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African American Coalition of Indianapolis and 18 groups call out departure of Newfields CEO

Newfields logo (Provided Photo/Newfields via Facebook)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — The African American Coalition of Indianapolis and 18 additional organizations joined together to release a statement to call out Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette’s abrupt departure as the President and CEO of Newfields.

The statement addresses the group’s concerns with the transparency of the situation.

The statement celebrated Burnette’s work to confront “the institution’s past issues with accusations of a toxic and discriminatory culture that failed to serve audiences of color.”

The statement then goes on to call on the board to reflect and take action to rebuild trust with the black community.

The full statement can be found below.

“The African American Coalition of Indianapolis (AACI) expresses profound concern and seeks clarity on the recent announcement of Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette’s departure from Newfields. The communication from Newfields’ Board of Trustees does not suffice to explain the reasons behind the exit of a leader who has endeavored to rebuild the institution’s reputation and foster meaningful connections with Indianapolis’ marginalized communities.

In her 15-month tenure, Dr. Burnette confronted the institution’s past issues with accusations of a toxic and discriminatory culture that failed to serve audiences of color. Her appointment, which followed a controversial job posting indicating a preference for maintaining a “core white art audience,” was a beacon of progress, signifying Newfields’ commitment to transformation into an anti-racist and inclusive institution. Following Dr. Burnette’s arrival, we witnessed increased partnerships with community organizations as well as programming that advanced the inclusiveness of the institution. Dr. Burnette’s leadership, engagement, and collaborative partnerships finally gave the community a sense of belonging.

The lack of transparency surrounding her departure raises unsettling questions. Amid many rumors and allegations fueled by a press announcement highlighting her exit, we are left feeling angry, frustrated, confused, and betrayed. Did the Board of Trustees give Dr. Burnette the necessary support and grace to navigate such a complex environment? Does this sudden change in leadership reflect a deeper reluctance to authentically pursue the anti-racist and inclusive values professed by the board? Were complaints, if any, against Dr. Burnette given undue weight, and was the challenging environment she was tasked to reform considered in the board’s decision? These are the questions that we now have because of Newfields’ announcement, and we must emphasize that the way Dr. Burnette’s exit was announced has created a worse perception. Newfields’ actions took it two steps back as it relates to community relations. The board should re-examine its commitment and determine if it is sincere and capable of building trust in the Black community.

The situation compels us to consider if the outcome would have been different had the racial dynamics at play been otherwise. These questions are not just conjecture; they stem from a discernible pattern in Indianapolis where Black professionals seldom see long tenures in executive roles. This trend contradicts our collective mission for a thriving African American community represented robustly at every leadership level.

We at AACI stand resolute in our mission and insist that local businesses, non-profits, and government entities not only recognize this troubling pattern but also act decisively. We expect a commitment to creating a supportive environment that not only invites but retains Black executives, offering them a fair opportunity to succeed and make lasting impacts.

Dr. Burnette’s premature exit signifies a lost opportunity for Newfields and the community at large. As stakeholders in Indianapolis’ future, we must collectively strive to implement a sustainable model that ensures the longevity and success of Black executives, which in turn reflects the diversity and vitality of our city.

It is incumbent upon Newfields’ Board of Trustees to not only reflect on the implications of the decision but to also undertake concrete actions that rebuild trust with the Black community—a trust that currently stands fractured. The path forward requires more than symbolic gestures; it necessitates a sincere, ongoing commitment to equity, transparency, and community engagement that transcends mere statements and is embodied in the very fabric of our institutions’ leadership and governance.”

100 Black Men of Indianapolis

Alpha Phi Alpha Iota Lambda Chapter

Baptist Minister’s Alliance

Concerned Clergy of Indianapolis

Exchange at the Indianapolis Urban League

Indiana Black Expo

Indianapolis Professional Association

Indianapolis Recorder

Indianapolis Urban League

Indy Black Chamber of Commerce

Inner Beauty

Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance of Indianapolis

Iota Phi Theta Fraternity Alpha Alpha Omega Indianapolis Alumni Chapter

New B.O.Y

Not 1 More Project

Purpose for My Pain

The Fathers Foundation

The National Coalition of 100 Black Women

The African American Coalition of Indianapolis and 18 other organizations listed above

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