003.
And in the early morning of July 9, the Islamic Center of Bloomington mosque and the local Muslim community became one of those statistics. Someone broke a downstairs kitchen window and threw a plastic bottle filled with accelerant inside to ignite a fire.
Although no one was injured and the damage was contained to some charred and melted material, the FBI is investigating the incident as an act of terrorism.
In Indiana, a child is born into poverty every 43 minutes, adding to the 14.8 percent of young Hoosiers that the Children's Defense Fund says are poor. Their parents confront the necessity of daycare on a daily basis, without sufficient money to pay for it. Limited assistance is available for those who meet federal poverty guidelines — a family of four earning over $19,350 a year is above the line.
Monroe County United Ministries (MCUM) Development Coordinator Rebecca Stanze says the 14.8 percent figure understates the reality, as many more families live in constant risk of slipping into poverty. An unexpected short-term financial crisis can happen for hundreds of reasons.
"It could be you, or it could be me, next week," she says.
As festivities for Earth Day begin, local groups are pursuing new routes in their fight against I-69. The Indiana Public Interest Research Group (INPIRG) expects to increase support for the anti-highway struggle by educating new audiences. The fresh focus will bring diverse students together from various regions of the state, with a passion to fight any direction the road takes.
"The sense of civic duty is important," says Alex Witteveld, who has been an intern and member of INPIRG for three years. "There is more to college than a GPA, and Bloomington is more than a place to get your degree." Originally from Indianapolis, Witteveld has adopted Bloomington as his new home, and he feels commercialization and urban sprawl are ruining the city.
INPIRG's next step is providing a tool to help increase students' awareness of the I-69 issue and their abilities to influence the decision whether and where to build it. Student volunteers have developed an instructional CD-ROM that contains contact e-mails for legislators and direct links for sending letters to the editor at newspapers across Indiana. A list of tips on letter writing includes starting with a personal view, specifically how I-69 will affect home towns in all 92 counties.