Growing up in Southeast Fort Wayne, Ty Simmons remembers it being underprivileged compared to other parts of town.
After graduating from South Side High School, he left the city to earn his degree at San Francisco State University, and when he moved back, he found that much of Fort Wayne had evolved with the times and renewed investment in downtown.
But what surprised Simmons was that the Southeast quadrant was still largely the same as he left it. A large portion of the houses were rentals. There was no grocery store, and not many businesses were owned by people in the community.
“It hasn’t changed,” Simmons said in a 2019 Input Fort Wayne article
. Southeast Fort Wayne was redlined, which is why it has a majority of non-white residents.
Instead, much of the 46803 and 46806 zip codes are classified as a food desert, or a place home to at least 500 people that is more than one mile from a supermarket or large grocery store, according to the United States Department of Agriculture. Since the Southeast side of Fort Wayne was redlined as part of the New Deal
, it has had a hard time recovering and attracting sustainable investment.
But amidst challenges largely influenced by systemic racism and exclusion, members of the Southeast community, like Simmons, are rising up to make a difference in their neighborhoods.
That’s the spirit of On the Ground Southeast, a new embedded journalism program Input Fort Wayne
is launching in partnership with the St. Joseph Community Health Foundation
, Parkview Health
, NiSource Charitable Foundation
, and Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center.
Réna Bradley and Pastor Javier Mondragon stand in front of a playground designed by local students working with Bridge of Grace.
From August-September 2020, Input will be hiring Southeast Fort Wayne-based writers and photographers to produce weekly stories that generate conversations around assets, challenges, and opportunities in their neighborhoods—as determined by Southeast residents themselves.
While this work is particularly relevant in 2020, as social and racial justice movements erupt across the nation, On the Ground Southeast was in the works long before the first Black Lives Matter protests began in Fort Wayne. Input Fort Wayne’s parent company, Issue Media Group
, has been doing On the Ground programs in more than 40 communities across the U.S. since 2013. These programs aim to tell the stories of the people, projects, and innovations creating "what’s next" for underserved communities. The intent is to drive additional "solutions-oriented" media coverage, community engagement, and ultimately understanding of a community, resulting in awareness and investments that can contribute to its vitality and prosperity.
Previous On the Ground programs have taken place in Memphis, Tampa, Grand Rapids, Kalamazoo, Cincinnati, Flint, and Detroit. For a recent example, check out On the Ground Ypsilanti
from the Michigan-based publication Concentrate.
The Art Leadership Center (ALC) for children and young adults performs at the curbside pickup.
In doing this work, it's important for Input to have a visible, tangible presence in the neighborhoods it's reporting on. For the duration of On the Ground Southeast, our staff will be working closely with Bridge of Grace Compassionate Ministries Center in the Mount Vernon Park neighborhood—an area that has defined itself as ground zero for asset-based development, where crime has been reduced by 55 percent from 2013-2018 due to neighborhood-led improvement measures
To source and share authentic stories about Southeast Fort Wayne, our On the Ground Southeast Program will be led by Project Editor, Britney Breidenstein, a native of Detroit who has called Fort Wayne home for more than 20 years.
Britney grew up in Southeast Fort Wayne where she graduated from Paul Harding High School and went on to attend college at Indiana University and Indiana Tech. For the last 12 years, she has dedicated her professional and personal career to several leadership roles in the non-profit sector where she has focused on merging strategic development and growth through a lens of equity and inclusion.
Today, Britney serves on a committee for the Center for Non-Violence, as well as the Board of Directors for Bring-It Push It and Own Your Success. She has been engaged in community efforts and planning for the revitalization of Southeast Fort Wayne as well as the professional development opportunities for minority students and professionals. She also chairs a YLNI committee called Living Fort Wayne dedicated to showcasing the diversity and excellence of often underrepresented members of Fort Wayne’s community.
Multiple nonprofits are coming together to serve hot meals for pickup in Southeast Fort Wayne on a regular basis.
For the duration of the On the Ground Southeast program, Britney will be attending community meetings and events in Southeast, sharing stories and updates on social media, and assigning the bulk of the content to tell stories about Southeast Fort Wayne that are often overlooked in traditional media
To extend the reach of the On the Ground program beyond those who have regular access to an internet connection, all articles in the series will be printed in Fort Wayne Ink Spot
, along with appearing on inputfortwayne.com
. Input is also partnering with Bridge of Grace to host two free, outdoor story slam events in Southeast neighborhoods this summer to bring residents together around the power of personal narratives.
For too long, Southeast Fort Wayne has been stereotyped in the city. People have been talking about this community, instead of talking with the residents who live there. Our intent is to shift that paradigm.
It’s time we ask our neighbors in Fort Wayne’s most diverse quadrant: What is your story? What do you love about where you live? What is holding your neighborhood back? And where do you see opportunities for a better future?
Stay tuned to find out.