What does Black History Month mean to you, and what are your hopes for Fort Wayne’s future?

To honor Black History Month, we asked a handful of Fort Wayne leaders what this month means to them. We also asked them to share the stories of other Black leaders, both past and present, who inspire them, and their hopes for Fort Wayne’s future.

Here’s what they said.




1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I’ve lived in Fort Wayne for eight years. I’m originally from South Georgia, a small town called Waycross. What I love about our city Fort Wayne is that we really care for one another here, and we strive to be the best versions of ourselves. Nygel Simms

For work, I am the Youth for Christ City Life National Director, so I work with chapters across the nation in Youth for Christ. At City Life, our mission is to empower young people in urban neighborhoods holistically. I also serve locally on the YMCA Renaissance board, Great Kids Make Great Communities board, Fort Wayne Community Schools board, and Fort Wayne United.

A lot of what I do is because I believe in our young people, and I believe they need mentors. They need consistent, caring adults who are willing to build relational equity with them, and they need holistic opportunities.

Another thing I’ve noticed about our great city is that the nonprofits in Fort Wayne are really outstanding. From Habitat for Humanity, to the Boys and Girls Club, the YMCAs, and Youth for Christ—these are some of the most well-run and socially involved groups of their kind nationwide. I believe the strength of our nonprofit sector reflects the heart of Fort Wayne.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

I don’t speak for everyone, but personally, I believe Black History is inclusive to all people. There’s an African word “Ubuntu” which means “I am, because you are.” It is a nebulous concept of common humanity and oneness. Through the lens of the meaning of “Ubuntu,” it is essential that we all learn from Black History because none of us would be here without the history of Black people. Black people have contributed to all cultures and ethnicities and have contributed to all that America is. When I think of Black History, I see it impacting everyone. It’s not limited to a specific people of a certain pigmentation and culture; it is much more powerful than that. We must all pause and honor these great Black men and women before us, recognizing that we are here today, because they were here before us.

When I reflect on Black History, I see a resilient and powerful people who were oppressed, but not defeated. A people who endured so much persecution and opposition, but overcame. This is the legacy of a people who cannot be defeated—a people who use opposition to catapult them into their purpose and destiny.

You see that in every form of Black History—even in the details of the food. When Black people were given food to eat, like the pig intestines, that nobody else wanted, they were able to make something called chitlins out of it. Think about that. They made a delicious cuisine out of pig intestines. It speaks to their resilience, and it says, “What someone else sees as worthless, I can make it gold.”

I see that as Black History, and I think it’s so important and imperative for us to remember— especially our young People of Color. Because if our people back then could make so much of so little, imagine what we can do with our opportunities that we have today. Yes, we still have so much further to go as a community. There’s still a wealth gap, and other challenging limitations. But we will not allow those limitations to paralyze our progress. Instead, we will use the resistance like an airplane uses the resistance of the wind and gravity: To soar.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

I love highlighting local unsung heroes, and I talk about this guy all the time, but I would say Grandpa Al Woodbury. He’s 84-years-old, but he still drives, and he volunteers at the City Life Center with our youth every day that we’re open.

Like me, he’s originally from Georgia, near where I grew up, and I’ve often observed Grandpa Al to see why he operates the way he does. What I’ve learned is that he wakes up every day with a mission, and his mission is to serve somebody.

He’s lived through the 60s, the racial tensions and civil unrest multiple times, and yet, he doesn’t lose sight of what matters most. He often tells me that what matters most is loving people—loving people and understanding. He also allows me to remember the different between ignorance and stupidity. You can’t fix stupidity, but you can fix ignorance. Some people just don’t know things, so we have to teach them in a loving way. He’s so passionate about loving people and reminding us that, if you’ve been oppressed by someone, you’ve got to be careful to not become the oppressor, because we can’t allow unforgiveness to rob us of joy and experiencing life.

Don’t get me wrong. Grandpa Al isn’t perfect. He always says he’s a late bloomer because he wasn’t the best father or husband. But he also knows that life is about decisions, and now, he makes the decision every day to love somebody.

