Very recently, I was able to witness mother, advocate and community leader DeAndra Dycus share her story as part of the Democratic National Convention evening programming. During her segment, Dycus shared the story of how her then gifted and talented 13-year-old son Dre was shot in the head while attending a birthday party.
With admirable strength, she shared with the world how the lives of her family were forever changed by a bullet. When speaking with her, one cannot help but feel immense respect for this woman who has transformed a tragic event into a movement, becoming her son’s voice. Founding Purpose 4 My Pain, she has become a voice for all the victims and survivors of gun violence, particularly here in Indianapolis.
Like Dycus, I have learned that there is purpose for the pain I have experienced. I have been told more than once by the teachers, students and parents I serve that I am a different kind of principal. For years, I have thought this observation was based simply on the fact that I am a young (enough) Black woman. Or perhaps, I was a bit different because I am so very proudly from the far east side of Indianapolis, news which brings about its assumptions and prejudices.
It was just very recently that someone pointed out to me that my leadership feels different because every decision I make is informed by the pain and trauma I have witnessed and even endured. It is my personal mission to do my part to heal my community of generational trauma, a mission which is rooted deeply in my personal relationship with it. For me, using my platform as an educational leader is the best way to approach community healing.
As I sat down to write this column, a staff member busted through my office door, telling me that one of our students was believed to have been gunned down in the street. He said he was on his way to the scene, and I immediately grabbed my things and said, “I’ll drive.” It was not our student, but the body which lay in the street was a loved one, student and friend to someone.
Last week, I began my morning with a call from a mother of one of our alumni, informing me that her daughter had been shot multiple times. This is the reality of far too many educators and community activists who are engaged with the east side of our city. Hearing news of violent crime is as common as the weather forecast. We, along with our young people, have adapted to it. Grief is in abundance here, and it is a grief that I feel deeply because I am of this very community.
I love my friends and colleagues who have moved here to lead schools and positively impact education in Indianapolis, and I acknowledge that my motivation is a little different. I take this work personally, probably more personally than I should. I see myself, my sisters, my nephews and niece, my momma … in the faces of the people I serve each day.
For me, being the founder, principal and executive director of a school offers to me a unique and rare opportunity to do what I wish was done for us. This is as close as I’ll ever get to rewriting history. The position I am in allows me to transform the pain that I have experienced into purposeful work. The work we are doing at Thrival Indy Academy is about transforming students and community from the inside out. It’s disruptive healing. In my opinion, there is nothing more radical than taking your pain and turning it into purposeful, transformative work.
Visit Thrivalindy.org to download our free Citizenship & Civics and Ethnic Studies curriculum. It is our goal that all students, particularly those who are part of historically oppressed communities, find their personal calls to action through these two courses. We are committed to developing the next generation of community and world leaders, and it starts with engaging them in anti-racist curriculum.
India Hui is the Founding School Leader and CEO of Thrival Indy Academy, an IPS Innovation High School. They are currently enrolling ninth grade students.