Indianapolis' Black Expo
Youth Leadership Summit encourages black kids to take reigns from older generation
July 17, 2015
Shira McDuffy and Christopher Stephens
Indiana’s young black leaders need to focus on education and building business acumen so they can become owners of teams and media empires instead of aspiring to be famous sport or movie stars.
“We need you [young people] – you are making a lot of people rich and they don't look like us,” Charlotte Westerhause-Renfrow, senior lecturer of management at Indiana University, said at a "talk back" event for Indiana Black Expo’s Youth Leadership Summit.
“We need to run this joint. You have that responsibility.”
There is a fundamental problem with idolizing celebrities, she said – although there are many black celebrities there are few black team or media organization owners. Which means those famous black artists, performers and athletes are making large amounts of money that isn’t being reinvested in the black community.
The event was part of a weekend-long series of workshops, panels and guest speakers aimed at educating young black kids about history and current issues.
This year’s Youth Leadership Summit’s theme, which was attended by around 150 middle and high schoolers, was “Your Life Matters,” a campaign started by Indianapolis Mayor Greg Ballard in March 2014. The mayor created a task force to determine and address societal factors that were causing an increase of violence in Indiana.
The goal of the campaign is to reduce the number of black-on-black crimes, education black youth on their cultural history and introduce them to leadership skills, according to the events website.
On Friday, the Youth Leadership Summit hosted an interactive workshop in which children watched excerpts from the documentary “Hidden Colors.” The film identifies some of the current, real-world barriers that black people, especially young males, face.
“History is real and important, and usually hidden by the educational system to keep our people from being successful,” David Scott, founder of the African-American Restoration Movement, said after the film.
Kids were then encouraged to break into groups and create a Public Service Announcement for “Our Lives Matter.” The purpose of the activity was to get young black children to recognize the value of their lives and those of their peers.
“I learned that being myself is important,” Blu Casey, 19, said. “We have choices."
The Youth Leadership Summit’s focus on “Your Life Matters,” culminated in a talk-back session with a panel including famous actors, basketball players, Indian University faculty and students, Saturday. The panel looked to find solutions to a growing culture of violence, Martin McCrory, vice provost Associate Vice President for Diversity, Equity and Multicultural Affairs, said.
“What’s wrong with youth today? Let me tell you right now, nothing,” He said. “Nothing is wrong with you, the problem is with how others define you, you are defined as a color, as an income level, as a GPA… to some people you are a statistic, that’s all.”
After McCrory spoke Charlotte Westerhause-Renfrow, Senior lecturer of management at Indiana University, chastised the children for not being as excited for McCrory as they were for the actors and basketball players present.
“Did you hear who he was?” she asked. “If he was a Pacers player or a member of the Colts you would want his autograph.”
She said one of the biggest reasons young men and women chose a life of violence or drug use is because they feel they don't have self-worth or don't feel they have a voice that matters.
“They just want to be heard, they want to know that [they] matter,” she said. “The first step is making young people know that what they say matters.”