Spotlight on Fort Wayne United

| February 15, 2017
Jeanie Summerville

Jeanie Summerville

By Jeanie Summerville

What’s up, babies?

As always, I hope all is well with you and yours and that you’re still taking time out of your days to bring yourselves some well deserved joy, beauty, happiness and some form of peace of mind. On that note, it pleases me to bring to you this weeks spotlight because they’re reaching out to our young males with a beautiful, powerful light and I’m loving it.  So at this time, all we’d like for you to do is just sit back, relax and feel the love:

“Hello, Frost Illustrated readers.  My name is Iric Headley and I’m the director of Fort Wayne United Mayoral Initiative and our vision is that every black man in Fort Wayne is respected, valued and has the opportunity to achieve his full potential.  Our mission is, advocate for and implement policies, practices and procedures to ensure equity and opportunity for black fathers, brothers and sons at home, work, school and in the community through collaborative efforts.  Our primary goal is to convene, collaborate and coordinate efforts and services, which in turn, will build a better Fort Wayne where every citizen feels safe, valued and supported in his or her efforts to build a better life for families.

From left: Chris Cathcart, Iric Headley and Joe Jordan.

From left: Chris Cathcart, Iric Headley and Joe Jordan.

“We exist because, in recent years, the City of Fort Wayne has been impacted by an epidemic that now threatens to derail our positive momentum for change and has the potential to stagnate desired economic and cultural growth for years to come.  That epidemic is the violent deaths of men and boys of color that occur on a constant basis in the city streets.  In 2013, the number of violent deaths reached a level that is disproportionately high compared to the total population as measured on a national scale.  Those numbers are made worse by the fact that almost all of the record high numbers of homicides that occurred were black men ages 14 to 34.  These acts of violence take a toll on the city by threatening our sense of safety and wellbeing, building divisive barriers between communities and deterring young professionals from seeking lasting success in the developing economy of the city.    

“Fort Wayne United is a mayoral initiative that places two national efforts Cities United and My Brother’s Keeper under one umbrella and is designed to answer the call to enhance opportunities, advance youth advocacy and help to create a safer city for all, but more specifically, black men and boys, by bringing together a group of passionate and committed leaders from the following sectors: education (pre-K through college), employment, mentoring, business, youth advocacy, health, criminal justice, law enforcement, public parks and recreation, clergy, local government and non-profit.  The initiative will educate, inform and engage the community in an effort to make positive change one neighborhood at a time.  

“The places we recruit from are Fort Wayne Community Schools, East Allen, IPFW, Ivy Tech and our Youth Representatives Michael Armstrong, Orlando Smith and myself have walked through Villages of Hanna and passed out flyers and knocked on doors.  We’re not after 500 young black men at a time but about 20 to 30 because we want to influence and engage them.  We believe in the three Es which are:

“To Educate them, so we put a lot of statistics on the screen and we talk about homicides. A lot of these guys are very passionate about the issue but they don’t know the details, the statistics and the data that revolves around the issue.  We talk about unemployment rates, families, dads and how many households don’t have dads and how many black males are killed every 24 hours.  These are statistics that they leave educated about.

“The second E is that we Empower these guys so we tell them, if somebody pulls you over and it’s a verbally abusive cop, your typical reaction is to fight back but we all know whose going to loose that battle.

“Through this program, they’re connected to the Police Chief and he’s given them his card and says to call him, if they have an issue and then they passed out complaint forms that they didn’t know exist.  So if they have an issue, they are to fill out the form but if they don’t want to, they can call the police chief, call me, call Joe Jordan or anyone else that is connected to these resources, now they’re connected and that’s power.

“The last E we leave them with is, Encouragement because they’re an asset, they’re valuable and we encourage these guys to leave that room and know that they’ve been empowered because they know us and they can do better.          

“Our main focus of those sessions is, to create positive relationships and positive interactions, it’s a concept called Positive Presentation and we do that in a manner of three and a half hours.  We do a pre-survey, to ask them how they feel about police, it’s typically negative and we do a lot of anonymous voting during the session.  We ask various questions about various topics to find out what they think and they vote on it and the answers pops up and we have a discussion about it.  So we’re getting a lot of data during sessions and then we do a post-survey and ask some of the same questions and their perspective shifts.  We can change perspectives, it’s just thoughts and we’re getting a totally difference experience on the streets with these guys, so it works and they love it. To give you an example, when Police Chief Hamilton use to walk into the room, they’d just look at him and when he walked out two and a half hours later, they all clapped.  So it’s a perspective shift and if we can do that for 20 guys at a time and if we can reach 10 of them which is fifty percent, they’ll be ambassadors and go back out on the street and talk about it and say how their perspective shifted.

