Who is working to foster and retain BIPOC talent in Fort Wayne?

It’s been said: “Our children are the future.”

For decades, the so-called "brain drain" emigration of talent has been a challenge for Fort Wayne and the Midwest. Since 1990, Allen County has lost about 21,000 more residents than have moved in from other communities due to negative domestic migration.

But in recent years, migration and population trends in the Fort Wayne area are turning around. In March 2020, Greater Fort Wayne Inc. reported that, for the third year in a row, Allen County attracted and retained talent at its best pace on record, gaining more residents than it lost and more than doubling its previous record from the year before.

“This is Allen County’s best single-year total since the Census Bureau began tracking net domestic migration in 1991,” the report says.

Data via Greater Fort Wayne Inc.'s website.

Recent calculations from the Purdue University Fort Wayne Community Research Institute show that Northeast Indiana’s population, as a whole, increased from 2010 to 2020 across eight of the region's 11 counties, including Allen. While this count does not specifically track migration rates, it does bode well for regional growth, in general, says Rachel Blakeman, Director of PFW’s Community Research Institute, in a press release.

“The population growth of Allen and surrounding counties is no small feat considering how population decline is the general trend for the Midwest and rural areas in particular,” Blakeman writes.

But while population strides are being made in certain parts and demographics of Fort Wayne, not all communities within the city are experiencing talent retention and growth at equal rates.

RasAmen Oladuwa, Co-Founder of the Content Creators of Color Project, recalls many of her young, talented friends who identify as BIPOC in Fort Wayne, feeling the desire to “get out” of the city as soon as they graduated high school.

This challenge persists today. South East Fort Wayne is home to the most culturally diverse community in Fort Wayne where only 23 percent of the population identifies as white. The majority of residents are Black, Hispanic/Latino, and Burmese.

As Input has been reporting on this community, a question that has arisen is: Who is working to foster and retain BIPOC talent, specifically, in Fort Wayne?

We sat down with the Co-Founders of the Content Creators of Color Project, a city-wide organization, and another group, Bigger Than Us, which is based in South East, to learn how these young adults are fighting brain drain among their peers and developing support systems.

The Content Creators of Color Project

The Content Creators of Color (CCC) Project is a culturally diverse, women-led organization housed in Start Fort Wayne that is working to support underrepresented voices in the digital marketing industry. The CCC Project was co-founded by RasAmen Oladuwa and Olivia Torres.

Oladuwa and Torres met through Oladuwa’s father, Ketu, and realized that while they may have different cultural backgrounds, they have similar feelings and experiences as Women of Color in Fort Wayne who are building careers in the digital world.

“We had conversations about how we felt limited in our options at the time,” Torres says. “A lot of times, people who look like us, or have the cultures that we come from, end up being the subject, or being used as the poster children of things, but not actually being in control of the story.”

Olivia Torres, left, and RasAmen Oladuwa, right, are Co-Founders of The Content Creators of Color Project, a committee of Start Fort Wayne.

Torres, who identifies as Latinx, says that from these conversations with Oladuwa, the two women became inspired to create the type of inspiring, inclusive support system they wanted to see in the marketing industry, in particular.

“We had had some pretty deep discussions about that, so we decided to test it,” Torres says. “Let’s put an event together ourselves, and market it, and just see what happens when two women like us decide to do that.”

Olivia Torres, a leader of the organization Content Creators of Color.

Through their collaboration with the Allen County SPCA, the Lutheran Foundation, and Wunderkammer Company, Torres and Oladuwa were able to host the first Dog Days of Autumn event last October, which featured a gathering of local vendors, food trucks, games, and treats for puppies and people alike.

Dog Days of Autumn provided Torres and Oladuwa the opportunity to see how they work as a team and overcome major obstacles, such as planning a COVID-conscious experience. The event was a success and helped CCC identify their community in the city, which gave them the confidence to move forward with their project.

While Oladuwa feels a lack of support system in Fort Wayne for People of Color, she says there are many benefits of staying and investing in the Fort Wayne community. While she technically could do her full-time job as a self-employed contractor from anywhere, she chooses to remain in her hometown.

“Fort Wayne is affordable, and therefore allows me to live a different lifestyle than I would be able in any other city,” Oladuwa says. “Fort Wayne is my base; then I just travel a lot. It’s also nice to have a community in Fort Wayne. I feel it would be extremely hard to recreate that somewhere else.”

RasAmen Oladuwa, Owner of RASS Web Consulting and leader of the organization Content Creators of Color.

Oladuwa and Torres agree that Fort Wayne offers a space with the necessary building blocks for the young people to grow their talents. They say it also helps to have experience living and working in other markets to realize your value and then come back to the region.

“As a Person of Color, you need to find that you have value elsewhere, so when you do come back, you don’t lose it, and you don’t stay here thinking that this is all that you can be,” Oladuwa says.