Most of the times at the City Life Center, he’s just listening to the youth. Most of his conversations with kids start with a question. He practices empathetic listening, so well, and he has contributed to so many lives in Fort Wayne. He’s someone who makes people feel at home.

With this question, I also do think of Dr. King, and the price he had to pay to further along the human race—for the long forefathers of our county to say all men are created equally. Today, we’re still trying to discover what that means and to live out that vision. And it was with an expensive cost, but we can recompensate Dr. King for the legacy that he left us by living out his God-given dream for us.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.

Someone I rave about all the time, and he wouldn’t like this at all, because he’s humble, but it’s Iric Headley. What I love about Iric is he is willing to sacrifice everything to serve others, and in that way, he reminds me of Dr. King. We celebrate Dr. King this month, but it’s important to remember that not everybody was for Dr. King when he was living. He wasn’t always that popular, but people began to jump on board with his thinking after he was killed.

Iric is such a trailblazer for our community, fighting for Black young people. One of his initiatives is the TenPoint Coalition, focusing on eliminating the homicide rates in Fort Wayne, specifically with a focus on young Black boys. And Iric doesn’t stop here. He connects with these young men on a deeper level. He partners with the Youth Center, the City Life Center, the Boys & Girls Club. He realizes a lot of people are looking for a connection and a place of belonging, and he teaches people to value one another.

Once you start valuing yourself, hopefully, you can value the people around you and see people as kings and queens of the world.

Beyond our young people, what he does for us, as a people here in Fort Wayne, is the United Front, teaching us about diversity, inclusion, equality, and equity. He shares with us in such honest and genuine ways, and he does a lot of things behind the scenes. He doesn’t look for credit, but when he’s doing these types of initiatives, he takes a lot of hits.

That’s what I value about Iric. He has taken a lot of hits, but he’s still standing because he believes in doing what’s right and what’s worth the cost. He wants to be effective and not popular. He believes in Fort Wayne and in us being the best version of ourselves. You can’t teach that. That’s just something that’s part of his being. That’s what I love about his relentless efforts, wanting Fort Wayne to be better. He believes in making every effort for us to be unified as a human race. He really believes in that, and he would die for it.

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

Just recently, there was a shooting at a gas station overnight in Fort Wayne where three young Black males were shot. Two died on the scene, and one is in the hospital, fighting for his life. All three of those boys were my Youth for Christ City Life guys.

Reflecting on my hopes for Fort Wayne’s future, I think about those three boys. I think about what one of them once said to me a few years ago. He said, “Nygel, every time I feel like giving up, you never give up on me. You always have hope for me, and every time I’m around you, I feel hopeful again.”

There embodies my hope for Fort Wayne. I hope we can be that person who dispenses hope to somebody else. I hope our city, the Summit City, can truly live up to its nickname and be a beacon of hope—a lighthouse for the nation, in saying, “This is the way, the path forward in greater equity, equality, and inclusion.”

I think we’re on that trajectory, but I hope it continues.

I love the play “Hamilton,” and one of the quotes from that play is, “History is watching you.” History is watching us, Fort Wayne, and what history are we going to leave?

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

My name is Jade Alexandria Henry, and I am 13-years-old. I attend Memorial Park Middle School and am in the 7th grade. I was born in Miami, Florida, and moved to Fort Wayne in July 2011. Jade Alexandria Henry

I do ballet at the Fort Wayne Ballet three times a week, and I have been dancing since I was 3-years-old. Recently, I advanced to Pointe and love ballet even more! In my spare time, I love making bracelets and drawing. When I turned 9, my grandfather (John Dortch) gifted me a business, More Than Just an Art, so that I could sell my bracelets. Since I love gym shoes, I can buy my own shoes and save for college.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is a special time to recognize people in the Black community who have done amazing things for America that we don’t always learn about in school.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

Fort Wayne residents should know about Ruby Bridges (the first Black student to attend an all-white elementary school in the South) because she is a very courageous woman who paved a way for me and many other children, so that we could go to school with different races today.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.

