Meet ChangeMakers, a group working to disrupt and dismantle systemic racism in Fort Wayne

Malcolm X.

W.E.B Du Bois.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In their day, these changemakers were sometimes seen as “radical” for their desire to dismantle and abolish systems that were not only oppressive, but threatened their very lives.

In Fort Wayne, one group that may be seen as “radical” today is ChangeMakers Fort Wayne. Formed in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests downtown and outraged into existence by a divisive and premature Unity March, ChangeMakers seek to create deeper, systems-level changes in Fort Wayne to improve conditions for the city’s Black community, which they feel has been “historically marginalized, disenfranchised, and oppressed.”

A full mission statement and vision for ChangeMakers is spelled out on their Facebook page and other social media platforms, which they use to connect with their young and growing audience.

But as Fort Wayne residents get to know this emerging advocacy group, they must ask themselves: Is it radical to acknowledge wrongdoing and to protect your basic rights? Is it radical to want a better future for yourself and your children? Is it radical to demand a fair shake at economic opportunity and a proverbial “seat at the table” where decisions are made in your own city, in your own state, in your own country?

Perhaps most poignantly: Is it radical to seek new ways of achieving these goals if the tried and traditional routes continually lead you back to where you started?

In entrepreneurship—particularly white male entrepreneurship—the “radical” desire to disrupt and dismantle systems is often celebrated as the boldness to “innovate,” to “think differently,” and to “make the world a better place.” What you might not realize about ChangeMakers—or the local Black Lives Matter protests, for that matter—is that they technically have roots in the realm of entrepreneurship, too.

When Alisha Rauch, the mother of four Black boys in Fort Wayne, saw footage of George Floyd murdered last year, she was moved to action to do what she could to support the Black community here. Working two jobs on top of raising her kids, she decided to create a Facebook group called SHOP Fort Wayne Black-Owned Businesses, as a means of improving the economic power and status of local Black entrepreneurs during the pandemic and to keep money within the community.

“A lot of times, Black business owners don’t have access to the same resources or connections that other entrepreneurs do,” Rauch says. “I wanted to create a way to highlight these businesses and uplift what they do and who they are.”

When that Facebook Group took off, attracting thousands of members in a matter of days, Rauch decided to use her platform for a bigger purpose: To bring Fort Wayne’s Black residents and their allies together to protest the systemic injustices that not only led to the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, but also endangered and marginalized Black citizens in Fort Wayne’s own community.

When the first two historic protests ended in teargas and reparations to the local Black community—or plans to change the system—were not made before the Unity March happened, Rauch teamed up with Daylana Saunders, along with about 13 other concerned citizens, to create ChangeMakers as a way to keep pushing for the transformational improvements they wanted to see.

Today, Rauch and Saunders are continuing this work on their own, strategically focused on education, legislation, and advocacy. Along with hosting gatherings and public protests to advance important causes, they are working behind the scenes this winter on phone calls and social media, too.

To celebrate Black History Month in February, ChangeMakers are using their Facebook page as an open platform to promote Black entrepreneurs in Fort Wayne, and the fire behind their social justice movement is creating real results for local business owners.

“Who would have thought a local snow removal business would increase by 25 percent just by us posting about them on this social justice group page?” Saunders says. “I just received word today that another snow removal business wants to advertise on our page because they saw how well the first one did. We seek all types of businesses to feature.”

Looking to the future, ChangeMakers plan to keep using their platform to support Fort Wayne’s Black community however they can and to encourage Fort Wayne residents of all races to join them in the fight for greater equity, equality, and inclusion in the city during this historic time.

“We encourage people to not sit on the sidelines,” Saunders says.

In the video above, Input Fort Wayne sat down (virtually) with ChangeMakers Fort Wayne to learn more about their work and their hopes for the future.

Below, you can discover the stories behind some of the local Black-owned small businesses the ChangeMakers are promoting this month. Allies and supporters are asked to like, comment, share, and financially support these Black entrepreneurs, as they are able.

To see more posts about Black-owned small businesses in Fort Wayne, visit ChangeMakers Fort Wayne's Facebook page, and search #BlackHistoryMonth.

Learn more

To learn more about ChangeMakers, white allyship to Fort Wayne’s Black community, or to have your Black-owned business featured on their social media, contact ChangeMakers at [email protected] or (260) 209-4693.

You can follow them on Facebook and Instagram at @changemakers.fw.

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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.