While Fort Wayne has made strides to improve its community and diversify, two areas where Oladuwa and Torres see Fort Wayne lagging behind other cities are in its predominant culture of “whiteness” and its generational gaps in the workforce, which prevent highly educated young creatives from seeking employment here.
Namely, higher wages for creative work and more flexible, “millennial” workplace values have not yet been widely accepted in Fort Wayne’s often-corporate business culture.

“There is still a sort of cultural resistance to millennials in the workplace,” Torres says. “Until businesses in Fort Wayne, that are substantial, want to embrace that generational shift, we are going to continue to fall behind.”

The CCC project is a free membership-based platform that local People of Color can apply to join via its website at contentcreatorsofcolor.com. This membership offers access to the CCC’s ever-growing wealth of knowledge and support.

We’re in what I would call “beta mode,” Torres says. “Right now, we’re focused on building a community for members where they can meet us, meet each other, share their needs, find a sense of accountability for their personal endeavors, and participate in our curated events, like Dog Days.”

Follow Content Creators of Color on Facebook and Instagram to stay informed about upcoming events, including the 2nd annual Dog Days of Autumn in September.

Bigger Than Us

Bigger Than Us (BTU) is a nonprofit organization formed by six childhood friends who grew up in and around South East Fort Wayne, including: Jerrell Holman, Lorenzo Holder, Tyler Whitfield, Daryl Love, Brian Palmer, and Markiston Williams.

From right: Bigger Than Us volunteers Carmen Lowe and Lorenzo Holder help CEO of BTU Jerrell Holman with cleaning up boxes before the start of the Book Bag Giveaway at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave. on August 7, 2021.

For the past several years, this group has come together around the goal of creating better communities in their neighborhoods. Jerrell Holman, President of BTU, says that his friend group initially created a group called New Sound around 2014, while in college to start hosting parties that would bring people together. The young men were inspired both by their desire to make an impact and by the lack of recreational activities in Fort Wayne at the time for young adults.

“There isn’t much for our age group to do,” says Lorenzo Holder, Secretary of BTU. “It might be Thursday night, and we’re bored. We want to have fun, and it doesn’t have to be a nightclub; it could be a new museum or art gallery. Just somewhere we can get together, have fun, and be ourselves.”

From right: CEO of Bigger Than Us Jerrell Holman, right, and Markiston Williams, CFO & Secretary, work together before the start of the Book Bag Giveaway at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave.

From 2015-2017, Holder and his friends turned these fun gatherings into charitable events and fundraisers that would benefit their community in more ways than one. They renamed the group Bigger Than Us because their goal is to be role models, who lead by example, particularly for other Black young men in South East neighborhoods.

“I think we help retain talent by showing some of the youth, especially the younger guys, that you don’t have to go to Texas, for example, to start your own clothing brand, or to do good for your community, or feel successful,” Holman says.

VP of Bigger Than Us Tyler Whitfield DJs during the Book Bag Giveaway at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave.

One of BTU’s core missions is to not only provide financial aid to the South East community via events, like their Bookbag Giveaways, but also to build financial literacy in their community, which can help improve economic conditions for neighborhoods. Another goal is to encourage residents to support the brave, small business owners who are already carving out their own niche in Fort Wayne.

“We try to do two networking events per year,” says Holder. “With these networking events, we aim to showcase local brands to show people they don’t have to go to brand name stores. They can support the people in their city.”

Guests visit the Bigger Than Us table during the Book Bag Giveaway at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave. on August 7, 2021.

Holder says these networking events are beneficial for established local brands and future entrepreneurs alike, giving them space to connect, share knowledge, and learn tricks of the trade.

In addition to hosting networking events and fundraisers, BTU also creates and sells wearable merchandise to aid in funding their ventures.

At this time, BTU is preparing for a basketball tournament this winter to raise money for Colon Rectal Cancer. If you are interested in volunteering with BTU or attending one of their events, follow them on Facebook and Instagram, or DM one of their pages to speak with a member about upcoming opportunities.

“We’re helping people feel confident about what they’re doing, and they aren’t giving up,” Holder says.

James Odom, left, with Firm Inc. and Alex Starks organize the Firm Inc.'s table during the Book Bag Giveaway at Renaissance Pointe YMCA, 2323 Bowser Ave. on August 7, 2021.

This story is a part of Input Fort Wayne's Voices of South East series, running from August-September 2021 and funded by the Foellinger Foundation. For more information, read the first story in the series. Email story ideas to our Project Editor Angelica Robinson at [email protected].
Enjoy this story? Sign up for free solutions-based reporting in your inbox each week.

Read more articles by Desaray Bradley.

Desaray is expecting to graduate from Purdue University Fort Wayne in the spring of 2021 with a bachelor's degree in Communication: Media and Culture and a minor in Public Relations. She enjoys traveling, photography, and short story writing in her free time.