A life is a terrible thing to waste, and the Gary Commission on the Social Status of Black Males is doing something about that. When a young Black male makes the mistake of doing something foolish, like riding in a stolen car, the resulting arrest and police record can diminish his opportunities for the rest of his life. But thanks to Indiana State Representative Dr. Vernon G. Smith things are changing for the better for young Black men with felony convictions.
Smith authored the legislation that created the Indiana Commission on the Social Status of Black Males, established in 1993. At present there are 10 local Commissions addressing the concerns of Black males in cities across the state. The Gary Commission/Black Males was restructured and re-energized in 2016 under the leadership of Mayor Karen Freeman-Wilson and the Gary Common Council.
According to Executive Director Bennie Muhammad, the mission of the Gary Commission /Black Males is to study the social conditions of the city’s Black male population, and develop strategies to remedy, or assist in remedying serious adversities.
The Commission makes recommendations to improve the educational, social, economic, employment and other circumstances for Black males in Gary. Consisting of nine members, the Commission has one member appointed by the mayor; seven appointed by the Gary Common Council; and one member appointed by the Dean of Students at Ivy Tech Community College (Gary Campus).
During the past 10 years the Commission has embarked on numerous community projects, among them, the Gary Commission has sponsored a series of Black Men & Boys – On The Table Discussions in Gary. The Black Men & Boys – On The Table Discussions says Muhammad, have opened the door to deliberative dialog. In these sessions young Black men share many of the barriers that they face on a daily basis, from being unable to pay bills, poor housing options, homelessness, broken families, to regularly experiencing hunger.
But, says Muhammad, “Black males in Gary must also play a major role in changing their condition as well. We must look within ourselves and extract the gifts that are buried within. Collectively, we must pool our resources and do something for self.”
Noting that a background tarnished by a felony conviction can prevent employment, housing, and educational opportunities, the Gary Commission/Black Males sponsored a series of Expungement Information Forums in Lake County.
“Our intent was to expose the community to the Indiana expungement /record sealing legislation,” explained Muhammad. “The Gary Commission was the first organization and possibly the vanguard in Lake County Indiana to consistently raise a conversation regarding expungements at community forums.”
The activity dates back to 2010. Executive Director Muhammad heard that Cook County Clerk Honorable Dorothy Brown’s office was presenting its annual Expungement Summit in Cook County. Muhammad and a colleague attended the summit, viewed the Summit’s operation and received a brief overview of the Summit process. Brown later accepted an invitation as keynote speaker from Muhammad and the Gary Commission to come to Gary and participate in a “Round Table Discussion” sponsored by the Gary Commission /Black Males.
With community members and Indiana lawmakers in attendance, discussion centered on the benefits and challenges of expungements. In 2011, Indiana lawmakers enacted legislation popularly known as the “Second Chance Law.” Record sealing legislation at that time, known as “Limited Access,” carried a 15 year waiting period following a conviction for a Class D felony before a person could petition to have his/her record sealed.
Current legislation carries an eight year waiting period for Class D felony convictions and a five year waiting period for misdemeanor convictions following the initial conviction.
In March of 2014 Indiana House Bill 1155, which improved Indiana’s expungement law went into effect.
In 2017 the Gary Housing Authority partnered with the East Chicago Housing Authority to provide free legal services to youth 14 – 24 years of age, who qualify. The program is called “Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program” (JRAP); it is presented by the Gary Commission /Black Males under the direction of Muhammad in partnership with Gary for Life.
Attorney Carla Morgan does the legal consultation and all legal paperwork for individuals seeking assistance. Legal services are available to all who qualify.
Do you qualify:
Are you age 14- 24?
Do you live in Gary or East Chicago?
Do you or a family member live in Public Housing or use a Section 8 / Housing Voucher?
Do you have a juvenile or adult criminal record?
If you qualify, here’s how we can help
Expungement/Sealing of Juvenile or Adult Record
Help with your Child Support Issues
Help restore your driving privileges
Other specific services are offered
Legal Clinics in Gary are hosted at the City Hall Annex Building at 839 Broadway on Tuesdays or Thursdays from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. by appointment only.
Executive Director Muhammad and Attorney Carla Morgan are available to present a Legal Clinic at agencies and institutions that engage youth populations, for participants who qualify, and are in need of the services offered by the Juvenile Reentry Assistance Program.
To schedule an appointment at the Gary office contact Atty. Carla Morgan @ 219-390-8981 or Morgan@MorganLegalServices.com or Bro. Bennie Muhammad @ 219-880-2284 or firstname.lastname@example.org