Someone that I admire is (my stepdad) David Thomas because he is making history in Fort Wayne by providing health and wellness products in our community on the South East part of town. A long-time passion of his has even allowed me to advertise my bracelets in his store. I admire him because he opened his businesses, while still maintaining his full-time job at Fort Wayne Community Schools. His business, The Health Hut Wellness Center, has survived the pandemic, and hopefully, he can expand locations. I’m very proud of my Stepdad.

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

My hope for Fort Wayne’s future is that we can expand the diversity and have more black teachers working at different schools.

 

 

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I was born in Camden, Alabama, in a family with 11 children on an 80-acre farm that my parents owned. John Dortch

I moved to Fort Wayne from Nashville, Tenn., in 1975. I went to college and graduated in Nashville, and I worked for International Harvester in internal revenue. Harvester brought me to Fort Wayne, and after I moved here, I stayed at Harvester for about three years. Then I went to work for Parkview Health as an Assistant Associate Director of HR. I went through five promotions at Parkview to become Vice President of my department in 2004.

Then, I wanted to be an entrepreneur, so I started Preston Joan Group in May 2004 with a business partner from Evansville. It will be 17 years, as of this year, since we founded our business as Human Resource Specialists. But even outside of my business, I stay busy in Fort Wayne.

About 11 years ago, I started the Fort Wayne Black Chamber of Commerce with five other guys, and we bought the Penta Building in November, which is now an incubator for minority entrepreneurs.

Then I helped start the Fort Wayne Ink Spot newspaper in June 2018. I’ve also written a couple of books, and I’m working on a book now that I hope I can release later this summer. It’s about how to survive in any area if you follow the rules: Sports, work, all kinds of different roads.

A lot of people have a tendency to want to blame the system, but I like to say you have three things you are 100 percent responsible for: Your performance, your attendance, and your behavior, so you have to look at yourself in the mirror.

I’m big on mentoring, too. I don’t think I would be doing what I’m doing now if I didn’t have good mentors along the way.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month—I don’t look at it as a month. I look at it as every day because it’s a legacy, standing on the shoulders of those who are deceased and living alike. I’m part of that legacy, and I believe we all should use what other people have done or are doing and should benefit from that. We should also let people know of the talent and potential that exists here Fort Wayne’s Black Community.

That’s a big reason I wanted to invest in Fort Wayne Ink Spot. I wanted to use the newspaper to promote minorities who are doing positive things in Fort Wayne, being entrepreneurs, working in education—any area from A to Z. That’s part of Black History, too. Every week, the paper comes out, and I have people say to me all the time, “I did not know that, or I didn’t realize that such-and-such did this until I read Ink Spot.” That’s what Black History Month means to me. It’s an ongoing legacy.

Don’t celebrate it one month; celebrate it throughout the year, and let it be a legacy.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

Since I’m from Alabama (and I like to tell people I’m still a down-home country boy), I would recommend learning about A.G. Gaston of Birmingham, Alabama. He’s a black gentleman who lived to be 103-years-old and who built a business empire worth an estimated $130 million.

His grandparents were slaves, and his father died when he as an infant, but A.G. decided he wanted to be an entrepreneur and he became a multimillionaire. He had funeral homes, insurance companies, and motels.

Actually, during Dr. King’s Civil Rights days, many people stayed at A.G.’s motel. At the time, Blacks couldn’t stay in motels, so A.G. allowed Dr. King to stay for free. That says a lot about him.

More than anything, A.G. believed in giving back, and he didn’t do things for the money. He did things to help people, kind of like Mahalia Jackson’s song says, “If I can help somebody, as I pass along, Then my living shall not be in vain.”

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.

Politics is a cornerstone of our democracy, so I would choose our local Black City Council representatives: Sharon Tucker, Michelle Chambers, and Glynn Hines, as well as Denita Washington, the first African-American and the first woman to serve as Trustee of Adams County.