“The other thing we do for a perspective shift is PSA training where we took a group of 40 young black males that went to the public safety academy and went through the same simulator training that the officers go through.  So one young black guy, who is a high school student, participated in a real life scenario and this guy goes back to school and says, it’s different when you’re out there because these guys are doing stuff and it’s a quick reaction so we need to lay off them, they have a tough job, again a perspective shift.  So we do a whole lot with law enforcement because I didn’t want to wait two years on a strategic plan since we have to do something now and know, we’re being noticed for a lot of work that we’re doing nationally, so it works.  It’s working perfectly, it’s positive and it’s making an impact and changing perspectives on both sides, giving positive presentation, giving these guys experiences outside of their environments in a non-threatening environment.

“When I was in the streets, I didn’t have this opportunity, so I’m happy that we have this for them and there’s this expectation that people think, we think we’re going to stop homicides.  I’m sorry that we’re not going to stop homicides but in other cities that have been successful with this, what you see is, the opportunities begin to increase and education gets better, employment gets better, kids who did not have access to opportunities and mentoring, life coaches and churches those things skyrocketed and even if homicides does not go down, then we have the younger kids connecting to opportunities and that’s prevention.  So, the guys on the streets that are shooting, we’re not going to stop because they don’t need opportunities, they need enforcement and that’s where the police comes in and we’re in full support of the police doing their jobs.  But for the guys who are going in that wrong direction, we can give them this opportunity and hopefully it will make the difference.”  

“Hello, Frost Illustrated readers.  My name is Chris Cathcart and I serve as the co-chair for Fort Wayne United and I’m the vice chancellor of Student Affairs for Ivy Tech Community College N.E.   Ivy Tech fits into this initiative because it’s first and foremost a community organization that is involved in education.  So our job is, to make sure that everybody in this community is connected to the services and support that they need.  With that in mind, working with Fort Wayne United allows us into the black community so that we can help create those opportunities for success through education as a vehicle for a positive change and it’s innovational.  

“So, I work with Iric to reach out to the community and build confidence, support and share resources with a segment that may not always believe that college or higher education is for them.  We recognize that four-year institutions are not always for everybody which is why, in the community college system, we have opportunities for skilled trade development, as well as, the four year transition but the ultimate goal is, to make sure that we associate that individual with the opportunity that’s going to best serve them in the future.  So that they can be connected to their community and make Fort Wayne a better city, a place that people want to come to, visit and stay.”    

“Hello, Frost Illustrated readers.  My name Joe Jordan, president/CEO of the Boys and Girls Club Fort Wayne and a committee member of Fort Wayne United and, this initiative would not have happened without the dynamic leadership of Iric Headley and the mayor embracing this initiative.  I’ve been in this community all of my life and I’ve never seen so much attention given to this issue surrounding black males and I’ve been in social service work for about 30 years and to see the engagement of the entire community around this issue, is powerful.  And, the vision of the whole initiative is to create value for black men and boys and unfortunately a lot of our black men and boys don’t feel valued or connected to the community.  They don’t feel the community thinks very much of them and so, the vision is all about creating value for that specific segment of our community.  Because once you create value and people start feeling valuable and part of the community, they engage in a different way and make different types of decisions and that’s what it’s about creating value and purpose.  

“The BGCFW fit’s into this initiative because it’s a natural alignment with our mission statement which is, to inspire all young people especially those who need us must to reach their full potential as responsible, caring citizens and it fits right into what we’re doing.  This is a natural partnership between us and to be able to be a significant partner in this initiative is awesome because it helps us enhance what we’re trying to do everyday.            

“The other thing that I love most about this initiative is the fact that, it’s not trying to re-create the wheel. It’s taking the best of what Fort Wayne has to offer and bringing those people to the table.  Fort Wayne United has become a point of entry to connecting these young men and boys to something that can help prepare them for a productive life style.”

Now in closing I say, Fantastic job everyone and I’m so proud of you for caring so much and bringing it to the surface for the betterment of all mankind.  If anyone would like to know much about Fort Wayne United their website is www.fortwayneunited.org.  So until next week, you’ve been Up Close with Jeanie.  Bye bye, babies.

P.S.  If you’d like The Spotlight shined upon you or someone you know, in the name of love, send me an email to upclosewithjeanie@yahoo.com.  I’d love to hear from you.

 

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