Last year, the Black Chamber of Commerce had plaques made for these representatives, and I really appreciate their service on the local level. People like them need to be saluted in all that they do. They have opportunities to bring about important change.

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

I think Fort Wayne is being put on the map. The Greater Fort Wayne Inc. Chamber of Commerce is doing some great things, and overall, I think the future looks very bright. I think the Young Leaders of Northeast Indiana are an excellent group. My daughter and I participated in the Black Lives Matter protest downtown, too, and I’m also on the Board of Public Safety. I’m big on information, education, and community involvement, and I think having conversations, face to face with others can solve a lot of issues.

I hope we do that more often in the future, rather than running to the media. I meet with the Mayor frequently myself, and he’s been working with me for the last six to eight years.

I also hope we can leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren in Fort Wayne, too. Education and skills education is key to that. My dad had a sixth-grade education, and my mom had an eighth-grade education, but when they died, they left us an 80-acre farm, and all of us 11 children still go back to visit that farm today in Alabama.

In my first book, In My Father’s House These Were the Rules, I tell readers about how my father told me to get an education, regardless of college. Not everybody is going to go to college, but you can still have a skill. I hope others can use their skills to create a legacy.

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I am originally from Fort Wayne, and although I lived in other cities around the country, I now call Fort Wayne my home again. RasAmen Oladuwa

After graduating with my B.A. from Connecticut College, I quickly learned that I wanted to work for myself and started my own business as a web designer. It eventually grew into an online marketing consultant business called RASS Web Consulting. I also recently Co-Founded with Olivia Torres, The Content Creators of Color Project, which is a Start Fort Wayne committee led by highly skilled Women of Color, combating inequality within the digital marketing industry.

CCC provides professional development and business planning resources to an exclusive network of creators with a special focus on underrepresented voices. With our collective expertise, we help our members access historically inaccessible industry spaces and use their talents with professionalism and innovation in mind.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

While Black History Month is nestled in a plethora of good intent, it has a historical tendency to only focus on the same voices. There are so many African-Americans—currently and throughout history—who have greatly influenced how this world operates. Although it is important to recognize the few, there are far more in our own community who surround us every day.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

A person who should be recognized more is Octavia Butler. She was a science fiction author whose main characters featured People of Color, especially Women of Color, in dominant roles. I think she is an important part of history because she shows Black children, especially little Black girls, that their words and voices do matter, and that they are capable of creating worlds and moments that can change other people’s viewpoints.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.
 

A BIPOC person who I think we should all be paying attention to is Lyndy Bazile. She is the owner of AfroPlump Art, who makes beautiful artwork, featuring Women of Color. Not only is she highly talented, but also she is body-positive, and she is extremely active within the Fort Wayne community. She is one to look out for.

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?
 

I hope that as Fort Wayne grows, it can become a city all people can feel welcome in. I would love for our city to become a beacon to other cities, showing them a blueprint on how to learn from our past and take the necessary actions to become an inclusive community for the betterment of our future.

 

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

We are both born and raised in Southeast Fort Wayne. We run three companies, and we are very involved in church and the community. We enjoy spending time with our children, traveling, binge-watching movies and shows, and just about anything growth-centered. Janell Lane

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is a time to acknowledge and recognize those who come before us and all of the sacrifices they made to help us, as a people, progress. It’s also a time to acknowledge all of the new and innovative ways we as a people are continuing the fight for equity and justice.

Although many feel that Black History shouldn’t be condensed to a month, the sad reality is we still need the visibility of the month in order to create space and remembrance. Black History Month requires the world to acknowledge what has been ignored, minimized, denied, and undervalued for decades. Aaron Lane

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

Shirley Chisholm was the first Black woman elected to a Democratic Seat in Congress in 1969. She was incredibly courageous, boldly challenging directly anything that she felt would negatively impact her constitutes. She boldly brought attention to systemic racism, sexism, and corrupt politics. She was a vocal advocate for working class people and fought for policies for their benefit. She fought for school reform and a public healthcare plan. She was the first Black woman to ever run for the Presidency of the United States of America in 1972. Real change often requires boldness and willingness to “go against the grain,” despite opposition.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.

DeAundre Muhammad, Founder & CEO of Traction Athletic Performance, is a quiet storm. His humility keeps him under the radar, but he deeply impacts every life he touches. He strengthens and sharpens young people beyond athletics, prioritizing their mental and spiritual well-being above all. He and his team have—and continue to—nurture some of the top talent coming out of Fort Wayne (i.e. Jessie Bates III, Jaylon Smith, Austin Mack, Drue Tranquill, and many more). Dre’s character is contagious as he continues to inspire top talent to focus on their purpose beyond athletics.

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

Our hope is that Fort Wayne stops focusing on “staying comfortable” and is willing to walk toward actual change.

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I was born in Fort Wayne and raised on the Southeast side. Like many young adults, I couldn’t wait to leave my hometown after graduating from college at Indiana University in Bloomington. Sharon Tubbs

I worked as a newspaper reporter in the South Jersey/Philadelphia area, then in the Tampa Bay region of Florida. There, in the Sunshine State, I also became an author and inspirational speaker, launching Move Forward Communications, a writing, editing, and speaking business.

Then in late 2015, two decades after I left, I returned to Fort Wayne where my parents still live. My first year back, I wrote and produced a Gospel stage play and ventured into grassroots community work. Today, I am the director of HealthVisions Midwest of Fort Wayne, a faith-based nonprofit that offers health education and direct services. Our vision is to empower and support the underserved to live healthier lives.

As for hobbies, writing has always been my passion, so I consider it a treat when I can write a meaningful piece for a newspaper, magazine, blog, or a chapter in an upcoming book. During the pandemic, I used Zoom to create Friday Night Sisters, a weekly small group of women of faith who check in on one another, laugh, and grow spiritually through Bible study. The group is my version of self-care.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

For me, Black History Month acknowledges that there is so much more to the story we’ve been told about the making of America. Ideally, the history of African-Americans would be woven into American history, and Black heroes and she-roes would fill our textbooks beyond mentions of slavery and the Civil Rights Movement. Leaders, entrepreneurs, inventors, and other creative minds would be celebrated year-round for their economic, social, and political contributions. I mean people beyond the well-known Harriet Tubman, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks.

Of course, this history should not be limited to one month—the shortest month of the year, at that. Likewise, loving someone should not be limited to Valentine’s Day, or honoring one’s mother to Mother’s Day. Yet, the holiday shines a special light, encouraging us to celebrate together as a nation. I see this month similarly, but with more significance. It’s a time when America can join for a deep dive into African-American culture, contributions, hardships overcome, and those still unconquered. Of course, not everyone values this time. But, for those who do, it’s an opportunity to learn, grow, and soak in the inspiring stories of a people who endured so much injustice, yet survived, and in many cases, thrived. Stories that contribute to who I am, as a Black woman, today.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

August Wilson, known as the “theater’s poet of Black America,” was an acclaimed playwright whose work earned a Tony Award and two Pulitzer Prizes for Fences and The Piano Lesson. Both plays were later made into movies. Wilson is best known for a series called “The Pittsburgh Cycle,” which included his two most prestigious prize-winners. The cycle chronicled African-American life, with each play focusing on one decade of the 20th Century.

I was fortunate to learn of Wilson’s work while living in Tampa. There, a small local theater featured a different Wilson play each year for Black History Month, often to sold-out, diverse crowds. My birthday also falls in February, so for several years, I considered tickets to a Wilson play my best gift to me. Skilled actors combined with Wilson’s deft dialogue brought scenes and onstage experiences to life. The plays often told the stories of everyday Black people who I could relate to: People trying to get by, or catch a break, or muscle through the injustices of their time. These were the voices too often absent from America’s playhouses, especially when Wilson’s first major play, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom, opened on Broadway in 1984. Recently, while at the Post Office, I saw that the August Wilson Stamp debuted this year as the 44th in the USPS Black Heritage series. How delightful.

 4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why.

Adrian Curry, founder of the Art Leadership Center (ALC). When I first saw Curry lead a group of children and teens marching and stepping in perfect formation, I was impressed. They were obviously focused, determined, and driven by much more than their choreographed routine. They were mission-minded. They had learned a series of self-affirming statements, which they could recite at will. But my admiration would soon burrow much deeper.

I’d seen the group’s synchronized stepping on several occasions by the time I noticed several of them involved in a teen speaking event. They stepped on stage to tell their stories, spoke with confidence and authority. They told of being bullied, of broken relationships, of performing at their best level and serving as leaders.

A common theme was they told how their experience at the ALC taught them to cope and to be disciplined. One girl said she made friends at the ALC and finally felt like she belonged. I do not know of another center that infuses creativity, stepping and discipline, and character-building to impact today’s youth quite like Curry’s does. He may not be a household name locally, but I believe he is making history. Curry’s work leaves a positive imprint that is already redirecting young lives for the better.           

5. What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

I hope that Fort Wayne will become a city bubbling with opportunity for People of Color, particularly our youth. I hope for, not just job openings, but career paths that invite young Black and Brown men and women to express their unique creativity. I want a Fort Wayne where youth see leaders with skin like theirs dominate in engineering, business ownership, operating rooms, classrooms, laboratories, law enforcement, and newspapers, too. I want a Fort Wayne where having Black people in these roles is no longer a “first” or an exception, but commonplace.

I hope for an environment where our children begin to take achievement for granted. I’m thinking of venues and circumstances that give the next August Wilson a chance to thrive here. Of course, this can only happen through unity, the combined social and political forces of our city leaders, Black, Brown, and white, too.

The protests of 2020 sparked dialogues about our relationship with law enforcement, as well as diversity, equity, and inclusion. This is a start to amassing more opportunities here. I hope for a Fort Wayne so vibrant and inclusive that it beckons African-Americans to come back after college, rather than to find the quickest route elsewhere, as I did.

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

I'm a lifelong resident of Fort Wayne, Indiana. I am a product of Fort Wayne Community Schools, graduating from Northrop High School. Joe Jordan

My undergraduate degree is from Indiana Tech in Business Administration, and my graduate degree is from Indiana Wesleyan University in Business Management. I am currently serving as the President and CEO of the Boys and Girls Clubs of Fort Wayne. My hobbies are reading, music, live music, and traveling.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month means a great deal to me. It forces us all to stop and recognize the many contributions African-Americans have made to this great country. Unfortunately, African-American experiences and contributions have not been shared in the appropriate way. So this month, allows us the opportunity to share these amazing contributions and experiences of the African-American culture. The African-American experience is intertwined with America's experience. There can be no African-American experience without America, and there cannot be an American experience without the African-American experience. America is the greatest country in the world! One of the major reasons why is because of its diversity in the contributions from all of the cultures that reside within it.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

It’s very difficult for me to just name one person who I think Fort Wayne residents should know about. I guess if I had to name one person it would be Nelson Mandela. Nelson Mandela spent most of his adult life in prison because he refused to accept the status quo. His commitment and dedication to what is right superseded his yearning for freedom.

I think it's important that people of Fort Wayne understand the commitment and dedication of Nelson Mandela. Without commitment and dedication, we cannot improve the conditions of our people. We live in a society right now where commitment and dedication are not valued. No one wants to sacrifice anything for any cause. But it’s important to remember that there are many who laid their lives on the line so we can have a better today. Their commitment and dedication was displayed by the sacrifice. I'm not convinced that we have the same commitment and dedication for the next generation to come after us. I want Fort Wayne residents to know the story of Nelson Mandela, so they can understand what true sacrifice looks like.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why?

If I had to name just one at this current time, that person would be Iric Headley. Iric has done something in his community that has never been done before. His initiative through Fort Wayne United, called United Front, has created a space where all of the community citizens can come together to learn and grow. He has created pathways and safe places where people from all different backgrounds can come together to share their common humanity.

Racism and most other “isms” are caused by lack of knowledge—a lack of exposure to the thing you are discriminating against. This initiative brings people together and helps them understand their own biases and prejudices. It's an experience that happens internally, first, and then externally, second. It focuses on people's commonality and how your brain is triggered based on your own biases and prejudices. It helps you understand what triggers your thoughts. Iric’s ability to take on a very difficult subject and create a shared human experience for the whole community is simply amazing.

5.  What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

My sincere hope for Fort Wayne is for us to come together as one, where we could enjoy each other’s experiences, cultures, and shared humanity. I hope we can be a place where we can see each other as human beings first and understand that being human is enough to be valued. I hope that equality and equity would ring true in every corner of our community. My hope for Fort Wayne is that we can be a place that other communities look at in marvel at the way in which we value diversity, inclusion, equity, and equality.

 

1. Give us a little background on you. How long have you lived in Fort Wayne, and what do you do for work/hobbies?

My name is Mylisa Kelly. I’m a singer-songwriter out of Fort Wayne Indiana. I released my first single two years ago called “Sunrise,” and my latest single “Pray for My City” was released last year. Mylisa Kelly

For the song, “Pray for My City,” I was deeply inspired to make a call of action, not only for myself, but for anyone who wanted to back me up and join. I wanted to see change within my own environment.

From that, an organization was birthed called Bring Black Up, of which I am the Director and Coordinator. Bring Black Up is a Social awareness production group composed of Black women who bring powerful and impactful events to the city where local artists, vendors, and more can showcase their talents and what they have to offer, using music and art as tools to heal and connect.

At these events, we raise money, and the money we collect, we put back into the community through charities. We, as a production, help other up-and-coming artists on the rise, connecting our resources for better business relationships.

2. What does Black History Month mean to you?

Black History Month is important to me because it shows me who I am and where I come from, and it reminds me what I can do. We need to know that we can rise above anything as long as we think positive, remain firm in our beliefs, and stay focused.

3. Name someone in Black History (past or present) who more Fort Wayne residents should know about, and tell us why.

The person I’d like to give more recognition to is the late Nipsey Hussle. I watched his documentary a few years back, and he really inspired me. His passion for philanthropy for his community really touched me. I was determined to do the same for my community here.

The late Tupac Shakur is another source of inspiration I look up to. His information and ways of teaching caught my eye.

These leaders have shown me the opportunity you can have to reach a broad audience in the music industry, so I just took that and meditated on it and asked God to guide me for this mission, and he has guided me every step of the way.

4. Name a BIPOC making history in Fort Wayne we should be paying attention to and why?

Someone people in Fort Wayne should be paying attention to right now is me and every artist who is backing me up and supporting me on this mission for Bring Black Up. We all have a story to tell, and each of these artists has an important story. We use music and art as our language for these stories.

Every instrument, every sound has a purpose.

We are Black History, and I want everyone in Fort Wayne and beyond to know it!

I just hope that my passion for love, music, and art can make a legacy for ALL. So, please support the movement and please support all the artists who come on the platform.

We need your support.

5.  What is your hope for Fort Wayne's future?

My hope for Fort Wayne‘s future is that we learn how to get along with one another and be unified. Most of us here need healing, but first we have to understand and put back the discipline and the morals of the household. I think that’s where it starts. Then, human behavior shows us that no matter what race you are, anything can happen.

We need to change our ways of thinking and be taught again to heal the mind. We can be better people, better friends, better business partners, and better allies to one another without chaos. That’s what we need for our future, Fort Wayne.

We need to support one another.

Read more articles by Kara Hackett.

Kara Hackett is a Fort Wayne native fascinated by what's next for northeast Indiana how it relates to other up-and-coming places around the world. After working briefly in New York City and Indianapolis, she moved back to her hometown where she has discovered interesting people, projects, and innovations shaping the future of this place—and has been writing about them ever since. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @karahackett.
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